by Angela Denker
My favorite Bible passage about time is found in John 7:1-6.
It tells about the time when Jesus’ friends went, reluctantly, to a festival without him. They told him he should come, but he told them to go without him.
“My time has not yet come,” he said.
Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, hesitant to attend parties at all– and when I do, you can usually find me huddled near the snack table– but I love this reminder from Jesus about the importance of timing when it comes to exercising your vocation, or God’s call to you in your daily life.
The word vocation originated in the Roman church. It comes from the Latin vocare, or to call or invoke.
For centuries–and for many Christians even now — vocation has been erroneously seen as something strictly reserved for priests, religious sisters or pastors. I used to teach an introductory discipleship course that included a discussion of vocation. I always started with a picture of a nun wearing a habit, and everyone always recognized her as a symbol of vocation.
To many people, the word vocation means something far removed from ordinary, everyday life, as if God’s calling–God’s vocare–is reserved for someone else. For that person you knew in high school who gave up their career to go to seminary. For your missionary friend. For your youth pastor. Anyone but you.
The truth, though, is that God’s call has never been reserved only for those who serve the church in ordained or vowed ministry. In his critique of the corruption in the church of his day, Luther repeatedly cited 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”
Just as God created you as God’s precious, beloved creation – God has a desire for you to live out your life as a disciple of Jesus, seeking to follow Jesus in your everyday life, whatever that looks like for you.
For some of you, that might mean finding vocation at work or school. It might mean pondering on your way to the office or to the classroom or to the job site: What would Jesus say to this client? How would Jesus address this student or professor? How might Jesus respond to this supervisor?
For some of you, vocation might mean something outside paid work or school. It might mean work in the family: As caregiver for children, parents or a spouse. It might mean writing, or volunteering, or organizing.
Vocation means many things to many people. It’s not easily definable. But like Jesus’ words to his disciples, timing is important when it comes to vocation.
You’ll likely find that your vocation, your calling from God, will shift throughout your life. As you grow in faith and trust of the Lord, you will sense God’s calling shifting with your circumstances. Timing matters.
Jesus knew this. He did not allow himself to be pressured into responding to God’s call the way his friends or even his family wanted him to respond. He held back, and this is key: Jesus spent time in discernment and prayer as he looked to respond to God’s call in his life.
Jesus understood that he had no one to answer to, ultimately, besides God. Jesus reminds you of this ultimate gift and responsibility today, as social media feedback can sometimes whirl at a dizzying pace.
But Jesus knew that God had called him to public ministry. So when his time came, he went out on his own and began to teach. Not all believed in him – many doubted him or insulted his family background. But Jesus stayed faithful to God’s call. He did not waver. He paid attention to God’s timing.
God’s timing and God’s call in my life have been both constant and always evolving. When I graduated college, I considered applying directly to seminary. But I had an equally strong calling – at that time – to journalism: to tell people’s stories and to report the truth.
Five years later, having covered the Super Bowl, been published in Sports Illustrated, and enjoyed all the perks of high-profile sports coverage – I still felt a strong calling from God to tell the Gospel story in an unambiguous way, directly – as a parish pastor.
I went to seminary, served congregations in Chicago and in California, and then I sensed God’s calling shifting again. My husband, Ben, and I now have two young sons, and I sensed a call to be more present with them. I also sensed a call from God to explore using my journalistic and pastoral training to share my call from God through public writing and speaking.
This shifting call hasn’t been easy. In those inevitable moments of doubt, I continue to remember Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 7. When it comes to God’s call, timing is paramount. It is never all easy, and it is never all hard. You will sometimes be praised and adored, as Jesus was – and you will sometimes be scorned and ignored, as Jesus was. The one constant is God’s direction – to you – God’s desire for you to use your gifts to follow Jesus, however you can in this time and in the time to come.
The Rev. Angela Denker is a former sportswriter turned Lutheran pastor, writer, speaker–and full-time mom of two little boys–based in Minneapolis. Denker is a contributor to various publications, including The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, Red Letter Christians, and Living Lutheran. Her forthcoming book, Red State Christians: Meet the Voters who elected Donald Trump, will be published by Fortress Press in 2019. Denker blogs at A Good Christian Woman … Not that One, where she tries to share Jesus’ love and refute the rumors about women, Christians, motherhood, and Jesus.