Narrative Sermon: An Unexpected Calling

by on April 25th, 2011
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What makes God’s special calling unexpected? Often times, believers will anxiously seek out a special calling from God. As a matter of fact, I could preach a series of sermons on “How to Know God’s Will,” and the attendance would automatically increase for a few weeks. That may not be a bad idea! BUT WHY? Why is this the case? Why do believers so often question God’s “perfect” will for them? Why do they feel anxious that they have somehow missed God’s will?

Yet, many Christians wish to know, “What is my calling?” We tend to ask the question in the individualistic way of our culture. It makes it about me, not about us. We want a specific, personal calling just for our lives. The story of Saul’s search for the lost donkeys teaches us some things about God’s special calling. What might we learn about God’s special calling from a story about lost donkeys?

Saul’s journey began with the everyday, routine responsibilities. He got up, fed the chickens and livestock. He was getting ready to plow the field when he thought that he might be missing some animals. He decided to check the fence, and unfortunately, he found a break in the fence that needed fixed, but it was too late. He was missing some donkeys and had to tell his dad.

Saul’s father, Kish, was an influential man in his community (1), and obviously, he owned donkeys, some of which had escaped. It’s just life on a farm. So, he sends Saul and a servant to find his missing donkeys (3). While his father was an influential man in the community, Saul was “an impressive young man” himself (2). Saul was tall! It seems that he was “tall, dark, and handsome” type (2) and obedient to his father.

Saul and the servant literally searched “high and low” for the lost donkeys. For a couple of days, they traveled through more Hebrew words than I can pronounce! They went from the hill country of Ephraim through Shalisha into Shaalim, and finally, to the territory of Benjamin (4). They searched everywhere, but could not find the donkeys. Finally, Saul was ready to give up and turn around because he feared that his father would start to worry about them (5), but the servant had one last idea (6).

The servant knew about a highly regarded seer, or prophet, in a nearby town (6). In a last ditch effort, they could consult him. They wanted to do all that they could to find the lost donkeys for Saul’s father, but they had a small problem. Saul asked the servant, “What can we give the man of God?” They had run out of food and had no gift for him (7). Luckily, the servant had some money to give him (8). Saul agreed, and they headed for the town (10).

When you are doing what you’re supposed to do, you’ve done all you can, and nothing else seems to work, go to God for help! Right? Maybe, that’s not exactly how we should do it, but that’s what Saul and the servant did, and truthfully, that’s what we do as well. They could not find them. All of their options were used up. They had run out of food and time. In one last ditch effort, so that they could honestly say that they had done everything possible, they went to the prophet.

On the way, they asked some girls if the seer was there and received some information from them (11-13). The prophet is coming to bless the sacrifice before the people begin eating (13). They will wait until Samuel arrives. As they entered the town, they met Samuel as he was going to bless the sacrifice. Not knowing of the pre-arranged time with the town, they were fortunate to find Samuel. After all, he travelled on a circuit between towns, and it was only coincidence that he was there now (7:15-17).

Or was it just a coincidence? How many times has a seemingly coincidental moment made a monumental difference in our lives? Saul was just out looking for his father’s lost donkeys, and seemingly by accident, he meets with God’s prophet, Samuel (15-16). Samuel’s pre-arranged meeting with the town officials is not the only pre-arranged meeting taking place. The day before Saul came to meet with the Prophet Samuel. God revealed to Samuel that he would send Saul to him. There was nothing unintentional about this meeting! God had arranged it!

I suspect that what was true of Saul may also be true for us as well. Saul came to Samuel to find his lost donkeys, but instead, he found a special calling. God told Samuel that Saul would lead and deliver my people (16). God cares for Israel and hears their cries for help. In other words, Saul will become the first king of Israel (17). Saul finds Samuel, but God had already identified Saul to Samuel. As confirmation that he is the seer, Samuel tells Saul that the donkeys have been found (20). WOW!

I want to pause right here for just a moment to ask, “Why do believers seek a special calling from God?” Another question is, “Why do believers get so worked up about the possibility of missing God’s will for them?” I can think of a few possible answers to those questions.

First, one possibility is that our feelings of guilt, emotional not theological, drive us to desire a special calling from God. We can’t shake something from our past. Somehow, the forgiveness that we have through Jesus Christ is not enough. We don’t feel like we doing enough for God. We have to perform because we think that our performance will make us pleasing to God. Does our performance make us acceptable to God?

