Double-checking affirms perceived call

Published 12:56 am Saturday, February 21, 2015

By the Rev. Bob Madsen

A few days ago, my wife spotted a large woodpecker in one of the trees in the yard. When she described it to me, I confidently declared it was a Pileated Woodpecker. It is hard to mistake some other woodpecker for a Pileated.

When I saw it a few days later, I consulted an application on my iPad ® to confirm my assumption. It turned out that I was correct. (It had been a number of years since I had last seen a Pileated, and having gone out on a limb, I wanted to make sure my authority on such matters was not at risk.)

Then I played some of the bird’s calls on the application. As we listened to the calls we both realized that we had been hearing the same calls in the woods behind us for quite some time without recognizing the source.

Over the course of my adult life, I have found that discerning the call of God on my life has followed a similar pattern. (Be honest; you knew this wasn’t about bird sightings.) I have heard or sensed God’s Spirit leading in some way, but have not recognized the experience for what it was. Eventually, if I have been adept at not understanding, a clearer sign of the call I have been hearing emerges. Then, finally, I would seek confirmation – through prayer, study, conversation with officers in the church, colleagues in ministry, my wife – that what I was sensing was something more than my own inclination.

There was a time in my life when jumping to conclusions was easy. As I have gotten older, I have recognized that the divide between what I think is true about the life of faith and discipleship and what is true may be far wider and deeper than had I first imagined. I make the leap across that chasm at risk to myself and to anyone who may be watching and considering following. I have not fully tamed the urge to leap before I look, but I have managed to exercise some restraint and caution.

The associate pastor of the church I attended as a teenager used to invite us, when we were reading scripture, to “make the familiar strange.” By that he meant upon reading a text, we should not assume we already know what it means. When we are always certain that we know what we are hearing from a text, we often mistakenly conclude that what we want to hear is what is being said and, thereby, fail to be surprised by the grace and wisdom of God.

I am grateful that I did not recognize the bird call I was hearing in the woods because it made the sighting an even more significant moment of revelation. I am grateful my wife mentioned seeing the bird because it prepared me for the moment when I saw it for myself. And I am grateful there was a resource at hand to confirm that I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. (And, no, that’s not just about birds either.)

In this season of Lent, may our ears be attuned to the call of God upon our lives. May our minds be opened to understanding. May our hearts be prepared to be transformed by God’s grace. May we live in accord with God’s will as God is making it known to us.

Rev. Bob Madsen is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Andalusia.