Grasped in Faith, Tested, and Agonized
Sermon Series: Vocation, Gratitude, and Joy
By: Donnell Wyche – September 02, 2018
A Community in Transition
Being in Ann Arbor, one of things we say a lot is hello and good-bye. This is true because we are in a university town, but it’s also true of the church. As much as we say hello and goodbye to congregants, we also say hello and goodbye to staff members. Last week, during my participation at the Vineyard Better Together Multi-ethnic conference, the Lord impressed upon me that importance of one of our roles as a local church–the task we have been given to partner, train, support, and eventually release those that God has sent to us. This happened during a worship session, and I had been praying for someone discerning their own vocation, and as I was heading back to my seat, I heard the Lord say this is your role–to help people reach their destiny. Then I heard the Lord say, this is the church’s role — to be a place of transition for those I’m sending.
Paul writing to the church in Corinth gives us this encouragement,
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:6–8)
What to do with vocation?
I want to return to the idea that our vocations are,
“Grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action.” N.T. Wright
When we consider how Jesus came to his vocation, we see all of these components. I want to walk through scripture to help you consider how you might engage your own vocation in the way that Jesus did.
Grasped in Faith
We have a prayer station here at the Vineyard. It’s a private space dedicated for us to do business with God in community. The prayer station is staffed by folks who have been trained and coached in hearing from God. We also hold classes to teach all of us to hear from God, you learn more about you can learn to hear from God at our upcoming Cultivate Vineyard on Sunday, September 16. Just last week, a congregant shared with me that they were trying to make a decision about their vocation, and went to the prayer station for prayer. While there, a prayer minister had a sense that God was offering an insight. But one of the things that’s needed in this kind of exchange is a bit of faith. It’s the crazy idea that the God of the universe cares enough to share an insight with us. Faith is how we embrace the dynamic tension of assurance and things we hope for and things not yet seen.
1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
You can consider faith as taking a hold of assurance–conviction on one hand, doubt–uncertainty on other while taking a step forward.
This congregant’s story reminded me of mine own story of asking God for help as I was coming to grasp my own vocation. After visiting almost 100 college campuses between 8th grade and my senior year, I asked the Lord what I should do? Where should I go to college? I knew what I wanted, but I was really interested in making sure that what I wanted intersected with what God wanted for me. I wanted to make sure that I was doing the Lord’s will. So, one Sunday morning, I went up to pray with the folks who had prophetic insight in our church community. I was so relieved when the prophet mentioned my first choice, the College of Wooster. But I was surprised and taken aback when the prophet mention studying electrical engineering. At the time I didn’t have any interest in electrical engineering or the sciences, I wanted to work in public relations so I could help people solve their problems. But this prophesy would be something I would test, agonize over, and finally understand.
Taking hold of our vocation, coming to know what we are for, is often scary. It’s never a no-brainer. It’s always a risk. As much as we try, we can get from here to there by protecting ourselves against disappointment. But I think disappointment is a part of our understanding vocation. Or least, I want it to be a part. I remember failing an exam for the first time, and I thought, what now, God? You called me to this place, you told me to take up this major, but I’m not succeeding, I’m failing. This is where we have to open ourselves up to hope — faith is the assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not yet seen.
Sustained in Prayer
During my first semester at Wooster, I spent a lot of time in prayer, talking with God. Fasting weekly. Consulting mentors and trusted friends. It was important to me to know that I was doing God’s will, but the failure I was experiencing was hard to overcome.
I’m struck by Jesus and his vocation understanding.
35Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:37-38)
I’m going to say something that might surprise some of us, I see that even though Jesus has a clear sense of vocation, there is also doubt.
18Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” 19They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” 20“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” (Luke 9:18–20)
I love this disclosure in scripture because it’s so relatable. Jesus prayed often, he joined the stream of daily, weekly, seasonal prayer practices of his community. This didn’t make him a spiritual giant, he just recognized that he needed regular breaks from his routine to connect with the Divine. Regular prayer can be difficult for many of us, so we have a prayer tool called The Divine Hours on our website. It’s a way of praying at fixed times throughout the day. If you struggle with regular prayers, trying praying the Divine Hours.
As I discerned and worked through the struggles I had with my vocation, I prayed. I’m still praying. I’m trying to determine what God is actively doing in my heart and in the heart of the church right now. How are you talking to God about what you are struggle with and through? How are you considering the role of faith and risk in your everyday?
Tested in Confrontation
Just like Jesus, our vocations will often be tested in confrontation. Am I really called to do this? What do I do with this failure, this disappointment, but that’s where the activation of faith comes back into focus.
After being baptized by his cousin the Jordan river, Jesus here a voice,
11And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)
Then immediately, Jesus came under intense questioning,
“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” This was followed by attempted misdirection, “All this I will give you (I’ll help you fulfill vocation, the easy way!) All you need to do is worship me.
There’s this part of vocation that seems to have to pass through a time of testing. This testing often tests our willingness to be dependent and reliant on God, it’s a surrender.
For me, this materialized in my early failure at Wooster. I was struggling. I sorta had this distorted picture of God, it went something like this: God since you have called me to this place and suggested this direction, everything will work out. It was be easy. But it was wasn’t. I had to continue to test the prophesy I had received and I had to take steps of faith.
Sometimes our discernment and testing of vocation will feel like a spiritual quest, where we will struggle, doubt, run, fear, but, I want to say, as we cling to faith, I believe that God will show up in the midst of the struggle, to help us discern what’s real from what’s phony. What’s true from what’s a lie. I think light and power will break through the shadows and darkness of discernment. But we don’t do this work alone. We meet others along the path. People who see things in us and speak hope and encouragement to us. People who come alongside of us, who listen, who pray, who join our spiritual quest. This is one of the gifts of community, remember Jesus discovered his vocation in community, lots of different voices speaking, encouraging, nudging, releasing.
Agonized Over in Further Prayer & Doubt
As Jesus came to realize that his vocation involved surrendering his life, the scriptures say he was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
32They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” 35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:32 – 36)
This is a part of vocation, the stages repeat: grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt.
With the help of so many people on my spiritual quest, I was able to figure out how my time at Wooster would contribute to my growing sense of vocation. After switching majors, I quickly discovered that I was really good at computer science, a form of engineering. Things turned around quickly and I eventually graduated with honors, was recruited to Michigan by IBM. Though I was successful at IBM, my time there was a stage in my vocation, it wasn’t the end point. Even today I’m still discovering day by day what God is calling me to and to do.
Implemented in Action
We never stay still in our consideration of our vocation; we don’t wait until we have reached conviction about our call, then get on vocation. Instead, we move forward as we see, which allows us to see as we move forward. Our vocation comes into clearer focus as we act and move in and around the world.
If we look back at Jesus and his calling of the disciples, he called them and brought them on board long before they knew where he was going. It was a discovery, an unfolding as they followed him.
I want to encourage you as you take stock of your vocation to do something. Consider learning faithfulness in someone’s else house before you consider constructing your own house. I have two simple reflections here:Brother Lawrence talks a lot of practicing the presence of God. Something he did by washing dishes. There are lots of places to wash dishes in our community, but I’m looking for a few people to help wash the dishes at our local supplemental meal program for at-risk children. If washing dishes isn’t your thing, then next week I will be returning to my local elementary school to help first graders learn to read, and I would love some company. We can read on Fridays at 12:30pm.
Basically, find a plow and put your hand to it and do it faithfully. Remember Jesus worked under his father Joseph as a carpenter for 30 years before he was released to repair the world.