If you own a cell phone, you probably have voicemail. And if you have voicemail, you probably have a voicemail greeting. You have the option of using the default voicemail greeting that is offered by your service provider, a generic message that simply says, “The person you have called is unavailable. To page this person, press one. To leave a message, press 2.”
If you wish to provide a more personal or pleasant greeting for those who call when you are unavailable, you can set up a message of your choosing. You may opt to personally record a standard voicemail greeting, perhaps stating your name and pledging to return the call. Or, you may design a customized greeting that accents your creative genius or your unique personality.
I have discovered that some who are in my network of friends have visited web sites and selected a greeting from a list of stock messages. These messages can range in tone from humorous to silly. One popular message says, “Hi. I’m probably home. I’m just avoiding someone I don’t like. Leave me a message, and if I don’t call back, it’s you.” Another message is a little too blunt for me: “I’m unable to take your call now, so deal with it!” For those who are weary of telemarketers there’s a message that states, “Hello. You are talking to a machine. I am capable of receiving messages. My owners do not need siding, windows, or a hot tub, and their carpets are clean. They give to charity through the office and don’t need their picture taken. If you’re still with me, leave your name and number and they will get back to you.” Or, if you prefer a witty message, you might try, “This is you-know who. We are you-know-where. Leave your you-know-what you-know-when.”
The reason you need voicemail is because you will probably not be available to answer every phone call immediately. You might be prohibited from receiving calls while at work or in the classroom. You could be busy with chores at home. You could be in the middle of an important conversation with one friend, when your “call waiting” beep alerts you to another incoming call, and you are not in a position to end the first conversation in order to begin the second. Or, like many, you could use voicemail to screen your calls, determining who you want to talk to and when. Because I have “caller ID” on my cell phone and my home phone, I do not answer calls from “unknown callers,” “out of area,” or habitual grumblers.
What if you knew that God was calling you? What if you looked at the “caller ID” on the screen of your soul, and detected that God was calling? Would you answer, or would you let it go to voicemail?
In Genesis 12:1-8, we learn that Abram, who was later called Abraham, a resident of Ur, a city in southern Mesopotamia, now modern day Iraq, responded to the call of God and his life quite literally changed the world. And although it has been a few thousand years since God called Abraham, I believe that God is still calling men and women of all ages to particular vocations and locations to live and serve in sync with God’s purpose.
In fact, Abraham was seventy-five years old when he heard and responded to God’s call to change gears and head in a new direction. You are never too young or too old to notice that God is reformatting your inner compass. Studying the call of God in the lives of Bible personalities and observing the call of God in the lives of my contemporaries leads me to believe that God invites every person to take up a meaningful vocation and to live with a uniquely missional purpose.
Often I have been asked by others, “How can I recognize the call of God?” My usual response seems a little simplistic, but I believe it is accurate: “When God calls, you will know it,” I say with confidence. Because the call of God is deeply personal, I think we can overcomplicate the call of God by trying to explain it or defend it. God may call us in a still small voice heard only with the ears of an attentive soul. Or, God may call us with an emerging flame of passion that was described by one prophet as “a fire in my bones.” God may even call us through the voice of a friend or the endorsement of a congregation who affirms the gifts of God they observe in us. God seems to employ a unique way of calling each of us. Usually, our human struggle with spiritual direction does not result from missing the call but from ignoring it.
If your call resembles the summons given to Abraham, you may be asked to leave something or somebody important to fully answer God’s call. In Genesis 12:1, The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” You may feel called to a professional career or to a ministry that requires you to relocate quite a distance from your family of origin. Or, you may be called to serve on a mission field or in a parish in an underserved region of the world. Most likely, you will be called upon to discard a few megapixels of your personal dreams in order to pursue your spiritual passion. At a minimum, when you respond to the call of God, you will need to be prepared to move outside your comfort zone.
Several years after God called Abraham, Jesus of Nazareth invited men and women from multiple vocations and backgrounds to follow him and become his students, referred to in the Bible as disciples. And Jesus didn’t sugarcoat the kind of commitment required to accept his invitation: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Does that mean that when God calls, I will need to become a priest or a pastor? Definitely not! In Genesis we learn that Abraham served God through his relationships, his travels, and his business transactions. Abraham’s management of his assets and his estate, including his employees, his flocks, his herds, and other possessions, became his primary arena for serving God. And though his conduct was not perfect (actually, at times it was conveniently deceitful), the overall narrative of his life gave birth to a new promise and a new kind of hope.
In the postmodern world, God is calling most persons of faith to claim their primary occupation as their spiritual vocation. Educators, accountants, physicians, and attorneys, just to name a few, are being called by God to demonstrate the adventuresome faith, the radical stewardship, and the extraordinary leadership that we learn from the God of Abraham. Therefore, God may grant you an opportunity to engage in unannounced and inconspicuous ministry within the context of your current or future career.
With that said, may I also encourage you to consider the possibility that God may be calling you to be a pastor or teacher or missionary? God may be calling you to a spiritual vocation that could become your primary occupation. When I was sixteen years old, I experienced a clear and defined sense of calling to Christian ministry. With a mixture of obedience and naïveté, I shared this sense of calling with my pastor and with my home church, and with their strong affirmation and blessing, I began preparing for my spiritual vocational to become my career. Now, thirty-one years later, I am living out the mystery and magnetism of that calling as I serve as the pastor of a local congregation. And a part of my joy is to journey alongside men and women of all ages who are experiencing a new awareness of the call of God.
Why does God call us to participate in the unfolding of God’s mission and the proclamation of God’s initiatives of love and grace? I am convinced that God does not call us to make us popular or wealthy, and I know firsthand that God does not call us because we know all of the right answers to life’s most perplexing questions. Perhaps, just as God called Abraham in order to make Abraham and his descendants a blessing to the world, God calls us intending for us to live proactive lives that bless the world.
Simply put, God is calling you because God intends to make you a blessing. God wants to bless the world through you by the way you live ethically. God wants to bless the world through you by the way you love unconditionally. God wants to bless the world through you by the way you communicate faith, hope, and grace in your conundrum of circumstances and through your concentric circles of relationships.
When God calls you, will you let God’s call go to voicemail? Or will you answer, and let God bless the world through your life?