Second, another possibility is our longing for the perfection to come makes us desperate to the point of delusion. We want to serve God in a way to obtain that perfection now and to set a high standard for our service. While there is nothing wrong with having a high standard for our service, it may drive us to desire a special calling from God because we want perfection our way now instead of waiting for the perfection of Christ Jesus later. We don’t want to wait! Where does perfection come from?

Third, it may be our desire for value in the light of feelings of inferiority. We are always feeling “less than” someone else. Others’ achievements and accomplishments highlight our lack of them. For us, a special calling from God would mean that our value is somehow enhanced. A special calling from God would make us feel more valuable to God than other believers. Everyone wants to be special, which means that no one really is as special as they want to be. Would a special calling add to our value with God or others?

Fourth, maybe our fear of Christian freedom creates this desire for a special calling from God? In Christ, and in obedience to the Word of God, believers have freedom to make their own choices. It seems that the majority of those choices of sincere, devoted believers are not moral choices, which are spoken to in the Holy Scriptures, but personal preferences. It could be that we want a specific calling because we fear the freedom with which we have to live out our Christian faith. This seems like a plausible possibility, but I think that it may go one step further.

Finally, it may not be our fear of Christian freedom, but a distorted view of God? I have to wonder if this is really the reason. Instead of seeing God as a loving Father who has already chosen us through his grace to be his children, we feel that we have to work for His approval. We fear our Christian freedom because we might make a wrong decision that will somehow make Our Heavenly Father NOT LOVE US ANYMORE! We want a special calling from God because we do not really trust the grace of our loving Heavenly Father and what he has already done for us in Jesus Christ. We desire a special calling because of this distorted view of God.

In light of Saul, could we miss it? God sent Saul to the Prophet Samuel. How did God do it? They lost some donkeys. Saul’s father sends him to find them. He just happened to send the servant who knew about the Prophet Samuel. He just happened to show up at the town at the time when Samuel was coming to bless the sacrifice. If we are living in right relationship to God, then can we really miss it?

This is ALL God’s doing! Saul was not even searching for a special calling from God! He was simply living out the general calling of God in his life by obeying his earthly father and searching for the lost donkeys. While coming to ask God about lost donkeys, God surprises Saul! Saul’s special calling from God was AN UNEXPECTED CALLING because he was not seeking it. He was simply living his daily life in relationship to God and others.

Samuel says to Saul, “And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and all your father’s family” (20). Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin?” (21). Saul understands exactly what Samuel is saying. You are going to be the first king of Israel! Sometimes, God chooses the least to do the most.

Yet, Saul’s response shows that he was not trying to become the first king of Israel and is surprised by God’s choice. God choose us to be his children, and if he has some special calling for us, we can trust God that He will make it know to us! In the context of faithfully serving God and others, we may discover that God has a special plan for us.

Isn’t that the way that God works out His plan for his children? He chose us to be his children, and through His Spirit and Word, He expects us to live our daily lives in relationship to Him. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News! The Good News is that God saves us by His grace through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. WE DO NOT HAVE TO DO ANYTHING TO BE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD! It’s already done for us! We trust the promises of God for us!

Just as God chose us to be his children, God may or may not choose us for some special calling. That’s not up to us! It’s totally up to God! We don’t have to worry about it! We can relax about it! We are acceptable to God and special to Him already through the Gospel. As we live our lives in a daily relationship to Him, if God desires us to do something specific, he will communicate that to us! Trust in God’s ability to tell you and go on your way!

May we rest in the grace and mercy of God that has been given to us through our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. AMEN!

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version.

Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990).

I find great inspiration in the sermons of Frederick Buechner and Fred Craddock.

Buechner, Frederick. Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons (New York: HarpersOne, 2006).

Craddock, Fred B. The Cherry Log Sermons (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).

Lowry, Eugene. The Homiletical Plot: the Sermon as Narrative Art Form (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).

Lowry, Eugene. Website

My Narrative Sermons on 1 Samuel:

1 Samuel 1
1 Samuel 2
1 Samuel 3
1 Samuel 4
1 Samuel 5-6 (This is my first sermon from this passage.)
1 Samuel 7
1 Samuel 8

While I have reviewed four of Lowry’s books, here is my review of the Homiletical Plot

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