Recognizing and responding to the call of Jesus is what we call discipleship. It involves listening to God’s voice and following where that voice leads us. Let’s explore the call of Jesus.
A Call that Requires Courage
Jesus minced no words when calling people to follow, and Jesus called men and women alike. This is quite remarkable if we recall the cultural practices and expectations regarding women in Jesus’ time. Equally remarkable, given the circumstances, is the courage of the women who responded to Jesus’ call. During Jesus’ time, women were essentially treated as children. Their spiritual life was not their own but a vicarious experience mediated through their husbands and families. First-century Judaism and its society demanded that a respectable woman not be seen in public or speak to a man in public. It prohibited a woman from learning the Torah, following a rabbi, or making any ethical decisions apart from the guidance of her father or husband.
Of course Jesus knew about these restrictions. Like any adult male, particularly a rabbi (as Jesus was viewed throughout his ministry), Jesus knew that contact with women was supposed to be severely limited. Jesus knew about the prohibitions against talking with women or teaching them. Jesus knew that calling women to be his followers, touching them, or allowing them to touch him were forbidden. And Jesus knew that using them as illustrations in stories was pushing the envelope. Yet remarkably, Jesus talked with, taught, called, touched, was touched by, and included women anyway.
Women followed Jesus faithfully all over Galilee. According to all four of the Gospels, many women even undertook the weeklong trip to be at Jesus’ side in Jerusalem. It was Jesus’ women disciples who stayed at the cross as he died. It was Jesus’ women followers who saw were he was buried. And it was the women who were the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection.
It took courage for women in Jesus’ day to follow him because of the rigid messages from society and religion regarding women. Though our circumstances may be different from those of the women who lived 2,000 years ago, Jesus continues to call us, and his call remains remarkable. Likewise, our response continues to require courage. Even today there remains a huge gap between the messages that society and the church send regarding how women should follow Jesus and the way Jesus expects us to follow him. Jesus treated women as adults and expected them to follow him as adults; that same call and expectation is extended to us.
A Call That’s Personal and Communal
Jesus not only calls us; he calls us individually and uniquely. Consider the story of Samuel and Eli. In the simple details of this story we find profound truth related to our calling.
Samuel was dedicated to the Lord from the time he was born and went to live in the temple with Eli, the priest. When he was a young boy, one night Samuel heard someone calling him. Three different times the voice called out Samuel’s name, and three times he went to Eli to ask if he had called him. On the third time, Eli realized that the Lord must be calling to Samuel, so he told him to go back and lie down, listen for the voice, and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9 NRSV).
God had called Eli to be his priest and Eli had responded, but Eli didn’t hear when God called Samuel. God’s call to Samuel was personal—for Samuel’s ears and no other’s.
Our callings are like that as well. God calls each of us in a unique and personal way. When God speaks to you, that call is for your ears only. You may share it with others and you may journey with others as they respond to their unique callings, but God’s call to you belongs to you. God’s call is personal.
As unique as our callings are, we belong to a community of faith. Though God calls us individually, God calls us in the context of that community. So we are called to follow Christ both in our personal endeavors and in the context of the believing community, and it is the believing community that helps us verify and solidify our call to follow Jesus.
Though Samuel’s call was for his ears only, Samuel didn’t recognize it on his own. Eli helped him to hear it. The community of faith can be a valuable source of help for us as well. It is often in the context of the community of faith that we are able to discover gifts within us that we have yet to recognize. The believing community also serves as sounding boards, helping us to confirm and clarify our sense of call by words of encouragement and words of caution.
A Call to Abandon Idolatry
Hearing God’s voice and responding to God’s call tend to push us far from our comfort zones. When Jesus ate in the home of Mary and Martha, Martha was busy preparing the meal while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to him teach. When Martha asked Jesus to do something about it, he challenged Martha to rethink the things that wasted her time and diverted her attention, the very things she believed were virtues for women.
At a deeper level, this is Jesus’ call to us as well. Jesus calls us to examine how we spend our time, to study what receives our attention, and to take responsibility for our own spiritual growth and development. Unlike his contemporaries, Jesus treated women like adults; he assumed an adult level of competence and demanded that they enter into spiritual reflection along with men. This required evaluating where their focus was. He expects no less of us today.
Evaluating where our focus is helps us to guard against idolatry, which is becoming attached or devoted to something in a way that moves us away from our center in Christ. We must continually ask ourselves: What is my center? Is it still Christ? Where is my focus? Is it on following Jesus, or am I distracted? To whom am I listening—Jesus or the world?
The world sends us many messages about what is important. We are like Martha and like the rich man who wanted to follow Jesus but could not do as Jesus requested and sell everything he had: we listen to the world’s messages and build our lives around them. Like the rich man, our idol may be money. Or it may be power or status or recognition—the fast track to corporate or financial success or security. Or our idols may be subtler, as Martha’s were: a clean house, perfect hostessing, home-cooked meals, well-mannered kids who get good grades. They may be the distractions that we encounter in our daily life, the “small stuff ” we’re not supposed to sweat but do.
A particularly subtle idol is the family. This has been my point of struggle over the years. It is culturally acceptable, even highly praised, to make the care of our families an all-engrossing task. What a sharp contrast to Jesus’ teaching! Though he was given the opportunity, Jesus refused to promote family responsibilities above discipleship responsibilities.
In the Gospel of Luke we read, “A woman in the crowd called out [to Jesus], ‘God bless your mother—the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!’ Jesus replied, ‘But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice’” (11:27-28).
It is hard for us to hear such a sharp word against the very institution we have so elevated. It makes us wonder why Jesus was so harsh. Doesn’t Jesus want us to care for our families and our children? Doesn’t Jesus want us to raise our children well, nurturing them so they too will become good disciples? Of course he does! But Jesus is aware of our keen ability to be lured into idol worship. Because of that awareness, he spoke strongly and got our attention. Our relationship with God is to come before all else...
A Call to Value Your Time
If we are to answer the call of Jesus, we also must learn to value our time. At its heart, Christian faith is a response to God’s gracious love and promises in Jesus Christ. Part of our response is a commitment to the nurture of that faith. We disregard God’s promises if we initially respond in faith but then allow our faith to wither because we haven’t taken steps to nourish it. Nurturing our faith takes time.
As women, we are not always encouraged to value our time. My husband has often told me that I need a lesson in time management. Maybe I do. But what really plagues women is not an inability to manage time. What plagues us is the difficulty we have invaluing it. Society tells us, and we often believe, that our time is simply not as valuable as men’s time is. If we are to be faithful disciples, we must guard against this devaluing of our time. If we are to remain centered in Christ, we have to turn a deaf ear to the cultural messages that tell us that our callings to spiritual nurture and personal development are not important. Our time is not only important; it is the key to our spiritual growth. We must be intentional about nurturing our faith and cultivating our gifts, talents, and callings.
Jesus has called us, and following Jesus is valuable. How we live that out may differ at varying stages of our lives, but at every turn we must be diligent to assert to ourselves and to others that our time and our pursuits are important, even when we are not actively working to serve or please others. “Valuing Our Calling” helps us to live a life centered in Christ.
excerpt from: Finding Balance in a World of Extremes: Reflections form The Christ-Centered Woman by Kimberly Dunnam Reisman Copyright©2013 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission.