Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
-Psalm 139:7, NRSV
Yesterday afternoon, as I watched (via livestream) the ordination service of the 234th session of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, I found myself reflecting on those words from Psalm 139. I found myself reflecting on those words… because those words, more than any others, capture my own experience of being called to ministry.
I don’t remember the particulars of her story. I don’t remember the specifics of what she said. What I do remember was that in that moment — in that quiet, life-altering moment — I came to realize that God still speaks. Strange as it sounds, I had never realized that before. God still speaks. Not just a long time ago, and not just with words, and not just to people who are particularly holy, and not just to people who make cameo appearances in the Bible, but to people like me. God was speaking, and what’s more, God was speaking something downright ludicrous. God was telling me to become a pastor. It was unmistakably certain, undeniably clear: God was speaking and telling me to be a pastor.
So what did I do? How did I react when I sensed that God… my God… the God of all heaven and earth… was speaking to me, calling out to me, giving me a new plan and purpose for my life? How did I react?
I reacted the same way that any reasonable, rational person would react. I freaked out. I did. I convinced myself that I was imagining it, that I would come to my senses eventually. I just had to ignore it. Nothing a little avoidance wouldn’t solve, right? Ignore it, and it would go away. Ignore God, and God would go away. That was the plan.
Clearly, that plan worked out really well, right? See, on Sunday the 23rd of May, 2004, I felt God’s call to be a pastor… and on Monday the 24th of May, I did my level best to ignore it. I went to work at my summer job (I was a fill-in teller at a small local bank) and decided to distract myself by throwing myself into the world of personal finance. Certainly, I’d be able to ignore God there, right? God couldn’t possibly manage to sneak in amidst the account balances and deposit slips. I could ignore God in a bank.
If only I had read Psalm 139 that morning. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? Or, in a 24th of May, 2004 translation: Where can I go to ignore you?
I thought I could ignore God in a bank… that is, until that Monday morning, when I looked through the drive-thru banking window and saw two nuns in a minivan. Later, as I ran errands during my lunch break, I noticed, as if for the first time, the signs in front of churches. One sign said, “You will be my witness!” Another: “Let the journey begin!” Are you kidding me? I thought. Subtlety, it appears, is not God’s strong suit.
God was speaking to me. God had finally gotten my attention — despite all my valiant efforts to ignore God — and now refused to let go. All day, I could think about nothing else. That night, when I got home, I emailed my pastor (I still couldn’t bring myself to go to her in person and actually say this bizarre thing out loud)… and that email started the journey that would forever change my life.
My pastor invited me to come with her to a conference worship service that would take place the next week, a service in which would-be pastors would be ordained. (Subtlety wasn’t my pastor’s strong suit, either.) As I sat in that room, watching these men and women step forward and hand their lives over to God, I knew that I was in the very right place at the very right time. When the bishop asked if there was anyone in the room who was discerning a call from God into ordained ministry, I stepped forward. Just me and God, alone together in a room full of hundreds of strangers… as I accepted God’s call on my life.
“Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?” the psalmist asks.
“Nowhere” comes the answer.
And thank God for that.
As you reflect on the ways this un-fleeable God may be speaking to you, may you remember:
Our God is bigger than coronavirus.
Our vision is bigger than coronavirus, too.
We are people blessing people.
We are Wesley Church.
Get into the Sunday School spirit by joining us for our “Rally in the Gallery” — a virtual Rally Day pancake breakfast — on Saturday October 17 at 10:00 AM.. It’ll be a great way to connect with your church family!
RSVP here: https://forms.gle/gTbiVqtmfj2FJs7o7
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