4.15.2006

Thoughts on Calling - Four

It's said that, destiny is not something you choose; it's something that chooses you. I don't believe in blind fate, but there's truth to that adage. Why? Because in some cases, the road to destiny is so bitter, so difficult, so trying, that nobody in their right mind would choose it.

Charles Spurgeon has been called The Prince of Preachers. Yet his ministry was anything but glamorous. He suffered from various ailments and fell into serious depression at times. Spurgeon had rheumatic gout that eventually took his life at the age of fifty-seven. Nevertheless, "his graphic and emotionally charged sermons, changed the face of evangelical Christianity. Today, one hundred years after his death, there is more material in print by Charles Spurgeon than by any other Christian author - alive or dead."

Had Spurgeon known about the trials and difficulties of the ministry, would he have chosen it?

When I contemplate this issue of calling -- especially the "call to write" -- I think about Charles Spurgeon. In his, Lectures to My Students, the preacher said this to his class of aspiring ministers:

Do not enter the ministry if you can help it... If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fullness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit but that for which his inmost soul pants.

Did you get that? Here's one of the greatest preachers of all time dissuading others from becoming preachers. Unless "his inmost soul pants" after the ministry, Spurgeon advises the young man to put his hands to another plough.

The wannabe writer would do well to heed this advice. Of course, the call to shepherd souls and proclaim the Gospel is infinitely more important than the call to write. Nevertheless, the writing life is such that, unless our "inmost soul pants" after it, the tedium and drudgery and isolation and disappointment can well become a ball and chain.

Stephen Koch, in The Modern Library Writer's Workshop, strikes a similar note of caution:

Lorrie Moore begins her famous short story "How to Become a Writer" with this blunt recommendation: "First try to be something, anything, else." Though vocations, like talent, can be damaged, they are rather hard to destroy. "I still think," Moore says, "you should become a writer only if you have no choice. Writing has to be an obsession -- it's only for those who say, 'I'm not going to do anything else.'"

I love that line: you should become a writer only if you have no choice. That's what the Prince of Preachers said: Do it only if you can't do anything else. Which brings me back to square one. Is destiny something that chooses you, or is chosen by you? Is the call to write something that lays hold of you, or something you lay hold of? Is it a trail you blaze, or a road you follow? The apostle Paul put it this way:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12 NIV).

In this sense, calling works both ways. It is the taking hold of something that's taken hold of you; it's the working out of something that's been worked into you; it's the apprehending of Someone who's apprehended you. Or in the case of writers, it is the birthing of words conceived in you.

Not finished...

11 comments:

Janet Rubin said...

Yes, Calling may not equal joy at the present. Jesus was "called" to die. That was His main mission for His earthly life, but He did it for the joy that was set before Him.
Calling. If something is NOT your calling, it doesn't really matter if you do it or not. If it IS your calling, you MUST do it. Not answering a call would be disobedience. So stuffing a God-given calling to write under the couch and ignoring it is sin, rebellion... We'd better all start typing just in case! Good to know that Jesus answered His calling. He is risen! Praise the Lord!

Janet Rubin said...

Mike,
Two more things: Christians are called to suffer, right? If we follow Christ, we have to take up our cross, so whether we write or do something else, there is bound to be suffering of some sort.

Also, I've been chewing on the line you wrote about winning and shepherding souls being MORE IMPORTANT than writing. I dunno. Let's think about that. If God wants me to write, then that is the most important thing for me. He may use my writing to bring people to Himself. Who knows. Just got a little nervous about the phrase "more important." I've met too many pastors who think that they are more important because of there title (not my dear, humble pastor and surely not you, Mike, but you know what I mean, right?)
Okay, my comment is getting to long. Sorry.

Mike Duran said...

Great comments, Janet! No doubt, suffering and trial is a part of life; therefore, any calling in this life will have its share of difficulty. In these posts, I'm intent to show that the call to write is its own type of "cross" -- there are unique sets of difficulties and burdens that accompany it. I do not mean to diminish the joy, but strip away the glamour.

Your observation that the call to ministry is not more important than the call to write, is probably valid. Whatever God calls a person to is important for them. However, as a writer, I am not immediately responsible for the souls of my readers in the ways that a minister is. I may see them as my "flock," but I have nowhere near the context to ensure their maturity (i.e. a local church setting), that a pastor does. So while I want my readers to grow and become Christlike (or Christian), without a context for ongoing discipleship, I am fairly limited. This is an important point because I think writers can get a sort of dreamy, wishy-washy self-importance about their work. While writers can provide inspiration and encouragement to their readers, they are not there to wipe their tears, hug them, visit their homes, eat at their tables, sit by their hospital beds and, later, stand by their gravesides. This is the call of the pastor.

