People often ask, "how can I recognize God's call to me?" It is a question of vocation. The word vocation is derived from the Latin root voca, as in "voice." It means "to call." There are so many voices crying out for our attention and our loyalty, it is difficult to discern the voice of God, and, therefore, to know what God is calling me to do. The question about recognizing God's call may have to do with one's overall life mission or with what God wants of one in a specific situation.
Perhaps we can learn some things about recognition of God's call from Mark's account of the beginning of Jesus' Gallilean ministry. His baptism by John had been in Judea, a mostly Jewish region. After John imprisioned, Jesus went north to an area around the Sea of Galilee, which was inhabited by many gentiles as well as Jews. When he arrived there, his first order of business was to call disciples (e.g., Mark 1:14-20).
There are several characteristics of vocation in that event, which is similar to other Biblical accounts where God's call comes to people and their communities.
God's call is timely. Jesus begins his proclamation by saying, "The time is fulfilled." The kind of time he has in mind is kairos, not chronos. Chronolical time can be measured. Kairos, God's time, the right time, cannot be measured so precisely. It is the time when fruit is ripe or when a baby is ready to be born. While God's call may come to us in many ways, it always comes at the right time. Jesus was speaking of the time when the old age of rebellion against God would cease and a new age would begin. He came at right time in history. His call comes to you and me at the right time in our personal histories and in the history of our faith community.
God's call involves change. Jesus called people to "repent." To repent means to change. Change usually involves turning away from the comfortable and familiar and toward something different. Jesus went to a region that was different. Remember that Galilee was place where there are many gentiles, people of a different race and faith. It still is! God's call can be a turning point in life of a person or a community of persons. What needs to be changed? If you hear a call to remain exactly as you are, it is probably not God calling.
God's call is imperative. Jesus' words, "Repent, believe, follow" are not mere suggestions. The time for action is now and this is what needs to be done. I'm reminded of the story of a golfer whose ball landed atop an anthill. In his attempt to avoid being stung by ants, his stance was clumsy and with every swing he would miss the ball and hit the anthill, scattering hundreds of the tiny creatures. Eventually, one of the ants said to the others, "If we are going to survive, we'd better get on the ball." When God calls and we hear, it is time for us to get on the ball!
God's call is specific. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is very clear about what he wants of his hearers: hear, repent, believe, follow, preach, teach, baptize, pray, go. The response may involve a person's entire life or a brief period. Following Hurricane Ike, we set up several ways for The Episcopal Church to respond to need. Our banners and signs had the Episcopal shield tilted at a jaunty angle and proclaiming, "The Episcopal Church - Here to Help!" The Diocese of Texas and Episcopal Relief and Development sent staff to the island where they set up headquarters and worked with hundreds of people from across the country who came to help for the next couple of years. Then, the time came when these specific measures were no longer needed. But for a brief period, people set about doing some very specific things to help people in need.
God's call includes reassurance. God does not call people to do something which they can do on their own, always provides the means whereby the call can be fulfilled. "I will make you fishers of people." Prophets, priests, apostles, martyrs.
God's call is consistent. We believe in Christian counsel. That means we explore our vocations together so that we can be sure that the voice we hear is God's. God is not likely to call one of us or all of us to do something which is contradictory with God's purposes and ways as revealed in scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. We allow ourselves to be held accountable by our Christian sisters and brothers as we discern God's will.
God's call is persistent. In Mark's account, Jesus says, "The time is fulfilled." Matthew's account (Matthew 4:18-24) suggests that when Jesus went to Galilee, he fulfilled the place. We are reminded of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 9:1-7) Hundreds of years had passed. God's Messiah had finally arrived to bring light to those who sat in darkness, people who lived in and around "The Decapolis." The Decapolis was a region of ten gentile cities to the east of the Sea of Galilee. The Jews referred to them as "The Gates of Hell." When Jesus said that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church, he may have been alluding to the Decapolis. We are told that in less than 100 years after the Resurrection, those ten cities were Christian cities. Persistence paid off!
Keep listening. And, when the call comes, recognize it, receive it as gift, and let God's grace motivate you to drop everything and go!