Calling – When Wildflowers Bloom on Our Manure Pile
Thomas Clarkson, a college student, needed money. This would be about as new as hair, right? Thinking himself a pretty good writer, he entered a literary contest offering a cash prize. Ah, then the topic. What to write about? He thought the more obscure the topic, the better his chances. When we write about something nobody cares about, or wants to, the easier it is to sound more intelligent than we are (a philosophy adopted by thousands of other college students since) and the chances of winning get better. A student at Oxford in the late 18th century, he chose to examine as his subject an accepted institution of British society – slavery. While Clarkson won the competition, he quickly forgot about the prize money as the inner workings of the slave trade assaulted his deep places with its horrors and suffering. Today a small roadside plaque marks the place where Thomas Clarkson dismounted from his horse and knelt down realizing that “…if these things were true, it was time someone should see these calamities to their end.” God led him as a Christian to throw in with a gang called the Clapham Sect which included William Wilberforce – the battle against slavery waxed hotter as some good soldiers jumped into the fight.
Like yeast, things start rising with a life of their own in the lives of those who seriously follow Jesus. We’re not dragged into the calling of God. The Holy Spirit allures and pulls us into God’s heart for us through things we don’t make up or control – desires, joy and burdens. Psalm 37:4 waves a huge red flag in our face: “Delight yourself in the Lord your God and He will give you the desires of your heart.” God isn’t stupid; the “getting the desires of your heart” thing only kicks in when we delight in the Lord. We modern Christians too often and easily delight in our own desires, turning them into idols that steal first place in our lives. The Holy Spirit kick-starts things in us that take our lives down sometimes surprising off ramps from our selfishly laid plans – and we find ourselves wanting to do what we’ve never imagined or maybe avoided. “For it is God who works within you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13) Our desires rise out of His good pleasure and not our own. C.S. Lewis struck a friendship with another scholar at Oxford named J.R.R. Tolkein; they found they both liked the myth stories of Iceland and the North Atlantic. Lewis said to Tolkein one day, “No one seems to write the stories we like. I guess we’ll just have to write them ourselves.”
Callings sometimes rise with life all their own in hearts of people wounded by joy. I have twin two-year old granddaughters who bounce off of all of life trying the world on for size. They do everything badly at first. When when they do, I smile and applaud and they laugh, get up and crash into the next adventure. Almost everyone in Christian ministry of every kind everywhere got into it wounded by joy. In a little Methodist church, I met Molly. A bunch of us Jesus Freaks from college spoke in an evening service and she came up afterward to talk. I spewed out some shallow spiritual stuff and a Bible verse and we prayed. Afterward, the pastor’s wife told me that Molly, nervous and fearful, came forward every Sunday for prayer. We heard back from the pastor’s wife later. Although we didn’t know it, Molly was very sick and recently died. But after we prayed that night, she never came forward again over her few remaining Sundays and radiated a deep peace and calm. The pastor’s wife wanted us to know. I also led a Bible study in the music department as they were being bypassed by the Jesus Movement and I was one of them. I saw lives changed by the sheer power of the Word of God. I can show you the very place on campus where I stood and said with tears of joy on my face, “I don’t know where this will take us but I want You and I to do this the rest of my life.” This joy, mediated by the Holy Spirit, comes as the overflow of the heart of Jesus cascading into our lives as we stumble in grace into something and He laughs, cheers and applauds so much as to say, “You’ve found it. Now get up and let’s crash into the next adventure…and the next one…and the one after that.” No one wounded by joy ever heals.
Burdens. Heavy things. Christians talk about having them and say they come from God. A burden from God comes when He takes a tiny piece of the pain He feels constantly for any and all human suffering and evil and slides it into the deepest place in our hearts like a long sharp thorn of mercy. It hurts but it’s a sweet hurt and quite an honor. Florence Nightingale, born into wealthy aristocracy, said, “What am I that I am not in harmony with all this, that their life is not good enough for me? Oh, God, what am I? The thoughts and feelings I have now I can remember since I was six years old. It was not I who made them. Oh, God, how did they come? What are they? …something to fill and employ all my faculties, I have always felt essential to me, I have always longed for, consciously or not…”
God can make anything glow with His beauty be it children living in trash houses on the edge of a third world city or a C major 7th chord in just the right place. I’ve had a math professor at the University of Wisconsin regale me with the beauty of mathematical formulas and a newly minted PhD in micronumbers almost giggle over numbers a million times smaller than the number one.
Does something eat at us by day that we wake up praying about by night? Do our thoughts run off to play in our spare moments in one certain direction? Does something that nobody else even sees, let alone cares about, seem to be the most important thing in the world? Do we find our eyes strangely welling up with tears in these times?
Desires, joys and burdens. We may not feel like we’re much; we’re right. Jesus joy that hovers over us waiting to cascade down is tied to the trigger of His confidence in what He wants to do through us. When these wild flowers spring up on our manure piles unannounced, it’s time to take notes. Who does that better than students?
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