by Phil Baker
A couple Sundays ago Boone Benson taught us that God calls us through pain, not from it. That made me realize that in my last post I may have given the impression that a calling means it will be easy. But sometimes a calling is hard. In fact, sometimes it is so hard it can feel less like a calling and more like a challenge. I’ve recently felt such a call.
After my wife’s uncle passed away last year, his widow started cleaning out the house and giving things away. This uncle was a collector of various instruments, one of those people who could play virtually anything by ear. For years I had coveted a few of his banjoleles (a type of banjo/ukulele hybrid). I had taken up the ukulele a few years ago and the thought of simply transferring what I knew on the uke to the banjolele was very exciting. So I was naturally hoping to get one of them. But instead she gave me an actual banjo. I’m ashamed to say I was disappointed with my gift. I didn’t get what I wanted. Nevermind that this was a better gift, a much more expensive instrument. It was in excellent shape. And the fact that she set it aside especially for me was a touching sentiment.
A few months went by as I felt that banjo calling to me from inside its case. This Washburn 5 string had a voice and I wasn’t going to keep it silent. So, despite my intimidation and limited knowledge of stringed instruments, I answered the call. I started out very slowly and sporadically. But just recently I really committed to it, taking at least 30 minutes each day to work with it. That first day I got so frustrated I had to set it down and walk away for several hours. I wasn’t getting anywhere. Everything about it was so foreign and awkward. The ukulele was easy to learn. You just strum it. And if you know a few chords you can play a wealth of songs. But the banjo is so much more complicated. You pick it one string at a time. Its strings are in a completely different key and order than a ukulele or guitar. Then there’s that pesky 5th string that refuses a capo. ARRRG! I was tempted to give up entirely. But I gave it one more shot. Day 2 was just as hard. But on day 3 I had a major discovery that invigorated me! Day 4 and the days since I’ve begun to slowly get better. I’ve been plucking away at it every day for a couple weeks now.
Why would I have this calling? Am I to be the next Earl Scruggs or David Crowder? Probably not. At this point, only God knows the purpose. Maybe he just needs me to have calloused fingers. All I know is it’s my calling so I’m not gonna phone it in! (pun intended)
I’m reminded of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid teaching Daniel “Wax on. Wax off.” Daniel didn’t know it at the time but Mr. Miyagi was teaching him a powerful defensive move by building those muscles and muscle memory. It wasn’t until Daniel had endured days of this seemingly pointless exercise that his sensei revealed the rewards of his teachings.
So why didn’t Mr. Miyagi just tell Daniel “Hey, I’m gonna teach you these really useful karate moves by having you do some of my home improvements!” He just kept silent while Daniel worked. Theologian Helmut Thielicke calls this “the silence of higher thoughts”. It means that only God sees the big picture. We can’t comprehend it (see Isaiah 55:9). It’s when He’s mum on his complete plan and just gives us what we need to know. It’s when a parent says “because I said so” to a child questioning their authority. It’s when Mary and Martha ask Jesus why he wasn’t there before Lazarus died (John 11:1-44).
You see, at its root, any calling from God is a call just to walk with Him day by day. Each day you have to rely on Him even if that day won’t be as rewarding as you’d hope. I will continue to practice my banjo day by day knowing that I will have some good days and some days I want to chuck it out the window. But I will continue to walk with Him. And he will walk with me.
So be mindful of God’s callings. Even the difficult ones. We won’t always be given the full picture making it all the more challenging and confusing. But rest in the fact that it is God who gave the call. He’s there at the finish line cheering you on!