A few years ago now, WWJD bracelets were all the rage among teenagers. These were little cloth wristbands, with, woven into the fabric, the letters W, W, J, D. It stands for What Would Jesus Do? So young people finding themselves in difficult or potentially challenging situations would stop up short and think, what would Jesus do? How would he approach this?
Excellent idea, particularly as teenagers need all the help they can get in living a distinctively Christian lifestyle. In fact, there were plenty of adults who took it on too!
However there’s also a teenage rebel in me who says ‘Yes but… How does knowing what Jesus would do help me?’ After all, Jesus was Jesus. He could do all sorts of things I can’t. Jesus could turn an argument around with a clever question, he could cut the Gordian knot. Faced with 5000 hungry people, the disciples suggested buying food, but Jesus worked a miracle. Jesus could heal, raise the dead. What Would Jesus Do? Something incredible! What should I do? Not sure.
To which Jesus might respond, in John’s Gospel: ‘Anyone who has faith in me will do greater things than I have been doing.’
But the serious point is that you and I are not called to be Jesus. What we are called to be is more like Jesus. We become more like him in love, compassion wisdom and following God. As we do so we also become more fully ourselves. Jesus does not take us over and force each person into an identikit mould, a little copy of himself. Instead he helps each one of us become a more Christ like version of ourselves.
That is the second key doctrine of Christian vocation: that we are called to be ourselves. Whether father, brother, uncle, priest, farmer, retired, sick or well, our vocation is to a particular station in life, and to fulfil that role as a disciple of Christ. God has a plan for each person’s life.
One implication of this is that the activities we enjoy, the work that gives us pleasure may well be the very same things that God is calling us to do. God often speaks to us through our innate talents and loves.
I said the fact we are called to be ourselves is the ‘second key doctrine of Christian vocation’. The first is in Ephesians chapter 5 v15-20 where Paul commands that we understand what the will of the Lord is. And what is the will of the Lord? Those sentences could be summed up in the word ‘worship’. Above all, our calling is a response to God, we are created for his pleasure and to worship him.
When we think of worship we should consider more than what we do on Sunday. Worship is the whole of life. In v.15 Paul writes: ‘Be careful then how you live’. The word ‘then’ tells us that we need to look at what has gone before. Paul has been talking about how Christ will return, evil will be judged, and those who have trusted in Christ will live with him forever.
So if evil will be destroyed, don’t live that way! If the Kingdom of God begins now and lasts for ever, start living God’s way now! That’s why Paul tells us to live as those who are wise, not as those who are unwise.
‘Make the most of the time’. Do you ever find yourself wondering where all the time went? What happened to the day? The internet can swallow time up, so can television and gossip. More subtle things can end up occupying more of our lives than is healthy: the endless quest to make the house or garden just that little bit more presentable. It’s the good things like that which can get in the way of the best – sometimes we need to be disciplined and stop so that we can focus the right thing.
That needs discernment. So in v.17 ‘Do not be foolish, but understand the will of the Lord’. As we read the Bible, pray and listen; as we reflect on God’s word to us and our experiences; as we seek to live God’s way then our characters become more like that of Jesus.
One example is ‘Don’t become drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.’ What’s the opposite of drunkenness? Not what you might expect! Paul doesn’t say ‘Instead be sober. Be dull boring.’ In v. 18 he writes ‘Do not get drunk with wine, instead be filled with the Spirit’. One type of Spirit replaces another! The Holy Spirit brings joy, satisfaction, sufficiency. Rather than drowning our sorrows, the Holy Spirit brings them to God who strengthens us and gives us joy even in the midst of them.
He enables us to sing the song of God’s people. One of my favourite tasks as a priest is when I have enough time to choose hymns well. Not rushed, but really thinking through what will work with this Sunday? How will these themes fit with the Bible reading? What tune will be well known and lift people’s hearts? When I have done that, I end up humming through the rest of the day.
Music captures our emotions, provides a way of communicating to God without words. If we are prone to negative thinking or obsessing over things, music replaces the voice in the head with something positive. It gives a language which sums up any human experience, even those that are too deep for words.
Perhaps it’s ironic that I’m saying this at a said service where we have no music. I wonder if we ought to be more confident and willing to sing up – there are styles of music which do not need accompaniment. The Bible says make a joyful noise to the Lord – tuneful is good but joyful is most important! We are so blessed nowadays with music to hand – radio, CDs, MP3, so put something good on. Enjoy and praise God.
Perhaps music is important because it can be such a pure form of worship, with no purpose other than, as it says in verse 20 ‘giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That is a call to put worship and prayer at the top of our priority list. Our Christian vocation is not chiefly about the work we do, nor about our various ministries in church. Our Christian vocation centres on our relationship with God, mediated by worship and prayer. It is in communion with him that we find out who we really are. It’s as we praise him that we find ourselves transformed and renewed.