by Pastor Pete Vander Beek:
At the Pastor Search Team meeting Thursday we reflected a bit on “call” stories. One good question to ask prospective pastors about is their sense of “call” or “being called” to ministry. Often they love telling how that came about in their lives. Being called to a particular ministry in a particular setting is a subset of that story. We looked at 1 Samuel 3:1-11. Other good call stories are Moses and the burning bush, Isaiah’s call (Isaiah 6 one of my ordination theme passages) where we read, as the core of the incident:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” And in the New Testament the call to Saul, who became Paul.
In the Samuel account, he is just a boy, and not many people had good relational contact with God. He and old prophet Eli are ready to sleep, and Samuel hears a voice calling to him. So, he runs over to see what Eli wants. Eli has not called for him. This happens three times and then Eli realizes God must be wanting to talk to the boy, so he tells Samuel how to respond. And Samuel does it, and God speaks to him. It is kind of shocking to realize the poor kid gets a harsh message to deliver!
One of the things this story teaches is that “hearing” God can become a rare thing. When a people and her leaders wander from deep relationship with God, as Eli had, then the art (not science) of hearing God’s still small voice (1 Kings 19:12) can be lost. Those who God would speak to need to learn how that works as Samuel had to. I think it is slightly different for each person. Not many get a burning bush or a blast of light that knock us off a horse. And it is dangerous to look for God only in the drastic. My own experience is that the Spirit is subtle, understated, not Hollywood. The key is to learn to ‘listen’ for it and then set all else aside and respond with willingness as indicated when we say “speak for your servant is listening” and then watch what comes to mind and heart. Once that has happened, then we need to learn to trust it, even if it seems weird, and trusting, we can often find out there was something there. And so God teaches us the tone and timbre of his whispers in our hearts, and we gradually learn to recognize and follow.