Note: This article spotlights the work of Paul Anderson, an individual faculty partner in the Oikonomia Network. He delivered this address as the 1985 Quaker Lecture, Western Yearly Meeting. See original text for full citations.
Part One of Two
The Revelation of John is actually a record of the revelation of Jesus Christ. This gripping account begins with the words, Apokalypsis Jesou Christou, or “The unveiling of Jesus Christ.” In a double sense, it not only reveals the revelation which is FROM our Lord – to be shown to his servants; but it is also a revelation OF our Lord – a depiction of the One who is seen and heard by the apostle.
The scene opens in Revelation 1 :10 with John being startled while “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s Day (evidently during “unprogrammed worship”.) He is addressed by a loud voice instructing him to record what he sees on a scroll and to send it to the seven churches. As he turns around, he beholds with his eyes the source of that which he has heard with his ears. With the voice which was “like the sound of rushing waters” are seven candlesticks, or lampstands, and amidst them stands One whose flaming eyes and dazzling radiance pierce the darkness and render the apostle speechless. Notice John’s reaction:
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!Revelation 1:17-18 (NIV)
Nearly sixteen centuries later, George Fox records a similar spiritual encounter. What John calls a revelation, or an unveiling, Fox refers to as an “opening.”
As we went I spied a great high hill called Pendle Hill, and I went on top of it with much ado, it was so steep; but I was moved of the Lord to go atop of it; … and there atop of the hill I was moved to sound the day of the Lord; and the Lord let me see a-top of the hill in what places he had a great people to be gathered.George Fox, Journal
Not long after receiving that vision of a people to be gathered, Fox ministered among the Westmoorland Seekers in the Preston Patrick area. That which was received on the mountain top is now shared liberally on the plain. That which was experienced in solitude is now multiplied in community. The Day of the Lord has indeed come.
Reflecting upon the contagion of Fox’s ministry, Francis Howgill exclaims:
The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us and catch us all, as in a net, and his heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land. We came to know a place to stand in and what to wait in; the Lord appeared daily to us, to our astonishment, amazement and great admiration, insomuch that we often said to one another with great joy of heart: “What, is the Kingdom of God come to be with men? And will he take up his tabernacle among the sons of men, as he did of old?Edward Burrough: The Memorable Works of a Son of Thunder, 1672
The above accounts of human-divine encounters are probably familiar to most of us who are here tonight. What might not be so familiar is the relationship of these accounts to those who are called with a holy calling – namely, each of us here – as the theme of this conference suggests. We begin to see a part of that relationship as we consider what it means to receive a holy calling.
“What does it mean to receive a holy calling?” That’s a good question!
Whereas “holy” is an adjective, describing the just and loving character of God, a “calling” is the activity by which we are encountered by God in a way which transforms ourselves and our reasons for being. The image associated with a calling is an invitation to come and join another person in a task and into a personal relationship. Notice how a calling is the opposite of a command or an order. An order sends someone away with a task to be completed (Keleuo). A calling, however (Kaleo), invites the called to join the caller in partnership. Out of the relationship between partners, then, emerges a sense of mission and the empowerment with which to effect it.
Every spiritual calling is founded upon a spiritual encounter between ourselves and God. And, every spiritual encounter becomes a divine calling with a mission to be carried out. Spiritual encounters and holy callings are inextricably entwined. One cannot exist without the other coming into being.
Consider, for instance, the experiences of four Old Testament prophets. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel all experienced life-changing spiritual encounters, out of which came their callings to ministry. (See these accounts in Exodus 3:2-6, 4: 10-12; Isaiah 6: 1-8; Jeremiah 1 :4-9; and Ezekiel 1 :25-2:5, NIV). Like the above account of the unveiling of Christ to John (Revelation 1: 10-20), all four of these accounts reflect a common sequence.
