Ignoring God’s Call
Reaching a point where I have become overwhelmingly overwhelmed is never pleasant. 2015 started off as a crazy year. Leaving Columbia in December I couldn’t have been happier to be finished with my first semester. In a single semester I had become a part of a community in New York and created a new home, away from the snow-capped mountains of Utah, and I loved it. But within a month at home I was questioning God, screaming a “Why” in the face of everything He had given me. In moments like this, moments of pure despair and hopelessness, I am constantly tempted to ask that almost forbidden question, “Why?” When I can’t understand where life is going I begin to question God. The “Why” I ask ignores the greatness of God. It’s not the “Why” of innocent questioning, but the “Why” of doubting, the “Why” of running away from God. I create an Invictus-mentality; I mistakenly believe that “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” 1 But I’ve come to realize that it is these moments in which God roars out His call for my life. He does not walk away from me, nor does He watch as I stumble, but He calls out to me and gives me a guide for my path, if only I listen. Even when I run, I can never hide from Him. King David writes,
“Where shall I go from Your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there Your hand shall lead me,
and Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,’
even the darkness is not dark to You;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with You.” 2
God does not only whisper in a still small voice, nor does He shine a single light from atop a mountain, rather He beams His glory directly in the face of my selfishness. With His blazing light and booming voice God calls me to recognize that I am not “the master of my fate,” nor am I “the captain of my soul.” I have no control over my circumstances, while at the same time He has the whole world in His hands — an almost frightening dichotomy. But, like King David, I continue to question. I can’t hear God’s bellows because I have chosen to ignore His call. I wish to go my own way, rather than follow the path He is pushing me toward.
This is, in so many words, super problematic. But this problem isn’t mine alone, and it’s one that is echoed through well-known stories of the Bible. In the Old Testament we can think of Abraham, Jonah, Moses, even Adam, and in the New Testament, Paul and the disciples are perfect examples of this problem, even with Christ physically leading them. The basic outline of this problematic narrative starts with a person who doesn’t know what God desires for them, not because He has left them but because they’ve chosen to either ignore him or become ignorant of His word. They follow their own path, look toward their own goals, and drown out God by marching to their own drum. Like in our lives, God is ever-present at their side, watching them try to make choices without Him but falling because of their own stupidity. The change happens when they choose not to remain ignorant. God had always been calling out to them, but they were too ignorant to listen. In this radical moment they can hear what He explicitly tells them to do, and they are forced to make a choice. For an instant their drum stops beating and they can no longer ignore God’s call. Before they heard Him, these people were stagnating, never to know what their true purpose was meant to be, but God turns their ignorance to knowledge once they stop ignoring His call.
Part of listening to God’s call is experiencing it in community — Moses is one of the most prominent people we see in this situation. Whether we know his story from Vacation Bible School, The Prince of Egypt, or Contemporary Civilizations at Columbia, many of us can retell a basic outline of his journey from Hebrew slave, to member of the house of Pharaoh, to deliverer of the Israelites out of Egypt. Before God came to Moses in the forming of a burning bush — literally shinning His glory directly in Moses’s face — Moses was content with living the life of a shepherd in Midian. He knew the Israelites were suffering but he did not want or think he could do anything about it. Moses was content, but God was not. The moment God tells Moses His will for his life, Moses begins serious questioning, then finally pleads, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” 3 Regardless of Moses’s despair and questioning, God does not leave him; instead He thunders His call even louder, not allowing him to fall back into the life he has been accustomed to.
