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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
160 pages
Mar 2005
Broadman & Holman

Call Waiting: Hearing and Answering God's Call on Your Life

by Ronald Wilson

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt


Chapter 1

Down with Dualism

Doug Wallace loves to take a risk. You might say that he knows when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. He’s not a bad poker player and enjoys the game, but that’s because he has a gift for managing risk. He has done bungee jumping and scuba diving and for several years owned a motorcycle. Those activities may not qualify him as a big risk taker, but one aspect of risk management is knowing just how far you can go toward the edge, then backing off. His calling, as he sees it, is to apply this gift to the business of making money and to use it to advance the kingdom of God.

Doug was brought up in a working-class family in a cinder-block house in Baltimore. His father worked in the shipyards and Doug found work there in the summer. He went to Case Western University on a full scholarship and discovered his gift there while playing poker. After college he got a job in a bank where he met John, who would become a lifelong friend. Neither one of them had the temperament to work in a bank, so they opened a shop and began managing a portfolio of other people’s money, by doing arbitrage on the bond market. They did so well that after five years they closed the operation, and, in response to what they had been learning about Christianity, attended classes for a year at a Christian study center. There, as new believers, they began to build a view of the world that included the purpose of work and of making money.

Eventually they both went to work for a bank, managing the bank’s investments. They did well, again, but, feeling restrained with the bank’s limitations to make quick decisions—so necessary in the kind of investing they were doing—John left and in time went to work for several investors in Texas. Doug stayed where he was living in Richmond, Virginia, but when the bank was sold, he had the opportunity to move to Atlanta and make more money. After consultation with Joanne, his wife, he decided he was supposed to stay in Richmond.

He toyed with the idea of becoming an investment advisor, but he had tried that before and learned that it took 90 percent marketing skills—not his gift—and 10 percent investing ability. So, still in his forties, he was left with the question, “What am I supposed to do? I have these skills and experience and I enjoy making money for the use of God’s kingdom, so what should I do?”

Doug was a member of a young, growing church, and he saw an opportunity to help the pastor, so he signed on as a volunteer to assist the pastor using his administrative and analytical skills. Doug knew that church-related work was not a higher calling than that of nonchurch workers, but he might have been seduced by the modern dualism that says that church-related work is “ministry,” unlike so-called “secular work.” It turned out to be six months of frustration with little joy or feeling of reward. “I felt no success, joy, competence, or vision for doing it,” he recalls. So, a sad but wiser man, he left the church to wait on God to learn what he was supposed to do.

“I wasn’t on a quest,” he says. “When I was younger I might have given myself thirty days to find my place. I knew the Lord would lead me when he was ready, so I settled in to wait. I had a good friend whom I had been advising on financial matters just as a friend. He had just sold his company and went from saying casually, ‘Why don’t you manage my money?’ to, ‘Would you please manage my money?’

“It became clear to me that here was a way to use my skills and serve the Lord. This friend has the ability to make money, and he’s a very generous man who can provide a lot of support for the advancement of the Kingdom. My role is to alleviate his concerns about his finances and expand his understanding of biblical stewardship. I’ve learned that there are others out there with that ability, but it doesn’t feel satisfying to them at times. They need to understand that they have a place in God’s economy as ‘givers.’” Since then Doug has found a few more folks there who have the same understanding of biblical stewardship, and he now has a comfortable practice as a registered financial advisor.

“Most people are afraid of risk,” he says, “and I probably fall off the horse on the other side. But that’s what I do. I’m not about picking stocks or managing your investment return. I’m about managing your risk. Many people would like to go through life without taking a risk, but we can’t. We’re forced to manage risk, family or financial.”

Doug’s philosophy of stewardship has given him peace where others have chewed their fingernails. “After 9/11 when the stock market was closed, Joanne and I went on a two-week camping trip. I had done my best in managing my clients’ assets. If God wanted to take it all away, so be it. It’s his money. It’s not ours to fret over.”

The dualism that Doug bumped into when he went to work at the church is, unfortunately, prevalent in our society. It says that life is divided into the sacred and the secular and that the sacred is a higher realm. The pastor or the missionary is “called to ministry,” but the banker or the line supervisor or the engineer, this view implies, just has a job. The latter may or may not enjoy what they do, and they can certainly live for God on the job, but they’re not called in the same way as those who are engaged in “full-time Christian service.”

For Doug, it meant that he had to learn what it meant to minister in the marketplace, which initially was a bank. First that meant doing the best job he knew how as a risk manager. “Next it was a matter of building relationships,” he recalls.

Sacred Versus Secular

Unfortunately, in evangelical circles today we use the term ministry loosely. We say, “So-and-so is going into the ministry.” We talk about “laypeople” as opposed to “ministers.” This further confuses a concept that is already misunderstood and reinforces this false dichotomy. We are all called to ministry of one form or another. In his book Called to the Ministry, Edmund Clowney writes, “Clearly the member serves best who does heartily what he is given to do as a good steward of the grace committed to him. There are no useless gifts of grace; there is no Christian without a ministry.”1

Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood put it this way: “The ministry is for all who are called to share in Christ’s life, but the pastorate is for those who possess the peculiar gift of being able to help other men and women to practice any ministry to which they have been called.”2

In her biography of Sam Shoemaker, I Stand by the Door, Helen Shoemaker wrote,

We often behave as if God were interested in religion but not in life—in what goes on in church, but not what goes on in a mill or on a farm or a broker’s office. This point of view overlooks something. It forgets that Christianity began, not when religion got carried up farther into the skies, but precisely when it was brought “down to earth.” It has often been called the most materialistic of all religions, because it is constantly concerned, not only with a God above the skies, but with a God who came to earth and lived here. . . . Jesus coming into the world has forever banished the idea of the incompatibility of material with spiritual things. I say without hesitation: there is nothing more “spiritual” or holy about going to church than about going to the office, if you go to both places to serve and obey God.3

Dorothy Sayers is quoted as saying, “In nothing has the church so lost her hold on reality as in her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments . . . she has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred.”4 A vocation is sacred because it comes from God, not because it accomplishes a certain amount of good for God. The famous Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, who at one time was also the prime minister of the Netherlands, wrote, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine!’”5

Unfortunately, many Christians in the marketplace believe that it’s not sufficient to serve God by doing the best job they can, by being the best physician or investor or chemist they can possibly be. They insist on seeing their workplace as a fishing pond for Jesus, a place to find souls who need God. Sometimes this takes the form of passing out literature or seeing who they can engage in God-talk at the watercooler. Actually, in so doing, they might be stealing their employer’s time, which doesn’t please God. We don’t have to believe that God put us in a particular place for any other reason than to do the best job we know how and thus glorify him. He doesn’t give us a quota of souls we have to witness to, like so many pieces of metal we have to stamp out on a machine. He is pleased if we live as his children on the job.

Ron Hansen, a novelist, has tried to inject themes of faith into his stories and has done a masterful job at it. Yet he wrote, “What is good in itself glorifies God because it reflects God. The artist has his hands full and has done his duty if he attends to his art. He can safely leave evangelizing to the evangelists.”6

This doesn’t preclude attempts to minister to people and to testify to our faith in God if it falls naturally into our work pattern. In this book you’ll read the story of Bonnie Straka, a dermatologist who often engages her patients in discussions of matters of faith. Bill Stuntz, who teaches law at Harvard, often speaks to on-campus Christian organizations. Tom Miller, a chemist, does not find much opportunity to discuss his faith, but his coworkers know he is a believer and he glorifies God by being a good chemist and caring for his coworkers. Each one sees himself or herself called to serve God, not as a preacher but as a professional in a particular field.

Serving God in the Secular

Many fine Christians have fallen into the trap of viewing their God-given vocation in the marketplace as secular and, further, placing it on a level slightly lower than that of the church worker. It almost happened to none other than the great abolitionist William Wilberforce. His story demonstrates that a biblical view of calling and work can have a profound effect on the world.

Late eighteenth-century England was known for its intellectual life. It spawned such great thinkers as Alexander Pope, John Locke, John Newton, and Edmund Burke. England was also at that time a thriving society with a growing empire and a command of the seas, and was the setting for the beginning of a revolution in manufacturing and industry. London was the commercial and political center where politicians, literary men, and merchants met at coffeehouses and taverns to exchange gossip and discuss the business of the Empire.

William Wilberforce was born into this society in 1759, the son of a highly respected, well-to-do merchant in Hull, Yorkshire. He was born with weak eyes and a weak physical constitution. He was slight in stature with a long nose but with an amazingly strong voice and an active mind.

When he was eight his father died and his mother, not well at the time, sent him to live with his aunt. There he was exposed to Methodists, or Enthusiasts, as his mother called them. John Newton, the former slave ship captain-turned-preacher and the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” was among those who befriended young William.

However, the Methodists were feared by the established church and society, so William’s mother took him away from his aunt and made sure to “scrub his soul,” as someone put it, of all Methodist influence. Thus cleansed, William went off to Cambridge where he spent more time playing cards, singing, hosting dinners for friends, and drinking than he did studying. He loved the company of good friends and was an outstanding conversationalist.

