Vocation and Avocation

My father had a question he asked different groups when we were younger.  It is a rather profound question when you think about it.  Not on the surface, but underneath it you begin thinking about God in a deeper way.  Here is the question:  When did God become more than just word to you?

In other words, when did you become aware of a presence in your life that was not of this world?  Something supernatural that you couldn’t shake.  Something or someone that could not be dismissed or explained away.  He called that a “God-awareness.”  We all have had them.  It is the beginning of the way to salvation.  You can’t come to faith in God until you are aware of his presence and his reality.

But there came a special time in my life when God tapped me on the shoulder and whispered something in my heart.

It happened when I was 9 years old at a boy’s camp in the mountains of Colorado.  There on the concrete floor of the open pavilion where we all had gathered to hear a message from a preacher, but I heard a message from the God of the universe.  I heard him in my heart.  I never heard words.  It was more like a whisper.  But it wasn’t a whisper of words.

You might say it was a calling.  It was very vague, almost ethereal and I was troubled by it.  The only language that my parents and my religious tradition had for it was a “call to preach the gospel.”  That is about all you were “called” to do back then.  Called to “preach” or called to be a “missionary.”  (And of course that meant going to Africa.)  If preaching would mean ‘to tell’ and being a missionary would mean ‘to live missionally’— well then we are on to something.

But perhaps preaching should have been my avocation rather than vocation.  In time, I became a professional “teller” of the Scriptures.  It seemed to be the natural progression in my family. My dad was a preacher.  My grandfather had been a preacher.  Folks at church would always ask me, “Are you going to be a preacher like your dad?”  I don’t remember what I said, but I remember what I felt, “I hope not.”  I didn’t want to be a preacher.

That night at the camp, God whispered to me.  Looking back on it after 41 years, I have come to look at it differently.  I think God called me do something special for Him, but what makes it special is not the preaching part.  It wasn’t the medium; it was the message.  God has something special he wants me to say.  The mode is secondary to the message.  If I were a better writer, it would be with the written word.  If I were an actor, it would have been on the stage.  If I had been a singer, it might have been in song.  But I am a talker…a teacher.  Therefore God has allowed me to use my voice to tell His message.

A few years ago my brother and I were having a conversation and he told me about a crisis time in his life.  He was struggling with a sense of identity and so he went on a retreat in the mountains.  There after fasting and praying, he felt as if God in all but an audible voice:  “You are my artist.”  I was impressed by that.  I wanted that kind of term of endearment from God.

I didn’t go to a mountain cabin and fast, but I prayed and prayed.  I wanted to hear from God a word that was so intimate and so unique.  I got nothing.

That hurt.  I felt as if I didn’t measure up and that somehow I was inadequate; maybe even damaged goods.  I became obsessed with who I was.  I began to define myself by what I did.  I was a minister.  I was business consultant.  I was a father.  I was a husband.  I was a survey equipment salesman.  All of that, while nice and wholesome, never scratched that deeper itch.

Then one evening we were entertaining friends and, after a wonderful meal, we began to swap stories.  My friend Rick would tell one, then I would tell one, all with much gaiety and loud laughter.

Suddenly my wife started to tell a story and then turned to me and said, “You tell it.  You are the storyteller.”  Later that night I asked God if that was who I was.  Was I his story teller?  He spoke to me.  He said, “No.”    God doesn’t speak this clearly to me very often so as you might imagine I was a bit disappointed in this answer.  Then he said, “You are the story.   From time-to-time tell about the journey.”

God is writing a story out of my life and I get to tell about it.  How amazing is that?  Sometimes it is a tragedy and sometimes it is a comedy.  But ultimately it is his story and I get to be in it.  As my brother also told me one time, “When God enters your story; your story is no longer your story, it is God’s story and he can call for the telling of that story anytime he chooses.”

So, now…

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

I was put here to live a story.  That is my vocation.  Telling the story is my avocation.  That is what was being whispered to my heart in the mountains that I have just now really heard.   God is much more than a word now…he is the story in which I find myself.

“…for in Him we live and move and have our being…”  Acts 17:28

Your thoughts?


3 thoughts on “Vocation and Avocation

  1. Joe, I’ve always enjoyed your stories and of the way that you tell God’s story. You really should write a book. I think there are a lot of things that you have lived in your life that we can laugh from, love, cry and learn from. I think you’re right all of us are the story from time to time but only some of us are able to share in a way that everyone can enjoy and relate to. Thanks for sharing your stories.

  2. I found the subject matter of this post so intriguing that I had to chew on it for awhile. After I savored the “God moments” in my life I was able to digest this rich morsel.

    I took some time to go through Scripture to find biblical accounts of individuals truly having life changing encounters with God. This has been so incredible that I am now using my quiet time for the next month to discover these stories.

    Just a few places where I saw people impacted by their encounter with God:
    Genesis 15:6; Exodus 3:5; Leviticus 4:16; Numbers 20:6; Deuteronomy 34:9; Joshua 2:4-11; Judges 6:17; Ruth 1:16; I Samuel 1:15; Matthew 4:18; Mark 5:2; Luke 10:41; John 20:24; Acts 2:36.

    At a small group study last week I challenged the members to ponder this very subject and to share their stories the following week. I must say that we had the best group discussion that night. Just like Scripture, each story was unique and each one revealed a piece of God’s glory.

    As you read through the verses I listed, you will see that God speaks and touches individuals. Those individuals become the masses!

    Thanks for this great post and the challenge you presented. I was reminded of who I am…just a child of God.

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