But what about Moses’s brother? What about Aaron, the guy who was actually in charge of speaking and working the miracles? If we look in the book of Exodus Aaron is not even mentioned until well into his adult life, after God had already gone to Moses. When Moses was fearful and unwilling to perform what God had asked him, He comforted Moses by putting Aaron at his side. The Lord told Moses, “You shall speak to him [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him.” 4] Unlike Moses, Aaron was not reluctant to do what God had asked of him from the beginning, or at least he never visibly questioned God’s call. “The LORD said to Aaron, ‘Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.’ So he went, and he met him at the mountain of God.” 5 Aaron did not hesitate. Aaron, unlike his brother, did not wish to be ignorant of God’s call but longed to hear it for the freedom of his people. Aaron, unlike Moses, grew up in the community of the Hebrews and waited for a deliverer to bring them all freedom. He was part of the Israelite community, and God was ready to use him to bring Moses fully into that community. He was the one that had been present, the one that had lived under the Egyptians, and God made him the instrument by which Moses would free His people. “Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people.” 6 Aaron was the reason Moses was able to continue to listen to God’s call, and without that community Moses would have failed. Without Aaron, Moses could have easily fallen back into his blissful ignorance, ignoring God’s call.
Part of listening to God’s call is recognizing that the seemingly insignificant can become overwhelmingly significant. We might not understand how, and we might not even understand what God wants for us, but we only need to recognize His voice rather than ignore what we hope won’t happen. Most of us won’t live lives like Moses and Aaron, God-willing we will never experience slavery or divinely awful plagues, but God is equally present in His call for our lives. Like us, the disciples of Christ lived seemingly ordinary lives before they met Jesus, but the aspects of their lives that seemed insignificant became significant through the literal call of Jesus Christ. Before Christ, Simon Peter and Andrew lived the mundane lives of fishermen, Philip was a Greek, outside of the Jewish community in Bethsaida, and Matthew worked as a sinful tax collector — all relatively normal, and somewhat bleak, lives in first century Israel. But Christ’s call took the seemingly insignificant parts of their lives and made them significant. If Simon had not been fishing with his brother, Andrew, Christ never could have called them to be “fishers of men,” 7 and for Simon to become Peter, the rock of early Christianity. If Matthew had not become a tax collector, and been labeled a sinner, Christ never could have used him as an example to the Pharisees that He indeed had “not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” 8
Unlike us, the disciples were given a physical Messiah to follow, and could immediately respond to His call. None of them hesitated when they were called upon, but left what they had and followed Christ. “[Jesus] saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed Him.” 9 Simon Peter and Andrew responded in much the same way, “they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” 10 “He [Jesus] found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 11 In the case of Philip it isn’t even explicitly stated that he followed Jesus, it’s simply implied. In the sense that we are no longer given a physical person to follow, life following God’s call has become a little more difficult. We are no longer able to simply question Christ on his teachings, nor are we able to ask him questions directly and hear a physical voice. Rather, we have to look at the seemingly insignificant aspects of our lives and watch as God make them significant.
Part of listening to God’s call is accepting our failure. Though we look up to these Biblical figures, we also recognize their faults. Aaron, even after he had helped Moses bring the Israelites out of Egypt, questioned what God was doing with Moses, and the favor He placed on him. “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married… They said, ‘Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?’” 12 From the Book of Judges Samson is the prime example of a God-called individual falling away from his purpose. Before his birth Samson was designated to be a servant of God, following His ways and listening to His call. Samson’s mother was told, “You shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” 13 At first, Samson was exactly what God called him to be. Samson “grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him.” 14 The change happened when he allowed anger, lust and eventually weakness to overcome him, giving into Delilah’s nagging; abandoning the call God had given to him, and rejecting what God had shown him. Though we may be listening to God’s call, and His voice may seem clear to us, that does not mean we will succeed in following it. Accepting our failure and continually pursuing God needs to come first, because it is only through Him that we can be saved from our failures. We must accept that we will, almost always, fail because of our own humanity. But we can rest in the assurance that “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 15
God has not left us in ignorance, but we have to be willing to listen. In January, during my moments of pure despair, I was devastated. Though my family pushed me, Columbia pulled me and every part of my mind told me to go, nothing could have made me return to New York. The call came in my thorough devastation when I understood there must be a reason for what God has done, what He had prevented from happening and what He is planning to do. In my crumbling world I was standing in the middle of the road, but He made the cars stop. The profound realization that the cars stopped forced me to let go, and leave the blissful ignorance of ignoring God’s call. It’s not easy to listen when I don’t want to be where He wants me to be, but in moments like these there is a simple reminder “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” 16