Answering a call

When we read the Psalms we recognise a familiar pattern of prayer we can call “Bargaining with God.” In the ancient texts it goes something like this: “God, I praise you, I adore you, I worship you. Now will you please smite my enemies.”

Our bargaining tends to be a slightly different: “God, sorry, I’ve forgotten about you lately, but here I am and I’m praying we’ll get a buyer for the house.” (Or that the scan will be clear, or that I’ll get the job – etcetera.)

There is nothing wrong with prayers of supplication. In faith we know a God of abundance who may not meet all our wants but will certainly meets our needs. Of that we can be certain.

Sometimes, though, I need to ask myself: How obedient am I when God is asking something of me? In other words, how do I answer God’s call?

If we look at the gospels, we see that the apostles were not always clear in their motives for following Jesus. Some of them wanted power and positions of importance. They wanted miracles. They got upset when they discovered there were other people healing in Jesus name.

It’s comforting for us that the apostles were so human. But there was someone in the gospels, who didn’t argue or bargain, who didn’t ask what’s in it for me. That someone was the young girl Mary who really had no idea what the angel Gabriel was saying to her. She only knew it was God’s call and her answer was yes, let it be done to me. Mary’s response is the guiding star on our journey.

I used to think that “call” was about vocation or something equally important. That’s so, but God’s call comes often and in many sizes. Sometimes it is big and challenging, Jesus telling us to get out of the boat so he can help us walk on water. Sometimes it is small, a nudging of the heart reminding us we should make peace with an enemy.

How do we know it’s God’s call? It has all the usual qualities of love. What is asked of us is not judgmental. It requires kindness, compassion, understanding, prayerfulness, and these attributes are given with the call. They are graces that go beyond our limitations.

I confess, though, that I do not have Mary’s instant response to God’s call. I tend to test it to make sure it’s not coming from my small self. And you know what I’ve discovered? The parable of the sower has a sentence missing. It doesn’t tell us that the sower keeps on sowing. The hard ground will become soft with rain. The thistles decay to make compost for new growth.

God’s call will come again and again, each time a little louder, until we are ready to receive it.

We listen with the ears of the heart and finally we come to Mary’s yes. “Okay,” we pray. “Let it be done to me.”

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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