Bible Study for Discernment
The Call of Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah)
God commands Abram and Sarai to "go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you." Read through the passage, perhaps using the Lectio Divina method. When you have had an opportunity to "chew" on this scripture, consider the following questions:
What were Abram and Sarai asked to leave behind in order to follow God?
What were they promised?
How was Abraham's faith expressed during this journey?
What might you need to leave behind in order to follow where God leads? Who else will be affected?
How do you understand God's promise in your life right now?
How are you expressing your faith on this ongoing journey of discernment?
The Call of Moses
Exodus, chapters 3 and 4
No exploration of "call" would be complete without considering the call of Moses at the burning bush. Within this story are many elements to explore: the sacred appearance of the Divine, a clear command from God, and Moses' struggle to accept not only the call but that he had the right qualifications for the job. Again, consider using Lectio Divina as a way of getting in touch with this story. Here are some questions to consider:
How was God present to Moses in this calling?
What arguments did Moses have for not feeling adequate for answering the call of God?
How did God address Moses' concerns?
What does Moses come to know about God and God's relationship to both himself and to the Israelite people in this encounter?
What are your own concerns about your ability to answer God's call in your life? These would be good to bring to God in prayer where you can listen for God's answer.
What do you know about God's identity – God's presence in your life and the life of God's people? How have you learned this?
Book of Esther, especially 4:13-17
In the Book of Esther we have the opportunity to explore another type of call. Esther, a Jew, finds herself in a position of power and influence as queen in the court of the Persian emperor. When the Jewish people are threatened, her uncle asks her to consider if God has raised her to a position of power "for such a time as this." When you have time, read Esther's entire story. Pay special attention to the fourth chapter. Questions to consider:
What power did Esther have and what power did she NOT have?
What risk did Esther take in order to try to rescue her people?
How did she discern her course of action?
Consider times in your own life when you might have been challenged to use what you have been given for the benefit of others who were being oppressed. How did you respond?
Who has asked you to consider whether you, too, have been given gifts "for such a time as this?"
The Call of Samuel
I Samuel 3:1-10
This story of call reminds us that we sometimes need help distinguishing the voice of God from other voices. The story also reminds us that God calls not only adults but also youth. It is young Samuel's mentor, Eli, who first recognizes that God is calling the boy and helps him to know how to properly respond. After reading the story consider the following questions:
How does Eli discern that God is calling Samuel?
What do you suppose it means that "the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread?"
Who have been/are the mentors in your life who help you to discern God's voice?
How do you listen for God?
How do you know if the sense of call you feel is God or something else (like your own ego, or what someone else thinks you ought to do with your life, for instances)?
The Call of the Disciples
Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-11, John 1:35-51
All four gospels tell the story of Jesus' call to the first disciples. Three of the accounts are fairly similar. John's account looks at the event from a different perspective. Read all four accounts. You might also read, play or sing Hymn 173 in The New Century Hymnal ("Tu has venido a la orilla"). Then, consider the following questions:
How do those called by Jesus respond?
What differences do you notice between the four accounts?
What do you suppose Jesus meant when he told the fishermen that they would now be fishing for people?
In order to follow Jesus, what might change in your professional or personal life?
Have you ever felt like Peter in Luke's account where his response to Jesus is to ask him to "go away?"
The Call of Paul
Acts 9:1-9 (10-19)
The story of the conversion of Saul (Paul) is a powerful and evocative story of call. The writer of Acts presents it as a key turning point in the history of the early church. As you read this story, consider these questions:
What was it that enabled Saul to turn around?
Might the writer of Acts want us to understand Paul's physical blindness (vs. 8-9) as a symbol of something else? If so, what?
How does God call Ananias?
Both Saul and Ananias experience their encounter with God as a radical disconnection with what they had previously believed to be true. How do they deal with this?
How has God's call in your life caused you to re-think what you thought you knew to be true?
Has God spoken to you through dreams? If so, how? How have you heard God's voice/discerned God's desire for your life?
Although not a classic story of "call," this scene between Jesus and the sisters, Mary and Martha, contain many elements of call: discerning God's desire, making choices and listening to Jesus even in the face of opposition. As you read the story, imagine yourself as one of the characters.
Who do you identify with? Why?
What prevents you from sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to him?
What would it feel like to have permission and support to do just that?
How do you balance the "Martha" and "Mary" in you as you seek to discern your call to ministry?
Mary's Encounter with an Angel
Luke 1:26-38 (39-56)
It's not everyday that a person receives a visit from an angel! Yet, Luke tells us that is just what happened to Mary. The announcement of her "call" to be the mother of Jesus awakens all sorts of feelings and responses in this young woman, Her assent changes her life forever.
How did Mary respond to the angel's announcement?
The angel told her, "do not be afraid." Is fear a part of the call experience? What do you fear about your own emerging sense of call?
What risks did Mary take in order to say "yes" to God?
What risks might you need to take to say "yes" to God?
In the Magnificat (vs. 46-56), Mary declares that God's coming turns everything upside-down. How is this a message you have experienced? How do you proclaim this message?
Sometimes in the Bible a person is called out by the community to serve as a leader. This is the case for Matthias. Read the story of his call in Acts and consider these questions:
What was the need that prompted Matthias' call?
What were his qualifications?
How was he chosen?
Has the community called you? In what ways?
How is the need for "witnesses" to Christ a compelling reason to call persons to ministry?
There are many stories of call in the Bible. These are just a few to help you begin to explore the richness of the Biblical narrative. Perhaps some of your favorite stories of call aren't here. Make a list of other call stories you identify with and want to explore through Lectio Divina, group Bible study or individual reflection.
Hopefully this resource has offered some ways to help you on your journey toward discerning a call to ministry. Is God calling you to ministry? Perhaps. You must listen like Samuel for God's voice. You must be open like Mary to the risks and possibilities of following God's desire for you. You must listen like Matthias for the voice of the community as well. Whether your journey leads to authorized ministry or to a deeper understanding of your discipleship as a Christian, it is important to remember that God IS calling you!