First, there is some kind of experience in which God is encountered by the individual. Moses saw a burning bush and heard this name called out from amidst the bush. “Moses, Moses!” called the Lord. Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and lifted up, complete with seraphim and smoke filling the temple. Jeremiah heard the word of the Lord which said, “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 NIV). Amidst a vision of wheels and winged creatures, Ezekiel beholds the glory of the Lord, who says to him, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” (Ezekiel 2:1)
In each of these examples, God is the one who initiates the encounter. As Thomas Kelley says, “Our apparent initiative is already a response, a testimonial to His secret presence and working within us.” Regardless of the senses employed, each of the prophets experiences himself being known and addressed personally by God. As in the case of the Good Shepherd, the sheep “hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name.” John 10:3) Being called by name not only informs and reforms one’s identity, it is an invitation into relationship with the One who is the Source of all knowing. All callings have their root in the sensing that we are being addressed, sought out, invited to know and be known by God.
In light of such an awesome invitation, it is not surprising to take note of people’s reactions to being encountered by God as mentioned above. Over all, the reactions portray a common feeling of humility and a sense of inadequacy as the only imaginable response to having experienced the awesome presence of the Almighty.
John records, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” (Revelation 1: 17) Moses betrays his sense of inadequacy regarding the task before him, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) Regarding his sense of unworthiness Isaiah exclaims, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, … and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord, the Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) Jeremiah responds humbly, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” Jeremiah 1:6) And Ezekiel reflects on his vision, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face down….” (Ezekiel 1:28)
In a self-oriented culture where the mythology of our times naively dictates, “Let us make God in our image,” we may find ourselves surprised by such humbled responses to God. Our “Jesus and me” theologies converge with “God was my sponsor” testimonies to the extent we may regard humility as a quaint attitudinal relic of how one ought to appear during worship, but of course never really does. However, the testimonies of those mentioned above indicate that the opposite may be true. Their emotions were not the result of a poor self-image or a lack of self-esteem. Rather, they felt the way they did because they saw themselves in light of God’s eternal Truth. One cannot help but notice the sheer spontaneity of their feelings in the presence of the Deity! Falling to the ground and expressing one’s sense of inadequacy were not calculated attempts to assume the “right” pose and posture. They were the only authentic attitudes and actions for those who had come into the awesome Shekinah Presence of Almighty God. It is not surprising that Friends who sought to know Christ purely without addition or diminution were known for their shaking in the Presence of the Lord; thus the name “Quakers.”
A third component of receiving holy callings which can be observed in the above examples is the way God prepares and equips each one for their ministries. Out of a sense of unworthiness before God and utter dependence upon God, comes the redeeming and empowering touch of God’s grace and love. This is the place where God’s transforming power is most observably at work. Spiritual transformation occurs when our human need and the reality of God’s sufficiency come together to form a new creation which has never existed before.
In response to Moses’ feelings of inadequacy God says, “I will be with you. And this will be a sign to you that it is I who have sent you.” (Exodus 3:12) Isaiah’s sense of unworthiness was transformed by an act of God’s cleansing. “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”‘ (Isaiah 6:6-7)
Jeremiah’s account was similar, “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth.”‘ Jeremiah 1:9) And Ezekiel, who lay prostrate on the floor, was instructed, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” (Ezekiel 2:1)
Just as it is God who initiates the encounter, it is God alone who ultimately prepares those who are called for ministry. Formal education may help, but it can never suffice unless one be prepared by the Spirit of God for ministry as well. The 1646 opening of George Fox was more of a radical notion than we give it credit for. The idea that to be bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to fit and qualify men (or women) to be ministers of Christ, contradicted the view that vocational ministry could only happen through professional training. Fox himself could hardly believe this notion. He records in his journal, I “stranged at it,” or thought it strange.
Fox’s next reaction was to seek the Lord’s power among the Dissenting people. He hoped that spiritual empowerment might be found within the religious counter-culture in his day. Eventually, Fox become disillusioned with those pursuits as well.
