Yesterday was a good time of reflection for me. In my internships course at Westmont College, I brought in two guests who shared their "calling stories" -- the ways in which they sensed that God had directed them into live out lives of service and ministry. I think all too often, we as Christians assume that only if we are struck blind on a road to Damascus or hear a voice from heaven that we are "called." I wanted my class to hear from two faithful leaders, who really just put one foot in front of the other in obedience and lived fruitful lives. We are all called to this.
Naturally, as I listened to these wise and gifted friends, I thought about my own process. One of the speakers shared that we are just like Abraham, who never really knew where he was headed, but went on a "journey by stages," discovering God's call on his life bit by bit, year by year, place by place.
I confirm this insight. I never fail to be surprised at where God has taken me, and what opportunities he brings.
In the last week I have had a wonderful array of "past, present, and future" encounters that reminded me of the array of those opportunities. I heard from former students, now approaching 40, with children and ministries of their own, thanking me for our times together. I sat on a council with a wide variety of gifted church leaders, all reflecting on the past and looking into what it will take to live into God's vision for the kingdom. I worshiped and learned with a room full of Latino pastors and leaders, considering the missional opportunities that await us in the 21st century, especially in Southern California. I met with several students individually and talked over the highs and lows of faith and dating and decision-making, secretly smiling over the several hundred times I have had these conversations with students since 1982... and last but not least, I played with a park full of children on the Westside, juggling a plate full of delicious tacos while avoiding soccer balls as they flew through the air, rejoicing at the missional community that is growing among a group of us.
Today's reading took me into 2Timothy 4, where the Apostle Paul is passing the torch of ministry and leadership onto Timothy. While I do not feel like I'm at the end of my journey, this passage does give me great things to ponder as I continue on my "journey by stages":
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (verses 1-8)
Paul's imperatives stand out to me most:
I take each of these to heart, and want to remember to continue in them "whether the time is favorable or unfavorable." To pursue them all requires a combination of assertiveness and sensitivity, where I am both "wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove" (Matthew 10:16). Only the Spirit's work in us can manage that delicate tension.
Think about your own journey by stages. Rejoice in how each step brings you closer to God and shapes you ever so slightly. May we each persevere as fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith.