Calling is something intrinsically hard to dissect. Almost every priest I've ever spoken to has told me that they resisted, for months, before giving in. Most of them didn't want to be a priest in the first place. Justin Welby, when asked at his selection conference why he wanted to be a priest, replied, "I don't."
I remember when I first felt God tell me to lead worship. I was nineteen, one year of university under my belt, and I'd been happily ignoring Mum suggesting it for years. I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom before leaving for university, arguing with God about worship leading. The conversation went something like this:
God: I want you to lead worship.
Me: No you don't.
God: Yes I do.
Me: No you don't.
God: Yes I do! Go and lead worship!
Me: You're going to have to make me.
Me: I'm not pushing any doors.
God: [clearly happy to arrange for some doors to push me] Fine. You don't have to ask anybody. But if someone asks you, take the opportunity.
Me: [relaxedly thinking this situation is unlikely to arise in the foreseeable future] Okay, fine.
The next day my youth pastor called with a broken arm and asked me to lead worship.
...Sneaky, no? I tried to avoid it again at the church I attended at university, and it took three people asking me and the acting Worship Pastor telling me he felt God specifically tell him I should do it before I gave in.
After I started worship leading, my mother started telling me I should look into priesthood. Again, I ignored her saying this for years, before finally I gave in and decided to look into it. I really did not want to become a priest. That was not the plan at all. I was going to be...well, I don't know, but something probably a bit more musical and certainly a lot less Anglican. 'Vicar' was not top of my list of cool jobs to do someday. That list looks something more like this:
1. Rock star
3. Robin Hood
Anyway, vicar certainly wasn't on it. The thing about vicars is that they're just so...well...uncool. I didn't like the idea of being public property, irrevocably wedded to the institutional church for better or worse. I don't like the ponce and ceremony, and the red tape, and the politics. But I found the more I looked into it, the more I prayed about it, the more it became a concrete reality in my brain, almost an inevitability that I should have to pursue it, whether or not I actually wanted to.
That's the thing about calls. Frankly, they are more often than not costly, painful, wearisome and difficult. The prophets and apostles pull no punches when it comes to the cost of following Jesus:
'God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honour, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labour, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.'
And yet the call of Christ is irresistible; compelling. I resonate with Jeremiah when he says, 'If I say, "I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name", there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.' The call of Christ is compelling: it is impossible to defend against. Despite the resistance we may throw up against him, his unceasing, quiet, inexorable calling to us ultimately draws us in, and our surrender to his ways produces a delight, a peace which cannot be fathomed or replicated. It is the call of the Francis Thompson’s Hounds of Heaven, the compulsion of the suffering Christ in DL Sayers Pantas Elykso:[1 Cor 4:9-13]
'I hear Thy trumpets in the breaking morn,
I hear them restless in the resonant night...
They blow aloud between love's lips and mine...
Ring from the cup where I would pour the wine,
Rouse the uneasy echoes about my bed...
They will blow through my grave when I am dead.'
Who can resist the ceaseless, persistent call of Christ, pulling at you, tugging at your heart so that it takes all your strength to stay, to defend yourself against it, to keep from falling on your knees before him and vowing to follow wherever he goes? There is no peace apart from him; no peace apart from surrender. It is nothing to do with reason or rationality; you don't follow because it makes most sense. At least, I don't understand it like that. You follow because your heart is designed to be in joyful submission to his will, and to resist his will is hard, and hurts, and feels not right; like a magnet trying to pull apart from its opposite.
'O King, O Captain, wasted, wan with scourging,
Strong beyond speech and wonderful with woe,
Whither, relentless, wilt Thou still be urging
Thy maimed and halt that have not strength to go?...
Peace, peace, I follow. Why must we love Thee so?'