My pivotal moment of faith was not a moment but a journey toward accepting a call to ministry. A Church Army Sister began the journey of introducing me to theological questions and the way Jesus lived that have emerged into a lifelong relationship with God and a way to understand my feeling of God’s tugging at my heart. The tug became stronger as I completed Pharmacy School and I was part way through theological studies and finally chose to offer for ministry in the Diocese of Dunedin, the place of my birth.
Pivotal moments of faith are not limited to calls to the ministry. Each time we encounter God, our faith relationship with God changes. Some of our God encounters are more significant to our faith development than others. Thoughts about that tug come to me each year at this time as I reflect upon the Passion of Jesus and particularly his crucifixion.
For many years, James Michener felt a desire to write novels, but when a plane in which he was riding crashed on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia he acted on his dream. The next day he began writing Tales of the South Pacific. Most of the biblical call stories are similarly dramatic. Moses heard the voice of God, from a bush that was burning without being consumed, urging him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Saul of Tarsus had a revelation of light and the voice of Jesus that radically changed him to St Paul, and his mission from persecution to proclamation of Christianity.
Isaiah experienced an epiphany of forgiveness at the throne of God, and Jeremiah was empowered through a vision of God. The scriptures are full of such pivotal moments of faith and transformation. Jesus may have experienced a personal struggle with identity and calling. The Gospels tell us that that Jesus’ understanding of his call and purpose emerged through various pivotal moments in his life. Whether through a dramatic revelatory experience, or through an encounter with God over time, God’s call offers a pivotal moment of faith for many.
Such calls demand a response, and our response influences our faith. Our response to God’s call is seldom enthusiastic. When the Lord told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he fled in the opposite direction. When calamity fell upon his ship, Jonah urged the sailors to throw him overboard knowing that the hound of heaven was pursuing him. We are told that a large fish swallowed Jonah and deposited him on shore. That passage reminds us that while some run from God’s call, others offer excuses. “Ah, Lord GOD!” said Jeremiah. “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (Jeremiah 1:6).
The Lord touched Jeremiah’s mouth and gave him words to say. Moses stuttered. “O my Lord,” said Moses, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). In response, God sent Moses’ brother Aaron to speak for him. Isaiah’s response is typically human. Prostrate before the Lord he claims to be unworthy. “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). A seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal, and his response to the grace of God is to enthusiastically step forward as a prophet to Israel, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).
Feeling the tug of God on our heart initiates a struggle with God. Some run away from God’s call. Others make excuses, and still others claim to be unworthy. The struggle with God initiates a pivotal moment of faith and an empowerment never before experienced. When we read the scriptures dealing with Jesus’ arrest, trial, death and resurrection we hear him struggling with a pivotal moment. As a forgiven and reconciled individual, Isaiah seemed renewed in faith and fearless in his task to confront Israel with their sin. In every biblical story involving a call from God, God empowers those who are called with the gifts necessary to accomplish the task before them.
The call of God offers mystery, risk, and lack of personal reward. God’s call is always to serve others. The focus of the call of Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah is to save Israel. For Jonah, it was to save Nineveh. The task for Jesus and for Paul was to share God’s love in an ever-widening circle. Each one felt the tug of God upon his heart and struggled with how he could best serve God. Each of us may discover how God wants us to spend our love. Our response to God’s call may be to run away, to make excuses, or to express our unworthiness. Discerning a call from God always initiates a pivotal moment of faith and a new relationship with God.