When he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. -Paul, Galatians 1:15-17
There is a duality in Jesus’ calling. It is to us as a body, as a group, to follow him together as partners and “members” of one another. We remember what Paul said:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many… God arranged the members in the body, each of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:14, 18-20
Every Christian, therefore, must think of him- or herself as one small part of a larger collective; one citizen in God’s nation, one child in God’s family, one part of Christ’s body. We must pray to our Father in heaven, sharing him between us. No Christian is an island, and God forbids that we attempt it.
Jesus calls to us as a group, but as individuals as well. Paul said that when God first called him, he “did not immediately consult with anyone”–he heard the Lord’s voice speaking to him alone, finding himself terrifyingly alone with the Lord. When Jesus appeared to him in the vision that would define his life, although several friends accompanied him, only Paul could see Jesus clearly (Acts 9:7) and understand the words he spoke (Acts 22:9). He was alone.
“Are we alone with Him now, or are we taken up with little fussy notions, fussy comradeships in God’s service, fussy ideas about our bodies? Jesus can expound nothing until we get through all the noisy questions of the head and are alone with Him.” -Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost For His Highest”
Right now, I am in a stage of life in which many of my peers and closest friends are moving away from the apparently endless possibilities of affluent youth and into commitments which are marking out the territories of their futures. For me, it’s bittersweet. They are not following divinely inspired plans or timelines that God dropped out of heaven, but they are bravely following God’s leading as well as they can. That’s the sweet part. As I try to do the same thing, listening to Jesus calling me in my aloneness with him, I see him leading me away from them and the lives they are beginning to build. He forces me to ask myself if I am willing to go it alone with no one from my past, with only his voice calling out from a few paces ahead.
A romanticized sense of adventure is well and good for those few who can afford to pursue it. But it is not good enough to sustainably change the course of a life or separate an individual from the tribe. Only the all-constraining voice of Christ is good enough for that, when he speaks to you alone and you can’t mistake his intended audience as anyone but yourself.
When that happens, no one can help you. Don’t bother consulting with anyone else, at first, or going to those who heard that same voice before you. First you must go to Christ–not to the capital but to the desert, not to the congregation but to the prayer closet. Can you be alone with him? Find that out before you find out anything else. If you can, nothing can touch you. No change will destroy you and no loss will remove anything from you. You are invincible in Christ.
I think that’s at least part of what Jesus was getting at when he said:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26-27
From that utter solitude with himself, the Lord leads us back to the crowd, back to the interdependent Church as it should be. Now we are fully his; now we are fully open to his sending; now we are fully free from fear, because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).