As I begin exploring the language of ‘calling’ — and calling into mission in particular — I want to start by embracing my inner Captain Obvious and declaring that God is a calling God.
When we talk about calling, we’re talking about something God does.
That God does it becomes obvious almost as soon as you flip open a Bible. Without saying anything about the (long) biblical backstory, consider the four New Testament Gospels.
All of them commence with stories of Jesus calling people. Calling them out of their prior occupations and allegiances. And calling them to himself. To belong to him. To be his followers. To learn from him. To imitate him.
But the significance of my initial observation that God calls runs much deeper than this. You see, when the Gospel writers zoom in on the calling of Jesus’ disciples, they disclose that God calls.
That’s why they’re at pains to stress Jesus’ winsome and apparently effortless authority. In response to his call, Jesus’ disciples do make a genuine — and at times costly — break with their former life. And yet they seem to do so with joy.
So even though there are occasional hints the first disciples may have had prior knowledge of Jesus, the emphasis always falls on the radical, disruptive and yet profoundly right character of his call — perfectly blending the authority of command and the goodness of invitation.
Jesus’ call isn’t issued with naked, coercive force. Rather, it comes clothed in the omnipotence of love.
Which is nothing less than you’d expect of the God who meets us in the Bible. Indeed, the God who reveals himself in the biblical story that reaches its climax with the Lord Jesus, is love — eternally and in the perfect, dynamic overflow of life shared by Father and Son in the unity of the Spirit.
Hence, I’m inclined to say that ‘calling’ is nothing short of the fundamental way the Christian God expresses his moral authority in relation to human persons.
In fact, I think I even want to push towards saying all other more or less appropriate ways of speaking of this authority — command, decree, warning, threat, etc — will bring us back to ‘call’ when they’re understood against the backdrop of who God has shown himself to be, and so placed in the context of his divine and holy love.
Our God is a calling God.