The Call that Doesn’t Come

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt. 22:36–40)

A pious man stood on the roof of his house, surrounded by rising floodwaters. His neighbor came by in a canoe and offered him a ride.

"No, thank you," the man said. "God will take care of me," and the waters continued to rise.

A county sheriff came by in a motor boat and told the man to hop aboard.

The man refused, saying, "That's okay. God is my help." The waters rose higher.

A helicopter appeared overhead and dropped a line to the man, but he refused it. Over the rushing torrent, he called out: "God will save me!" and minutes later the river swept the man to his death.

Finding himself in heaven, he said to God, “I called on you, but you didn’t save me!”

God replied, "I answered your call three times! First, I sent your neighbor, and you refused. Then I sent the sheriff, and you refused. Then I sent a helicopter, and you refused again!"

This story was one of my pastor's favorite sermon illustrations, and I think I heard him tell it at least three times while he was at my church. But the point is well taken and worth repeating: As a rule, God works in this world through human hands. He cares for us through His earthly representatives, His image bearers.

For those of us who seek God's will in the course of our careers, there is another story about the drowned man’s neighbor, Fred. Fred was pious, too. But he was a plumber who had sensed God’s calling. For years, Fred prayed for a sure sign—a voice wouldn’t be bad—to set him to a special task in Kingdom service. But no sign ever came. Fred remained a plumber until his last breath. When he arrived in heaven, Fred asked God why He had never given him a calling. God answered, "Remember when you tried to save your neighbor in the flood? That was my call. I commanded you to love your neighbor, and I gave you a boat and a neighbor in need. The call was clear, and you responded. But in fact, as a plumber, you were responding to my call all along—serving neighbors in need with the talents, training, tools, and opportunities I gave you."

We tend to think that God calls people only to special tasks in spectacular ways—and sometimes He does. But we must also listen for God’s quiet call in our ordinary circumstances. For there, too, God calls us to serve. The 16th-century reformer John Calvin wrote, "No task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God's sight."

Questions for discussion:

  • Why do we so often equate serving God with serving the church?
  • How can the church help the laity achieve a sense of calling in the world of work?