Jesus called the children to him…[1]

Jesus was forever calling out to people. He called children to come to him. He called crowds to listen and understand his message.[2] He called the sick to be healed,[3] and the dead to be raised to life.[4] He called four fishermen to follow him, promising to make them “fishers of men”.[5] He called twelve apostles, giving them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and sending them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.[6] He called all kinds of people in order that he might transform their lives and so empower them to transform the lives of others.

Perhaps in part because of this we tend to attach a great deal of importance to the whole concept of “calling”. We are encouraged to “consider our calling” and to “discover God’s plan” for our lives.

Countless books have been written on the subject and countless sermons preached. There are courses and conferences, studies and seminars. There are even personality tests that promise to provide an insight into our character and gifting, and hence some indication of our calling. We talk about it and we pray about it. We ask ourselves, “Just what does God have in store for me? What does he want me to do?”

This concern with our calling arises from the very best of intentions: from a desire to identify the ways in which God might wish to use us, and in which we might best use our gifts and abilities to further his kingdom; to help us to see that we each have a unique part to play; to encourage and challenge us to step out in faith and make a difference in the world.

Unfortunately the effect of such introspection can be the very opposite of what is intended. Far from helping and encouraging us, it can instead leave us feeling frustrated and disappointed: frustrated that we don’t seem able to hear God’s call on our lives, and disappointed as we conclude that perhaps this means he has no particular use for us.

It might be all very well for those who have a strong sense of calling, such as those whose job is also their vocation (a word rooted in the Latin for “voice”, and so literally meaning “what the voice called you to do”). But many others – myself included – feel no such call. We are where we are and do what we do, not because we have responded to some specific calling, but simply because … well, just because.

For example, at present I work in the City of London for a Lloyd’s underwriting agents (yes, you might well ask!) My position there is not, I can assure you, something that I ever aimed to achieve or planned to do. It just happens to be where I’ve ended up, something that I’ve found my way into. It is a role that makes use of my abilities, experience and knowledge. I find it challenging and satisfying (although not, of course, all of the time). And, for me most importantly of all, it provides the income to support my family. It is, in a word, my job. I trust that God is with me in it and uses me through it, but in no way would I consider it to be a calling or vocation.

Indeed, to be quite truthful, I really don’t have specific goals in life that I strive to achieve. My approach has always been more to take opportunities as they arise rather than to make opportunities happen. My epitaph might read, “Let’s just see how things pan out”! I’m not sure that this is necessarily any better or worse than a more directed approach; it is just different. Some sense a clear calling and vision and some don’t – that’s just how it is.

But such a specific sense of calling is just one facet of the far greater and wider-ranging call that God makes to us and upon our lives. And we can see this perhaps most clearly in Jesus’ calling of children.
For when Jesus called the children, he did so not in order to give them some specific task or role. He did not call them do anything or to be anything, but simply to be with him. “Let the little children come to me.”[7] And the children came, not because they hoped to hear his plan for their lives or be envisioned and empowered to fulfil his purposes, but simply because they were attracted by his life and by his love, and they wanted to be around him.

This too is our primary calling: to come to Jesus and to be with him – not in some complex, mystical, spiritual sense, and not for any particular purpose, but simply as a little child would come to her father or mother or sister or brother; for no other reason that this is family, this is where she belongs, and she wants to be with them.

In his account of the early Church, Luke records that “when they [the rulers and elders and teachers of the law] saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”[8] For all that the apostles went on to achieve for the kingdom of God, it began with this simple yet fundamental fact: they had been with Jesus. This is the call that comes before all others, upon which all other calls are founded, and from which all other callings flow.

Secondly, Jesus called the children simply to be themselves: “He called a little child and had him stand among them.”[9] Jesus called this little child to proclaim the truth and reality of the kingdom of God, not only to the crowd gathered on that day, but to all who would hear and read and receive this gospel account throughout all the years that would follow. Quite a calling. Yet the little child did not have to say or do anything special; indeed, he did not have to say or do anything at all. He simply had to stand among crowd and be himself, be the person that God had created, be a little child.

In the same way, before God calls us to do anything particular, he calls us simply to stand as a witness to the people amongst whom we find ourselves; to stand as the person that he has created us to be, as the person that he is recreating in Christ, as a person who is receiving and revealing the kingdom of God as a little child.

None of which is to suggest that God does not call individuals (and groups) to fulfil particular tasks or take on particular roles – of course he does. The Bible is full of such stories, as is the history of the Church down through the ages, and God continues to call his people to serve him in specific ways, both “great” and “small”. Neither is it to say that God might not call you or I in such a way, nor that we need not be attentive and responsive to any such call – of course he might and of course we must. Indeed, even I, for all my lack of vision, have had times where I have felt, “This is where God wants me to be right now, this is what he wants me to do.”

Yet if we become preoccupied with the task of trying to “discover our calling” then we run the risk of missing all that God has already called us to be. He has called us to belong to Jesus,[10] to be in fellowship with him,[11] and to be transformed into his likeness.[12] He has called us to be holy,[13] to endure suffering,[14] to be a blessing to others,[15] and to be a people of peace.[16] He has called us to freedom,[17] and to hope,[18] and to life eternal.[19] He has called us heavenward,[20] out of darkness into light,[21] that we might share in Christ’s glory.[22]

What a calling this is! If we could but truly hear it and receive it and respond to it, what a difference it would make, both to ourselves and to all who would then see the reality of God’s kingdom revealed in us. This is our ultimate calling: to come to Jesus as little children, to receive his kingdom as little children and to live our lives as true children of our heavenly Father.

[1] Luke 18:16
[2] Mark 7:14
[3] Matthew 20:32–34; Luke 13:12–13
[4] John 11:43
[5] Matthew 4:18–22
[6] Luke 9:1–2
[7] Matthew 19:14
[8] Acts 4:13
[9] Matthew 18:2
[10] Romans 1:6
[11] 1 Corinthians 1:9
[12] Romans 8:28–30
[13] 2 Timothy 1:9
[14] 1 Peter 2:21
[15] 1 Peter 3:9
[16] Colossians 3:15
[17] Galatians 5:13
[18] Ephesians 1:18
[19] 1 Timothy 6:12
[20] Philippians 3:14
[21] 1 Peter 2:9
[22] 2 Thessalonians 2:14