Calling

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This week in the GPS, we will turn our attention to God’s call on all of our lives to be faithful disciples. When I think about discipleship, I tend to hear the resounding sound of Jesus’ voice as he gave the disciples the ultimate “pep talk”—the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me this commission is inspiring and compelling. Before I am even done reading these words, I want to get up and do something, anything. Having grown up at the Church of the Resurrection, I know that I am not alone in my fiery desire to get out there and serve—to make a difference in the world. I have no doubt that this passion delights God; the world truly is aching to know the good news of God’s love.

•    Pausing here for a moment, I would challenge you to practice the spiritual discipline of imagination. Lately, I have been challenged to think about the way engaging our imaginations can be a form of prayer. If we are to have any hope of being faithful disciples, sharing God’s love with a world longing for it, I believe it is essential that we become dreamers. Ask yourself: What dreams has God given me for God’s people? How can I participate in God’s kingdom being established on earth?

Without undercutting the importance of the call on our lives to be co-laborers with God in God’s great work, at some point in my pursuit of faithful discipleship, I find that I often lose sight of the One who called me. All of a sudden following Jesus becomes about abiding by certain rules, pushing agendas, completing tasks, or even proving my own “faithfulness” to others.

It’s not surprising that many of us may find ourselves feeling this way. Our culture is centered on achievement, success and that which is bigger and better. In my own life, I am often tempted to translate my perfectionist tendencies into my life of discipleship. When I do this, I find myself exhausted, anxious, discontent, angst-y and competitive— after only a few days of trying to change the world.

The question becomes how are we to live a passionate life of discipleship without growing cynical? I think this is a question that we must wrestle with. I have found a suggestion, though, from theologian and activist Clarence Jordan. He writes: “The revolution begins with a call to be a certain kind of person.” As a dreamer, an idealist and a Christian disciple, this quote challenges me. We are called to engage in the work of changing the world, but God’s good work emerges out of us when we live into our calls to become the people God calls us to be. It may seem counterintuitive that investing our lives in prayer somehow results in action, but I believe this to be true.

•    So, at this point I invite you to practice the discipline of slowing. Remember that you are loved no matter what you do or leave undone. Take a moment to remember the One who has called you. Then ask yourself: Who is God calling you to be in this season of life? Are you called to focus on becoming more graceful, patient, gentle, peaceful, bold, hopeful? Thank God for being a God who transforms our hearts.

Ultimately, I am thankful that we follow a God who gives us a high calling. I am thankful for the mysterious way that through attending to becoming the people God has called us to be, the Spirit makes us people who are equipped to take part in transforming the world.

–Rev. Katherine Ebling
Pastor of Prayer

A Graced and Joyful Journey

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Recently, my husband Scott and I climbed to the top of Observation Peak at Zion National Park. It was a four mile uphill hike on rocky terrain and switchbacks. I needed to stop every so often to catch my breath, and I needed a walking stick for support. There were times that I really wanted to quit and turn around, but I didn’t because I received encouragement from fellow sojourners who told me how close I was to the top. The experience of this journey along with our sermon series on work has given me opportunity to pause and reflect on my own personal vocational journey.

First, a calling doesn’t necessarily have to lead to ordination. My daughter Kacie frequently tells me that serving as a cardiac ICU nurse makes her feel like she is doing the work of Jesus, because she is serving those who can do very little for themselves. In addition to my deep love and calling for pastoral ministry, I have been called to jobs that do not bear the stamp of ordination, such as baby sitting, scooping ice cream, customer service, motherhood, teaching in the public school system and as an adjunct professor. On the other hand, I have worked at jobs to which I was clearly not called, such as retail sales, waitressing and typing. My journey has been marked with successes and failures, highs and lows, joys and sorrows.

Second, my journey has been consistently marked by faith. Sometimes the encouraging words of fellow sojourners have strengthened my faith and sometimes even by blind faith. On July 1, I will be transitioning out of Church of the Resurrection, and with faith as my walking stick, moving toward something to which God is calling, but I can’t quite see the top yet. Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that I keep framed in my bathroom so that I can see it every morning when I wake up. I’ve shared this prayer with you before, but I think that it is fitting to repeat:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thank you for allowing me to journey with you through the GPS, exploring the mystery of prayer. If you would like to stay in touch, my new email is revnancypauls@gmail.com .

I will conclude with words of Margaret Silf from her prayer book “Wayfaring.”

“I would like to wish you a safe journey along these Gospel roads, but ‘safety’ is not always compatible with the ways of God or with the adventure of prayer. And so I wish you, instead, a graced, and a joyful journey through the darkness and the light, the rock faces and the mountain-top wonderment.”

And let it be so.

Rev. Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer and Congregational Care

Hearing God

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“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” –1 Samuel 3.9.

 When I was a little girl, God spoke to me regularly. When I was four, I remember sitting on the Morse Avenue beach in Chicago playing in the sand, and I recall thinking how amazing it is that God created each grain of sand different from the next. Here is a picture of sandat 250x magnificationsand

 

I remember thinking if God created each grain of sand, how much more lovingly, God created each individual person in the world. God spoke scripture and truth into me before I even knew there was a book called the Bible. As I got older, my childlike faith became more analytical, and the religious teaching I received made me doubt the authenticity of my experience and forget how to listen to God. Yet, listening to what God is saying is just as important in prayer as talking to God. A good relationship with God in prayer consists of both speaking and listening to God.

God speaks to us in many ways, possibly in as many ways as there are people to talk to. However, a primary mode of God’s communication is through the words of scripture. It is easier to hear what God is saying to us by slow, deliberate meditation on short verses of scripture rather than reading a couple of chapters. God also commonly speaks to us through dreams, practical every day life experiences, and mystical experiences. A mystical experience to me is the same thing as an uncanny coincidence that can’t be explained. It is when the veil that we picture between heaven and earth becomes so thin that the physical realm and the spiritual realm feel like they are intersecting for a brief moment. Maybe you have had an experience like this and know exactly what God is trying to say, but for me, these experiences simply give me the encouragement and assurance that our loving God is present and accessible and here for me in my neediness.

So how do we know if what we hear is really God speaking or if it a concoction of our tricky egos? To summarize Bill Hybels, in Too Busy Not to Pray, here are some great suggestions:

  1. Promptings that come from God are consistent with his Word, the Bible. For example, a prompting to cheat on an exam or your income taxes is never from God.
  2. God’s promptings are usually consistent with who he made you to be. So knowing myself now for half a century, if I think I hear God telling me to put skydiving and running a marathon on my bucket list, that is probably my ego trying to prove itself and not from God.
  3. God’s promptings usually involve servanthood. Really, God, you still want me to work every weekend when all my friends are at the lake? Ok. Fine.

Bill Hybels also teaches us to question promptings if they require us to make a life changing decision in a short amount of time, if they require us to severely jeopardize our family relationships or important friendships, or if more mature Christians, advisors or counselors think it’s not a good idea. The longer we practice speaking and listening to God in prayer, the more competent we become at discerning God’s true voice. When I was young, I was not even aware that it was God speaking to me. Now, looking back on that time with fresh eyes of faith, I realize that God speaks to us all the time.

This week, take a moment to reflect on these quotes from Maya Angelou as you begin your prayer.

“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.”

–Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

 

 

 


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