Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hearing God's Call

After graduating from the University of North Carolina, Jason Brown was one of the best  American football players at his position. He was soon signed for a contract worth 37.5 million dollars. However, after 12 years in the league, he decided at the age of 29 to give it all up. Instead of signing with a team, he bought a one thousand acre farm in North Carolina. Some of his teammates wondered whether he had taken too many shots to the head. His agent told him that he was making the worst decision of his life. Nonetheless, he was determined.

What motivated Jason Brown to give up a promising and lucrative career for the simple life of a farmer? He felt in his heart a deep need to provide for the less fortunate. After learning that one out of five people in North Carolina do not have enough food to feed themselves and their families, he knew he had to do more than donate money to charity. He committed himself to using his farm to provide fresh vegetables and produce to those families. Calling his business, “First Fruit Farms”, he pledged to donate the first yield of his crops to area soup kitchens and food pantries.

Though it is a far cry from the excitement and glamour he experienced playing in the National Football League, Jason finds working on the land and providing for others fulfilling. When describing his new life to CBS news he was quoted as saying, “When I think about a life of greatness, I think about a life of service.”

We live in a culture that glorifies fame and wealth. Even believers can be swept up in the illusion that if we had more money or more glamorous lives we would feel better about ourselves and all our problems would melt away. However, as the story of Jason Brown teaches us, it is the life of service to others that is the most fulfilling. Seeking to enrich others rather than ourselves is the real secret to a happy life.

Of course, we have to imagine that the decision to leave the career he had worked hard to establish did not happen overnight. There must have been many evenings when he lay awake wondering what God’s plan for him was. There must have been many days when he asked himself whether there was more to life than throwing a football around. There must have been many hours of prayer and soul-searching before making such a huge change in his lifestyle.

Such was the experience of Samuel in today’s first reading. He heard God’s call but was still too young to understand who was calling him. It was not until he received some guidance from the older and wiser Eli that he could answer, “Speak, for your servant is listening” and hear the voice of God. We do not always recognize the voice of God when He first calls us. However, He never gives up on us, stirring our hearts again and again until we finally stop and listen.

Are you feeling restless? Do you feel that your life is not as fulfilling as you expect it to be? Do you wonder whether there is more that you should be doing but do not know where to look? It could be that God is stirring your heart, calling you to something greater. Finding out what it may be is as simple as slowing ourselves down to listen to what is going on within us. Like Samuel, all we need to do is find a quiet place and pray, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

It can be tempting when we sense a void within us to want to fill it with noise. We think that watching a movie or listening to music will drown out the discontent echoing in our souls. Other times we may be tempted to fill our schedule with activities so that we will be too busy to slow down and attend to the cry of our heart. We can also try to fill what is lacking in our lives with toys, clothes or technology. However, none of these distractions ultimately satisfies the longing of our soul. There is no way of silencing the call within us except to slow down and listen to it.

Most likely, as Jason Brown discovered, the call we are hearing is to serve others. It may be as dramatic as leaving our job to work with the needy or to dedicate ourselves to religious life. Or it may be as simple as volunteering at a soup kitchen or hospital. Whatever it may be, we will never find out unless we are willing to listen to the stirring of God in our soul.

One thing is certain. We can never find happiness and fulfillment in this world if all we do is live for ourselves. All it can bring us is endless dissatisfaction and anxiety. When we live only for ourselves, nothing is ever enough. We blame others for not meeting our needs and become collapsed in on ourselves. Only when we decide to live for others do we find our real identity and purpose.

John the Baptist is our shining example. The whole purpose of his life was to point to Jesus. Even before he met the Lord, he dedicated himself to preparing the way for the One who was greater than he. And when Jesus did appear, he was quick to point him out to others, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Those who were following him left to follow Jesus. In that moment, John the Baptist must have experienced his deepest sense of fulfillment and happiness because he was leading others to Jesus.

We are gathered here today to interrupt our busy schedules, to slow down and to listen to the God who stirs in our hearts. He is calling out to us to make us aware of how much He loves us. Then, He is calling us to share that love with others. God has a plan for each of us. We can only avoid Him for so long. Today is the day to stop searching for our purpose elsewhere and to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.

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