Ten Year Itch Part 2: Calling

Army, Chaplaincy, Theology, Two Pastor Family

When I was in college, it was always a mystery to me how other “preacher boys” (always boys of course) just knew God’s exact will for their lives. I mean they KNEW it. There was this whole ritual that included finding a verse in the Bible (the more obscure the better) that spoke to them in “just that way” and somehow pinpointed on a map the exact location, job title, and sometimes the woman who would accompany them and bear their children…. sometimes the woman knew too…

Then there was passive-aggressive breakup move (might have used it myself a time or two *rolls head in shame*) where the guy would ask out a girl because he was following God’s leading, rejoice in God’s bounty as the relationship progressed, experience a “check in their spirit” as the relationship started to be, oh I don’t know, normal and finally, once again following the leading of God, break-up with the girl. God’s will all the way.

23 years old. Visiting my Dad in Pensacola. Pre-Army.

23 years old. Visiting my Dad in Pensacola. Pre-Army.

So what then is a call?

Maybe it would be better to ask, what is NOT a call? I knew that whatever clear guidance the other guys I went to school with were feeling, I was not getting it. I knew it wasn’t some kind of warm feeling. Turns out, that Scripture means whatever you want it to mean so that wasn’t helpful. I never had a “burning in the bosom.” All my campfire decisions were exactly that. As an adult looking back, I can see my family of origin issues in every life altering declaration of God’s leading.

For many years, I put hope in that tired axiom, “if you can do anything else in life, you probably should. If you are called to preach, you won’t be able to do anything else.” But then, I love to preach. I mean, I really enjoy preparing and delivering sermons. I get meaning the purpose from preaching. I am more myself there than about anywhere but… there are many ways I can earn a living and not preach. Typing this blog post, as an Active Duty Army Chaplain, I have not preached a sermon in 9 months.

9 months.

In 15 years of full time Christian ministry, I’ve never made my living as a preacher. Ever. I’ve been a teacher, worship leader, chaplain etc. But paid as a preacher – not so much. And I’m ok with that. I came to terms years ago with working a meaningful, fulfilling job to finance my preaching habit. Often, it seems the best ministry I’ve done has been on my time, voluntarily given.

As a young man, I declared that I was “called to preach” and I believe that I was even if I’m not sure as an adult, what that means.

What is a call?

Direction. Meaning. Purpose. Fulfillment. Opportunity.

It’s that moment in a believers life when she or he experiences the intersection of what they love and a real human need. It’s getting on board with the plan the Divine has for the world. It’s knowing that what you are about is what God is about.

I experienced it in the classroom at New Life Christian School in Dunellen, NJ. I loved being a teacher. Not every day, but most days.
I experienced it downrange, in Iraq, serving the Soldiers of 2-121 Infantry Battalion and the 603d Aviation Support Battalion.
I experienced it teaching ethics to the medical hold Soldiers of the 832d Ordinance Battalion.
I experienced it, deeply, in my Clinical Pastoral Education group.
I experienced it teaching Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) to civilians who volunteered at a homeless shelter in Huntsville, AL
The day I walked into a prison, I knew I was where I needed to be. It’s existential, it’s mystical, it’s spiritual – and it was clear. I experienced it throughout my time both at the Joint Regional Correctional Facility and the United States Disciplinary Barracks.

I experience it every single time and get behind a pulpit and preach. It’s what I’m here for.

A calling is sacred. A calling is personal. It is fundamental to my journey as a Christian.

But does it change?

I’m not sure. I know I have changed. I have grown. I’ve become a different person than I was ten years ago when I started this journey.

Was I called in the Army?
I have a journal that I kept while teaching that first year at New Life. In it, close to the front, bookended by one of those “God’s leading” relationships – 9/11 happened. Jesse Gardner and I sat in a room that included kids who parents worked down at/by the Towers and watched them collapse. We gathered on that Wednesday night service the next day as traumatized Christians gathered, prayed and told their stories. At the end of the week, I wrote, “This week the Towers went down. We’re going to war. I don’t know how or when but I’m going to be a part of this.”

I tried to join the Army that fall but medical issues kept me out.

I came in several years later after completing seminary. Deployments defined the first 5 years, then a year interlude at an Advanced Individual Training unit, and then CPE, then the prison. My time in the Army has been one of constant engagement in the lives of Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s been amazing.

Me, meeting my new Daughter after my second deployment in 2008. Sophie was a year old.

Me, meeting my new Daughter after my second deployment in 2008. Sophie was a year old.

But was I called?
Not sure. I know I wanted an adventure. I knew I wanted an opportunity to prove my manhood. I knew I wanted to go to war. I knew I wanted to fulfill a childhood dream.

I did all that. Checked those blocks. I finally arrived at Ft. Campbell and now, I just don’t like any of it. The possibility of going to Air Assault school just pains me and the talk of war saddens me. The man who came into the Army a decade ago joined to go to war. He had no children and no real future plans. He just had a passion and needed to accomplish something.

Does calling change?
I still love preaching. I still love teaching. I still love work in which there is a clear line connecting the work I do with changed lives and the visible working of God in other’s lives. That has not changed.

You know, it occurs to me that I’ve never believed that the specific location really mattered in terms of exercising a call to ministry. Just do the work and the location/job title/congregation will take care of itself.