Faced with the bankruptcy of human effort within the establishment and within the counter-establishment, Fox points to his discovery of the true source of empowerment. “So neither them (the priests) nor any of the Dissenting people could I join with, but was a stranger to all, relying wholly upon the Lord Jesus Christ.” Contemporary Friends find it easy to smugly quote, or to slightly modify Fox’s conclusion about the insufficiency of “being bred” at Oxford, Cambridge, E.S.R. or any other school. But less often do we hear the positive statement that is made: the only source of sufficiency is to rely wholly upon the Lord. It was true for George Fox and the early prophets, and it is true for us today.
The fourth aspect of holy callings to be noted in the above examples is that in each of the four cases, and in John’s case as well, the one who is being called into relationship with God is also called to a mission or a task to be done for God.
Moses was sent to Pharaoh, with the message to let God’s people go. To Isaiah’s volunteering, “Here am I, Send me!”, the Lord responds:
Go and tell this people:(from the Greek rendition of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, Isaiah 6:9.)
“You will be ever hearing, but never understanding;
You will be ever seeing but never perceiving.“
Jeremiah is instructed to proclaim to Jerusalem, the once-loving and faithful bride,
My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.(Jeremiah 2:13 NIV)
To the hard-hearted of Israel, Ezekiel is instructed, “Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.”(Ezekiel 3:10-11)
Out of our encounter with the Sovereign Lord arise feelings of awe and humbledness. This is not the result of an inadequate sense of self-worth; rather, it is the spontaneous reaction of seeing ourselves as we truly are in contrast to beholding but a glimpse of the total worthiness of God. This leads to a holy experience of worship in which worth is attributed to God, and the cleansing power of God’s love and grace equip and empower the worshiper for ministry. The very essence of worship involves our adoring response to God’s worth-ship, and our receptive acceptance of God’s love for us-out of which all true feelings of worth have their root. A sense of mission, then, arises out of transforming encounter with God. The same God who calls us into relationship also calls us to a particular mission with a distinctive, redemptive message. Such a message is informed by our awareness of needs in the world, but ultimately its source is beyond us. Thus it is not we who possess a message, but the message it is which possesses us.
The experience of Stephen Grellet, the “Quaker preacher to Europe” in the first half of the 19th century, further illustrates this process:
It was a memorable meeting-held in silence, however, as usual, never to be forgotten. Very soon after sitting down, great was the awfulness and the reverence that came upon me. It was succeeded by such a view and sense of my sinful life, that I was like one crushed under the mill stones. My misery was great; my cry was not unlike that of Isaiah: “Woe is me, for I am undone!” The nearer I was then favoured to approach to Him “who dwelleth in the light,” the more I saw my uncleanness and my wretchedness. But how can I set forth the fullness of heavenly joy that filled me when the hope was again raised that there was One, even He whom I had pierced, Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, that was able to save me? … On my earnest petition being put to Him, the language was proclaimed: “Thy sins are forgiven; they iniquities are pardoned.” Floods of tears of joy and gratitude gave vent to the fullness of my heart! Then I thought I heard again a sweet language saying, “Proclaim unto others what the Lord has done for thy soul.” Apprehending that this was a requisition of PRESENT duty, I began to plead excuses, from the consciousness of my inability to perform the service. “Thou knowest, 0 Lord, that I cannot speak English so as to be understood,” was my answer, “and what am I that I should proclaim Thy name?”
There was not the least feeling then in me to flinch from doing or becoming whatever the Lord would require of me, but a sense of inability and unworthiness. I have since seen that this was more to prepare me for a future day than a command for a present offering. My spirit continued so prostrated before the Lord and encircled with His love and presence, that I was insensible to what passed around me. The meeting concluded and the people retired, without my noticing it, till my brother, speaking to me, drew my attention, and I saw that we two only were left in the house.Stephen Grellet: Memoirs, 1860