As Christian writers, we ARE responsible for the message we send, and in a way, this is just as sobering and serious as any pastor's call. I'd even go so far as to say that, some of our readers will never go to church... which makes the call to write even more sobering and precious. Writing fiction puts a twist on all this. Fiction that is too moralistic and preachy -- message-driven -- is a turn-off. But if we cloak our message or create paradox, we have less control over the reader's "interpretation." Either way, God will hold us accountable -- just like a pastor -- for our message and intent. And like any craftsman, we are called to be skilled and work for the glory of God. So, even if the writing profession is not as "important" as the pastoral profession, it definitely carries its own unique set of requirements, responsibilities and consequences... enough to make me wince just thinking about them.

Janet, these are terrific questions! Thanks for bringing them up. Maybe some others folks have their own spin on this. I'd love to hear. Blessings to you and yours this Easter!

michael snyder said...

This series of commentaries is outstanding. Great, great stuff. Looking forward to chewing on more.

Ame said...

"Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead - since he was about a hundred years old - and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. This is why 'it was credited to him as righteousness.'" Romans 4:18-22

God gave Abraham a promise, a calling, to be the father of many nations. It was humanly hopeless as he and Sarah were near 100 and infertile!

Abraham looked at the facts and then had two choices:

He could, "waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God," or

He could be, "strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised."

Abraham chose the latter and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Seem simple? Try it sometime ... with whatever you believe God has called you to do. It usually is something we cannot do without Him and something that we will be accountable to Him for.

I find that sometimes I wallow in unbelief for awhile asking God over and over to confirm His direction for me. He always does, but think how much more effective if I didn't wallow so loooong!

Sometimes we need to take the time to confirm His direction - that's wisdom and discernment and discretion - and sometimes we need to take time to learn or be educated or to gain wisdom and experience.

God DOES have something for each child of His to do. God is not a vague God, He is a specific God! Just look at a tiny insect under a microscope!

Following through with God's direction when it takes how many years to build a boat (Noah) or you live how many years in a desert (Moses) or you spend how many years running and hiding for your life (David) or you make a committment one day and have to stick to it (Ruth) or you have to prepare yourself to go unannounced before a king who can have you killed (Esther) or . . . and the list goes on.

We are no different except that we don't know the end of our story yet as we know the beginning, middle and end of theirs.

May God find us faithful in our minds and hearts and words and writings and actions to what He has asked us to do even when it takes a loooooong time getting there.

siouxsiepoet said...

mike, never finish. can i just say that. my flagging strength in light of this "calling" is much encouraged by your words. i am a fool to do this, but i am fool enough to do this. if that makes any sense.

the intersection between writing and preaching is closer than i ever imagined. especially if you are chronicalling the movements of God. once one has been stung by this calling, it is forever a wound in need of tending and forever a wound despised in a sense.

even the best and brightest of us, struggle through the bitter darkness just to put one word on the page. and that is the fact of the matter.

so for those of us who cannot do anything else, i thank you for your encouragement this day. this heartrending, beautiful day.

suz.

Mike Duran said...

suz, I have often thought of "calling" in terms of Jacob's limp (Gen. 32:22-32). He wrestled with God and was "blessed" with a bad thigh. Calling is a gimp from God. Like Tozer said, "Before God can use a man greatly, He must hurt him deeply." Oftentimes, our pursuit of calling brings us up lame... which is the perfect prerequisite to greatness.

Heather Smith said...

Great thoughts, Mike. I agree. There are too many "wannabes" out there in all professions. Preaching in particular. My brother struggled with his call to preach. He went to my grandpa (who is my preacher) and asked him about it. My grandpa said, "Pray long and hard about this. If it's God's will you won't be able to run away from it without being miserable." My brother accepted the call a few months later. The same struggle hit me about writing. I'm still not sure about my "niche" in writing, but its in my blood, and I can't get it out. Thanks for this, Mike!! I needed it!!

Anonymous said...

Hey I'm pretty lame. Does that mean I'm going to be great? Cool. B

Mike Duran said...

Sorry B, with cracks like that you'll never achieve greatness. Unless they revive The Gong Show. Until then, keep your "lame" comments to yourself.

Jacob said...

Mike,

I really enjoyed these little blurbs on calling.

Thank You,

Jacob