Lent Week 2: Open our Ears to your Call

As a teenager, I vividly remember sitting next to the house phone, with Blondie’s song Call Me blasting out of my tape deck, eagerly waiting for a call from a girl I’d asked on a date. When the call came with the deafening ring of those old phones, I was to be disappointed – the answer was not simply “no, thank you”, it was “no way”.

These days, of course, awaiting a call from a friend or a family member can bring a similar anticipation, especially during a year when we haven’t been able to meet up with as many as we usually do. On top of that, there can be a real excitement about the ping of our mobile phones telling us we have a text or WhatApp message. Scientists tell us we have a rush of dopamine firing around our heads each time we hear our mobile phones ping.

But what about the idea of being called by God? Do you have a similar anticipation of God’s call? Or a similar excitement that he might be speaking to you? It’s important to remember that God’s call is not some scary, supernatural, otherworldly thing that’s restricted to special and holy priests or prophets. God speaks to all of us, he calls all of us – whoever you are, whatever your age, whatever your background, however close you feel to him, however far you feel from him. He’s calling all of us; calling us to use our gifts and talents to bring his kingdom of love to our communities. How exciting is that? Far more exciting than the ring of a phone or the ping of a mobile!

So, the important question is not “is God calling me?”, but rather “am I listening?” The Rule of St Benedict, written in the sixth century, may have been written for monks living in community, but its teaching is as relevant to us now as it was 1500 years ago. And what is the first word of that book? – “listen”. Listen. St Benedict goes on to write: “let us open our ears to the voice from the heavens that every day calls out: if you hear God’s voice today, don’t harden your heart; you have ears to hear, so listen to what the Spirit says”.

So, this week, whoever you are, young or old, lay or ordained, church attender or not, I want to encourage you to open your ears to God’s call. What is he calling you to? Perhaps it’s something big that will mean significant changes is your life. Or perhaps is something small – something loving he wants you to do for someone right now. Remember… the important question is not “is God calling me?”, but rather “am I listening?”

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

When you want us to walk before you faithfully

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to follow you

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to call a crowd to you

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to talk to us individually

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to make us very fruitful

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to deny ourselves

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to forfeit the whole world

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to help change the whole world

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to remind us that your covenant is everlasting

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

And when you want to remind us that you are always asking something different of us

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

Amen.

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

“A vicar walks into a bar”: Why would anyone become a member of the clergy?

Rev.jpgIn a recent comprehensive piece of research by the UK Office for National Statistics, 274 jobs were considered as to which gave the most satisfaction. At the top of the list, as the most fulfilling occupation, was being a member of the clergy. Being a priest, vicar, pastor, or minister may not be the best paid financially, but it certainly pays in other ways. On the other hand, the job giving the least satisfaction was the position of a landlord of a public house or a wine bar. So, serving God beats serving pints of beer!

Sad man drinking in barInterestingly, in the hit song ‘Hope on the Rocks’, the American country music star Toby Keith describes the bartender in very priestly terms. People, he claims, go to bars with all sorts of problems – breakups, depression, grief, poverty – and they are desperate to be listened to, to confess, and to be comforted. The bar allows them the freedom to “drown in their sorrow and cry in their beer”. The bartender is, therefore, presented as being there to bring hope to their trials and tribulations. While there may be some amount of truth in this, most bar staff and pub landlords aren’t trained to deal with people’s turbulent lives and they haven’t chosen their livelihood because of a calling to care for people pastorally.

