No Call Without a Caller, Part 1

by Derrick G. Jeter

We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called first to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God himself. [1]

 

 

For many, life is a swarm of confusing activity in the pursuit of “making a life.” For some, life is a dizzying array of pressures that must be endured. But for all, life is a puzzle we hope to put together before the inevitable end comes. Once the puzzle is together, if ever, we hope the picture reflects a good life, a prosperous life, a life that counted for something. We don’t want others to look at our lives and judge that we haven’t really lived; that somehow our lives didn’t amount to much. So how does one make a life?

 

There was an old bumper sticker that read, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” This is an attractive philosophy for those who have and those who have not but want to have. Wealth, after all, is a sign that you made it. The question is, made what? A life? And what do you win when you die? As was said long ago, “All the fruit of my labor I must leave to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity.”

 

Somehow we know a life of blindly pursuing toys or simply bearing up under stress falls short of a desirable life. Somewhere deep in our hearts there is a longing—a conviction—that life should be more than the here-and-now, than existing and accumulating. Life has to hold for all of us, in the words of philosopher Dallas Willard, “a unique eternal calling to count for Good in God’s great universe.” At least we hope this is true for our lives.

 

Straining to Hear the Call

 

Yet with the vast choices which lie before us, the rapid changes which push and pull us, and the cacophony of voices which call out to us, we face a swirl of distractions and strain to hear and understand our unique calling. We struggle to make sense of what good we can do in the universe. The French novelist and essayist, Albert Camus, as part of his trilogy on the absurd, wrote in the Myth of Sisyphus, “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” [2] Does it really? Is life only meant to be a continual struggle, never reaching the summit, to which we should resign ourselves? This may be the reality of many, but ask them if their daily struggle fills their hearts with anything but disappointment, disillusionment, and despair. To these weary souls such a solution must seem absurd. Constant strain and struggle leave us frustrated and exhausted—it leaves us broken. “The trouble,” as Os Guinness identified, “is that, as modern people, we have too much to live with and too little to live for. Some feel they have time but not enough money; others feel they have money but not enough time. But for most of us, in the midst of material plenty, we have spiritual poverty.” [3] American novelist John Updike agrees: “The fact that . . . we still live well cannot ease the pain of feeling that we no longer live nobly.” Nobility is what we were made for, not simply existing, or struggling, or amassing more toys.

 

An ancient sage, in the twilight of his years, wrote in his journal: “God has set eternity within the heart of man.” [4] There it is. The longing to live life eternally—with nobility, with purpose and influence—has been placed within the heart of each of us. The challenge, for temporal man, is to live in light of eternity. But how? This is a great mystery, but not one unsolvable. The Russian writer V. V. Ivanov recognized the mysteriousness of life. The key to fulfilling our call, he says, is in solving the mystery. “Many lives have a mystical sense, but not everyone reads it aright. More often than not it is given to us in cryptic form, and when we fail to decipher it, we despair because our lives seem meaningless. The secret of a great life is often a man’s success in deciphering the mysterious symbols vouchsafed to him, understanding them and so learning to walk in the true path.”

 

There are no easy answers in hearing and responding to your unique call, in recovering your nobility, in living eternally (while trapped in time), or in deciphering the mysterious symbols of your life. There is no formula or twelve-step program, but there is a place to begin.

 

[1] Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 43.

[2] Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” trans. Hamish Hamilton, in The Plague, The Fall, Exile and the Kingdom, and Selected Essays (New York: Everyman’s Library, 2004), 593.

[3] Os Guinness, The Call, 4.

[4] Ecclesiastes 3:11.

 

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