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The Difference Between Following A Vocation And Volunteering (via Will Willimon)

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Will Willimon’s memoir Accidental Preacher is an engaging collection of memories and observations.
He tells the story, and the art of telling the story is as enjoyable as the stories themselves.
In writing about the somewhat neglected concept of calling, he makes the observation that being a disciple of Jesus is not our idea. We didn’t volunteer, we were called. And that stops our service being about ourselves and makes it about the one who idea our service originated from.

In a rare lapse into autobiography, Isaiah dates his call, “In the year that king Uzziah died,” leaving us to speculate why the death of the king was significant in the young prophet’s vocation. Methodists adore this passage. Our Methodist national anthem is based on Isaiah 6, Dan Shutte’s “Here I Am, Lord.” Few Methodists make it through two stanzas of this hymn without volunteering to go evangelize Zulus or at least to shed a maudlin tear.
Here I am, Lord, is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. … I will go, Lord, where you send me … I …
Note the prevalence of the first—person personal pronoun as vocation degenerates into volunteering. Rather than risky encounter with a summoning God, worship morphs into sappy songs, syrupy clichés on the screen, followed by the sharing of tiring details about our personal lives at the coffee hour. Christian preaching slides into “Come right over here and sit next to me. I’m dying to tell you all about myself,” and theology becomes commentary on human experience of God rather than God. Interiority writ large.
Here I am, Lord overlooks a great gift of vocation: rescue from our overly cultivated subjectivity. Vocation’s power, said Hermann Hesse, is when “the soul is awakened…, so that instead of dreams and presentiments from within a summons comes from without,” and an external relation “presents itself and makes its claim.”
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Vocation is not evoked by your bundle of need and desire. Vocation is what God wants from you whereby your life is transformed into a consequence of God’s redemption of the world.
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pgs 51-52, 54.

One thought on “The Difference Between Following A Vocation And Volunteering (via Will Willimon)

  1. “Here I am, Lord” should be consecration to whatever God has called us to do, whatever that may be. That is not as easy as it sounds. I was stirred up by a message from Brother Andrew. For sure I would do anything that God asked me to do. So I thought. Not long after, I was advised that I should become an ordained minister. Anything….. except that! Eventually I capitulated and took steps to enter theological college. I did not make the cut. You have no idea how happy I was. But I learned not to boast about my level of consecration.

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