All Christians, of course, have a calling on their lives. God wants to use his people in their workplace and elsewhere, and no occupation is more important than another. Much of the satisfaction that comes through ordination, though, is because clergy are able to live out directly and boldly what they believe God is calling them to be. Before I became a member of the clergy, I lectured at a number of Universities. There was an enormous pressure there to attract new students to the colleges, so as to bring more money and financial stability to the institutions. Church leaders still have to deal with financial pressures, but most of their time is spent bringing God’s love to people who desperately need hope, peace, and comfort, and in showing Christ’s unconditional compassion to those who are struggling in an all too often uncompassionate, materialistic society.

revFor those who watch the ups and downs of parish life that Rev Adam Smallbone goes through in the BBC’s sitcom Rev, the level of satisfaction amongst members of the clergy might be a surprise. There is no doubt that, like the ministry of this fictitious inner-city vicar, most of us clergy go through periods of doubt, frustration, and disillusionment. There are even times when we might want to take off our dog collar and cut it into pieces. “I struck the board, and cried, ‘No more; I will abroad!’”, wrote sixteenth-century cleric George Herbert as he looked at his collar lying on the table.

Wedding vicarBut also like Rev Adam in Rev, those times of frustration fade into near obscurity in comparison with the times of fulfilment and satisfaction that our vocation brings – the times that George Herbert describes as moments when we hear God’s voice affirming our vocation. “As I raved and grew more fierce and wild at every word,” concludes Herbert’s poem The Collar, “me thought I heard one calling, ‘Child!’ And I replied ‘My Lord’”. It is, after all, a wonderful privilege to help people connect with the transcendence of life – to give opportunities for them to recognise that life is more than the hustle and bustle of their busy, competitive, and sometimes tiresome daily existence. It is also a magnificent privilege to be there at both the uplifting and unhappy times of people’s lives; at the ups and downs; at the hospitals and funerals and at the weddings and christenings. We stand alongside others in their tears and tragedy, as well as their joy and jubilation. We shake their hands after they commit their lives in love to another, and we hold their hands at hospital bedsides as they move from this life to the next. As such, our ministry is living out God’s compassion – suffering when others suffer and rejoicing when they are joyful.

THE DOUBLE movieThe recent film The Double, directed by Richard Ayoade and based on Dostoyevsky novella of the same name, may be situated in a dystopic, parallel world but the characters voice feelings that are widespread in today’s world. Jesse Eisenberg describes himself as a lonely and disconnected “Pinocchio”, a “wooden boy, not a real boy” who needs to be brought to life. That disconnect with the world around us, that loneliness and longing for community and connection, remains deep in the heart of humanity. By becoming a vicar, priest, or minister, we have the privilege of offering light and new life to those who come to us, as we support and love them through their journey. The wonderful irony is that, by offering people God’s grace, we are, in turn, offered so much fulfilment and satisfaction ourselves.

If you yourself feel God might be calling you to be a vicar, priest, pastor, or minister, please do talk to your own church leader.

“A Satsuma is not a Failed Orange”: Listening to God’s call

VocationI live two varied and interesting lives. Don’t worry, this isn’t a confession of a secret life that I live. Rather, I’m referring to the fact that I have two ministries. On the one hand, I am blessed to be vicar of a wonderful church in a picturesque part of Cardiff (Roath Park), and, on the other hand, I have a role for the diocese of Llandaff – the diocesan director of ordinands. When I summarise that part of my job to those who aren’t Christian, I tell them that, in a nutshell, I help people work out whether God is calling them to be a vicar or whether God is calling them to something else, which will be different, but equally as important. Today is, therefore, an important day for me, as it is Vocation Sunday in our diocese – the day that we think about what being “called” actually means.

Little TrysWhen I was a child, I loved the Old Testament story of little Samuel being called by God in the temple at night. In fact, I loved it so much that Little Trys used to lie awake at night, straining to hear his name being called out. Is God calling me, I would ask myself… and I would listen so very carefully. But every night I was disappointed – silence! Then, and this is completely true, one night I finally heard my name – ‘Trystan…’ I thought ‘surely not’. But then I heard it again ‘Trystan…’ I was scared about talking directly to God, but I was also excited, because I knew the answer to this – I’d heard the story of Samuel in Sunday School, so I said confidently the words he had been told to say when he heard God calling him: ‘speak, Lord, your servant is listening’. And, sure enough, the voice replied ‘good, Trystan, because I have such an important task for you… tomorrow you must go out and buy your wonderful older brother the most expensive birthday present you can find him!’ At that point I noticed the shadow of my brother outside my door. I was distraught! I was actually so disappointed that, at that point, I came to the conclusion that God would never call someone like me. He only calls ‘special’ people, I thought – great prophets, very holy people, good people, worthy people.

