Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Damascus Road Call

Acts 9:1-19, the call of Paul on the road to Damascus. It is interesting how this most extraordinary and demanding call is the one we think of most often when we think of a call from God. The fact is, however, that God seems to use this type of calling quite seldom, and with good reason.

What comprises a Damascus Road call? First, it involves an intense, often supernatural experience. It is the call of Isaiah (chapter 6), Jeremiah (1:4-19), Elisha (2 Kings 2:9-12) and Moses (Exodus 3), where God meets people in remarkable ways, ways that leave them changed—transformed. Certainly Charleton Heston’s transformation on Mt. Sinai in the Ten Commandments is theatrically contrived, but it captures the essence of the transformation of the Damascus Road Call.

Second, the Damascus Road Call carries God’s intent for that person from the very beginnings of their life, if not before. Paul speaks of his call as having been designated for him from birth (Galatians 1:15). Jeremiah’s poetic revelation from God says:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

Before you were born I set you apart;

I appointed you as a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5)

And then there is Moses’ miraculous salvation from the wrath and hubris of the pharaoh of Egypt, only to end up a protected member of the royal family (Exodus 2:1-10).

The third characteristic of the Damascus Road Call is that there is a clearly identified purpose, often delivered by a spoken message from God. Again, each of the above individuals demonstrates this. Jeremiah, for example, receives a vision that describes the intent of God’s message as well as God’s verbal proclamation that prefigures the content of Jeremiah’s prophetic message to Judah (Jeremiah 1:15-16).

The fourth characteristic of the Damascus Road Call is that God uniquely prepares the individual he calls for the specific task for which he has called that person. When Moses was drawn from the Nile River even most kings and princes of the world could neither read nor write. Yet Moses, educated in Pharaoh’s palace, received the highest education the world at that time had to offer. God used Moses’ education to begin the writing of his personal revelation (the Bible) through Moses’ hand (Exodus 17:14; Mark 12:26). Paul’s personal heritage and background also came into play in his ministry. When Paul and Silas were falsely arrested and beaten in Acts 16, the Philippian magistrates feared reprisal for punishing a Roman citizen without trial which changed the tenor of response towards the fledgling Philippian church (Acts 16:37). Again under arrest in Jerusalem, this time by his own Jewish people, Paul used his background as a Pharisee to throw the Sanhedrin council into an uproar, setting Pharisee against Sadducee over the fact or fiction of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6).

The final characteristic of the Damascus Road Call is that it demands from its recipients all they can give—and more. Paul describes his personal experiences of beatings, floggings, hunger, cold and shipwrecks in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. The Hebrews writer provide his graphic, summative commentary this way, They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them (11:37-38). Besides being the most extraordinary of calls, the Damascus Road Call is also the most demanding.

So why is the Damascus Road Call the one we gravitate to most quickly? Who in their right minds would want to receive this kind of call if it is so costly? A few reasons come to mind as I reflect on what people have told me. The most common reason seems to be that we want an absolute certainty that what we are doing is what God wants us to do. We feel unprepared or inadequate to make the decision facing us, so it would just be easier if God made the decision instead. Another reason people may gravitate towards this call is they do not know any other type of call exists. The Damascus Road Call is the default. And finally, some people feel like there must be some amazing glory to be had in the Damascus Road Call. Perhaps there is a recognition or reward for the “the few, the proud” that others will not receive. Perhaps. But more often than not those whom God has called in the stark, drastic event of the Damascus Road Call have been called to drink from a cup of sacrifice rather than a cup of glory (Matthew 20:22-23).

I don’t want to discourage us from pursuing a Damascus Road Call. God uses Damascus Road experiences because he has important, kingdom tasks to be done. To refuse such a call exacts even more of a price than one pays accepting the call. But for most of God’s people, thankfully, there are other ways that God calls that are just as valid, but easier to bear.

Next thoughts: the Exposure Call

1 comment:

Danny said...

Glad you got the tech side of things worked out. You have some good thoughts about calling. It's such a hot topic that rarely receives the biblical study it deserves. My question from your comment is, why do we "gravitate toward" any call at all? I'm assuming that if God wants to give me a Damascus Road Call, he is well capable of doing so, and I won't have any more choice in the matter than Paul did. I'll just have to take it or leave it.

I'm looking forward to your next thoughts.