Toward the end of his college days, he became interested in politics and made a run for a seat in Parliament, representing his hometown of Hull. In Parliament he renewed his acquaintance with William Pitt the Younger whom he had known at Cambridge. He rose quickly, his intellectual skills were recognized, and he soon became known as an outstanding orator. When Parliament was not in session he spent considerable time with William Pitt, often at a summer home or traveling with him to France on one occasion.

Then came the big change in the life of William Wilberforce. About to embark on a trip to Europe in the summer of 1784, and wishing to have an enjoyable traveling companion for conversation, he invited his former tutor, Isaac Milner. Unbeknownst to Wilberforce, Milner, while a man of the world in intellect and interests, was an evangelical.

While in Nice, Wilberforce came across a book entitled The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. He asked Milner about it, and Milner recommended that he take it with him and read it. The two men read the book together as they traveled, Milner knowing that it was a reasoned exposition of Christianity. The book had a great impact on Wilberforce, who at this point was a practicing Unitarian. Later in the trip as he discussed the book with Milner, who presented a strong intellectual argument for Christianity, Wilberforce began to see the truth in it.

Intellectually honest to the core, Wilberforce was forced to spend long hours meditating on his discoveries and reading the Scriptures. Conversion came slowly, but soon he began to make changes in his worldly lifestyle, and in spite of the potential political liability, he sought out his old friend John Newton.

To explain his conversion, he also wrote to and met with his other friend, William Pitt, now a leader in Parliament. It was at this point that Wilberforce fell into the trap that many still fall into today. He told his friends that he felt he could best serve God in “sacred” rather than “secular” activities and, thus, he would have to leave politics and, perhaps, take up holy orders. Fortunately, for the world, both Newton and Pitt constrained him and argued that God had placed him where he could do immeasurable service that he could not do otherwise. Thus convinced, he wrote to his mother that it would amount to desertion if he left his post in Parliament, and he told his sons years later that he had devoted the rest of his life to the service of God.

Many years before this great change, Wilberforce had become interested in the question of the slave trade that England carried on. His interest had waned, however, in the face of other pressing issues, but with a new outlook on the world, on October 28, 1787, he wrote in his diary, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”7 John Newton also helped to convince Wilberforce to take up the cause of the slaves. Newton had been the captain of a slave ship before his conversion, and he knew the horrors of the practice.

But the slave trade was woven deeply into the financial fabric of eighteenth-century England, and, fueled by greed, it would prove a stubborn foe. Slave ships left England loaded with cheap manufactured goods and arrived in West Africa where the goods were exchanged for slaves. The slaves were taken to the West Indies where they were exchanged for sugar, which was brought back to England for an enormous profit.

The story of Wilberforce’s fight against the practice is long and takes many twists. That same year, William Pitt, now the prime minister, persuaded Wilberforce to take the leadership in bringing the matter to Parliament. Wilberforce was not in good health and his efforts brought him near death. He began talking about retiring from public life, but once again Newton persuaded him otherwise. This time John Wesley added his voice, writing to Wilberforce in 1791, “Unless God has raised you up for the very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils; but if God be for you, who can be against you?”8

Wilberforce continued to lead the charge, and twenty years later, after fierce opposition and continual struggle, on February 3, 1807, the House of Commons voted to abolish the slave trade by the overwhelming majority of 283 to 16.

Wilberforce now turned his attention to the other great object God had set before him—the reformation of the morals and manners of eighteenth-century England. The struggle took the form of many projects to suppress vice, help the poor, provide education, and encourage religion. He gave liberally from his own fortune to help many individuals and societies and saw hundreds of voluntary societies spring up for the betterment of England.

Meanwhile, although the slave trade had been abolished, slavery itself was still legal and Wilberforce refused to rest as long as it was practiced. His strength, however, was giving out when, on July 26, 1883, the House of Commons voted to emancipate all the slaves. Wilberforce died three days later.

For us in this book, the point of Wilberforce’s life is clear: had he removed himself from public life, believing that he could serve God better in a church vocation, the world would have been so much poorer for it. By the grace of God, he rejected this false view and continued to serve God in a so-called “secular” place. Who can measure the effect that decision had upon the world? Even his contemporaries recognized the value of what he had done and honored him by burying him in Westminster Abbey. The nation mourned his passing.

To Ask Yourself and Others

    1.      Think of several Christians you know who work in what we call “the marketplace.” How are they serving God in that place?

    2.      Can you think of occupations in which you can see no possibility of serving God?

    3.      If you know of an occupation that interests you for the future, ask yourself how you might serve God in that work.