GiftsBut, the reality is, of course, that, if we look in the Bible, God calls all sorts of people to do his work, from all sorts of backgrounds. So, being “called” is not about being ‘good’, ‘worthy’, or ‘holy’. God actually calls all of us, whoever we are and whatever we’ve done. After all, each and every one of us is a mixture of good and bad. I am the second of five children – my mum and dad kept trying until they got one they liked… (joke, mum!) When I was a child, my older brother was a good rugby player and a talented musician. I rather saw myself as the black sheep of my family, then my younger brother grew up and he was even more of a rebel than I was – and so, in my mind, he took over that mantle as the ‘black sheep’ and I was relegated to the ‘grey sheep’ of the family!

The reality is, though, that all of us are grey sheep. As the theologian Hans Kung put it, ‘a few of us are white sheep, a few of us are black sheep, but, let’s face it, most of us are zebras’. So, each of us also have a rebellious side, which can be selfish and self-centred, but each of us also have various God-given talents and gifts and He can use each of us for his purpose.  ‘Oh here in dust and dirt, O here; The lilies of his love appear’, wrote the seventeenth-century Welsh poet Henry Vaughan.

Despite our weaknesses, then, God calls each and every one of us. So, the question is not ‘is God calling you to do something?’ No, the question is ‘what is God calling you to do?’ So, on this Vocation Sunday, can I suggest that you think about two things:

I am SuperFirstly, why not take time to think how you are being called to use your gifts and talents for God’s glory? Some of our talents are obvious to all (some of us are talented singers, skillful musicians, wonderful actors, or great cake-bakers), but, alongside from our obvious talents, we must also all search for, and work on, our less recognizable gifts (like the gift of being able to talk to people, the gift of smiling at people, the gift of being patient with people who you find to be particularly annoying, or the gift of just being aware when someone needs help or needs a kind word or two). None of these talents are any less important than the others. Someone once said to me that a ‘Satsuma is not a failed orange’! All talents are important and valuable and useful to God and He’s calling you to use your talents. So ask yourself this week – how are you being called to use your gifts and talents to bring light into people’s lives? ‘Oh here in dust and dirt, O here; The lilies of his love appear’.

Ipod PriestBut, secondly, can I urge you to consider, and pray for, those who are feeling called to ordained ministry. You yourself may be feeling called to offer yourself to explore being a priest, a pastor, a vicar. If so, pray about it and talk about it with someone who knows you well and to your parish priest. But, even if you don’t feel such a call, ask yourself one question: do you know anyone who you think would make a great vicar? If so, can I urge you to have a quiet word with him or her and to suggest to them that they might consider exploring such a ministry. What’s the worst that can happen? Yes, they could burst out laughing and say: “you must be joking!” But, on the other hand, your word to them might just be the one thing that makes them start exploring a ministry that is so varied, so wonderful, and so rewarding. ‘Oh here in dust and dirt, O here; The lilies of his love appear’.

And so I finish with the prayer that I put together for the diocese of Llandaff for this Vocation Sunday:

Loving God,

thank you for calling us at baptism to be your people

and for inviting each of us to serve you through the gift of our lives.

In response to your call we again say, “Yes.”

Keep us faithful to your mission and our vocation.

And, gracious Lord, we ask that you inspire more women and men

of faith and compassion to ministry, service, and leadership.

Fill them with your Spirit of wisdom and grace

to proclaim the Good News,

to bring peace and hope into their situations,

and to witness your presence among us.

May those who are already opening themselves to your call

be encouraged and strengthened

to take your love into our communities with joyful and hopeful hearts.

Through Jesus Christ, our Lord,

Amen.

(Parts of this blog post are taken from my book Real God in the Real World: Advent and Christmas Reflections on the Coming of Christ)