Paul’s calling in Acts is one of the classic forms of the calling story. In its simplest terms this is a life altering encounter. God meets man at a single moment in time, a conversation happens and the man is profoundly changed forever, both in his internal relationship with God and also in his external actions and the future path of his life. The idea of a moment of calling is something I can identify with, the special moment, maybe at the Communion rail, where a sense of God’s presence and purpose is profoundly manifest for example on Easter Sunday 2012 when I felt a real sense of God’s voice whispering ‘Be ordained’, and I didn’t really know what that meant or how it would fit into my life – questions which I am still exploring.
However digging beneath the surface of this encounter I recognise that Paul too clearly heard an audible voice, a voice which he can quote word for word – although the details of his description of this experience change as he retells it in Acts, perhaps as he tailors the message to his audience or perhaps with Paul’s own age and memory. Each time he clearly recounts the same event and insists that he heard God’s voice.
It is clear however on reflection that Paul has perhaps heard and ignored the message of God before the encounter on the Damascus road. In Acts 26:14 Jesus says ‘Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?’ but then this is followed by the telling little phrase not included elsewhere ‘It is hard for you to kick against the goads’. This suggests to me that Paul (previously Saul) has been encountering God and ignoring the little nudges of God’s Spirit which would have been prodding him – like a goad prods cattle – in the right direction.
I think recognising that God speaks to us through events in our lives which prod us in the right direction perhaps without words is a useful aspect of thinking about calling. When we moved into our current house a lot of prayer went in to our thinking about finding the right location, neighbours and community. However our initial choice of a house far from here fell through at the last minute, leaving us with a sold house but nowhere to go! We looked for a rental property and found only one possibility which happened to be in a village near this one, so we went ahead with the sale and moved into that rental house without much clear idea of where this would take us. Out of that decision I found myself taking the baby to a toddler group in our current village and this eventually led us to move into our current house, find friends and community here and even to begin my preaching course! Had the original house been available our lives would have followed a completely different path. Looking back, perhaps it is possible to see a non-verbal prodding from God in these events.
Have you ever been prodded by God in a non-verbal way? Or felt His Presence close and heard HIs voice? How does God guide you, today? I’d love to hear your story!