During my time at CPE, I developed this pattern of call, it’s not for everyone but it’s how I work with God’s call in my life:

There are human needs, there is the Divine plan to meet those needs, there are my hopes/desires/skills/gifts and they intersect. This vocation is then confirmed by others who, themselves, follow close to God’s voice. Calling/confirmation. It’s what works in my life.

I’m interested in what others have experienced in relationship to ” the call.

2 thoughts on “Ten Year Itch Part 2: Calling

  1. “God’s calling” means that God is communicating something to one. He is calling to one, which means he is communicating to one. He does communicate, in a direct way, by conversation, I have personally experienced it. Apparently this is rare; I have never met another that this happened to. I don’t know why I was so blessed, so priivilieged, but I was.

    Could communication from God happen other ways? Who’s to say… definatively? Really, who is to say? Unless God talked to you how do you KNOW?

    I have felt many other ‘pulls’ and I have followed those pulls; be the warrior guy, get married, be a Blackwater contractor, but a myraid of other less momentous life changing decisions too. I call them “gut” feelings. I follow them. And I trust that the holy spirit will guide me and God will protect and bless or block my decision.

    How I have prayed that I could recieve clear verbal communication directly from God. Even now. It only happened once, and it wasn’t directive in nature, it was if-then guidance which still left the decision up to me… kinda cryptic really… “If your heart is pure, your path will be true”. It was NOT the directive I was hoping for; yes do it, no don’t do it. I was hoping for black and white; do I or don’t I? That’s not what I got. But it was till momentous in its own right, scared me, rivetted me, paralyzed me. Definately got my attention. Gave me relief that I was doing the right thing for the right reasons, and I went with it. Turned out 10 years down the road to end in divorce, but who knows what the teachiing point(s) was or were along the way?

    We all desperately want to be in God’s will. I do. I want black and white. Do I or don’t I change careers? Who doesn’t want the right answer to what we feel are HUGE life decisions? Come on God… this is important! But if he doesn’t tell you directly (and he CAN if he wants to, I know this for a fact) then how do you really know if your decision is what he wants you to do? I have to conclude that our path, HUGE life decisions we think we are faced with, are really not that important to God. Because if they were, he would say something wouldn’t he? Get over ourselves already! They are HUGE momentous decisions in our eyes… maybe not so much in God’s eyes?

    So, I try to follow my heart, I follow where I feel I am being “led”. Even though I really was not told by God, in spoken words, it is just a gut feeling that I feel led by. Dangerous? Sure, I suppose so, suppose it could be. But I have been touched by God, and I trust God. If it is Satan who is deceiving me and leading me down the garden path to disaster, then I trust the God will close the door on the disasterous path at some point because I am a child of God… he even notices when a sparrow falls to earth… I think he would notice when I was heading for disaster. Don’t you think? Basically I TRY not to worry about it too much… “my yoke is easy…” someone once said ? πŸ™‚ TRY being the operative word. Sounds really easy right? Hakuna Matata? Please! I struggle with this almost every day! And I am the lucky one, I am the one who God spoke to…. once… a long time ago. And yet still I yearn for the right answer from God. Why? Because I don’t want to fail. I don’t to be outside God’s will. I crave his blessing. I don’t want to anger him. Dang this is sounding prretty shallow, even as I write it! Dang dude, do you have ANY faith? Do you have faith or don’t you? But it is so true, this is my internal dialogue.

    I DO have faith, I DO believe. But I am at the end of the day I am a frail person who wants to be baby’d by God, who doesn’t trust himself.

    I suspect God wants me to be stronger, have stronger faith, more faith, even as I feel that my faith is pretty strong. It needs to be stronger. Maybe if it were stronger the words in the bible would be that active voice that directs me. Honestly thats not working for me. Yet? I wish it did. Maybe more time in the bible? Sure. How is that working for you?

    But I weigh, as best I can, my heart and my innermost intentions and desires. What is really driving this “leading”? I ask, and try to be as brutally honest and unbiased as I can… but I am only human… with ingrained prejudices, wants, goals all of which are purely mine, driven by gut feeling. “Led” if you will. I measure the feeling I am being “led” by and compare it to what I know he told me… “If your heart is pure, your path will be true”. If it measures up, then I go for it, trusting that he will nudge me left or right or halt my efforts dead in my tracks if it wasn’t him that was “leading” me down that path.

    Hoping this helps, From my heart from baby Jesus – quoting some beautiful 4ish year old I can’t remember because my memory is shot πŸ™‚ and in my usual bumbling barely coherent way.

    So follow your heart Jon Fisher, because you are a child of God, brother to me, brother to Jesus Christ. God will not let you crash and burn. Worst case scenario, he prevents and effectively blocks you from getting out.

    Andrew

  2. Andrew, there is a profound depth in what you are saying. I so agree with the notion that the things that are monumentus to me are a bit trite and a little ho-hum to an eternal God. I think of Job who after all his very real suffering, God responds with something like, “so, where exactly were you when I made the world? Ok, then. Be still.” I agree that some of the mental, emotional, and spiritual gyrations I (and I suspect many others) put myself through are just to
    convince myself of a truth I already know deep in my heart. It’s true, often, I want to be baby’d by God and told exactly what to do and where to go. Of course, if that happened, I’d be angry and resent the fact that I have no choice in the matter…

    …go figure…

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