Discerning the Call


Andy Hawes 


Every Christian experiences the call of Christ in their lives. Faith in Christ and partaking in the life of the Church is itself a response to His call. Most, if not all, spiritual direction centres on the discernment of vocation.  Vocation is not just about ordination or the religious life, every moment in every day Christ is calling us to take up our cross and follow him. The religious practices of our faith have one purpose: to help us discern this call.

The prerequisite for this discernment to be accurate is an openness and willingness to respond. It is very difficult for Christ, who is always knocking and waiting at the door of our heart, to have be heard and responded to if the door is closed and bolted. Stability is vital in the Christian life but this is not the same as being static in heart and mind. It is vital that the security that comes from being established in a community or particular way of life should not lead to an unquestioning acceptance of the status quo. Any long established member of a congregation or community, or a person who has for many years served faithfully in a particular role or job can become deaf to the Lord’s call because they are ‘alright’ where and as they are. 

The first requisite is to ask a daily question in prayer: ‘Lord, how are you calling me to serve you now?’ The second is to listen. The Lord can ‘speak’ to us in many ways but there are three main avenues. One is through the Word; often a particular word or phrase can jump out of scripture, or a sermon to challenge us directly. A second is through the community of the church; someone may ask ‘have you ever thought of doing that’ or suggest that ‘you would be marvellous in that role’. A third is a thought, an idea or dream that can come ‘out of the blue.’ It is quite common for a new perspective on the possibilities of our life in Christ to come from out of the depths of our consciousness. The Bible is full of stories whose life was changed by a dream.

God can break in with an insistent voice through all these channels inviting, encouraging and challenging. The effect of this can be very disturbing, even upsetting. Another reaction is to be fearful or to have sense of disbelief or unworthiness. All this is to be expected and indeed welcomed as a sign that God is as work. It is important not to keep all this close and secret for too long; share your experience and your thoughts with someone you trust. This is the first step of testing any vocation. If it is, of God, the Holy Spirit will enable others to discern the truth and authenticity of the call. It is a pity that often a vocation withers for a lack of this openness and sharing.