The rules of driving are easy. A red light means stop, and a green light means go. Even young children who can’t drive yet know what these lights mean.
However, sometimes when we follow Jesus, we get both red and green lights at the same time. So what should we do—stop or go?
For the red light, consider Martin Luther’s understanding of vocation. Even though he was a monk, Luther critiqued aspects of the monastic life by saying that we do not need to escape everyday life to serve God; rather, God calls us to serve others in the midst of our daily lives. We can share God’s love as spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends, employees, students, citizens, etc. Vocation is about our current relationships, situations and contexts. This is where we can serve.
In Josh Wilson’s song “Dream Small,” for example, the singer-songwriter emphasizes how these small, everyday things are vitally important to God. “Simple moments change the world,” sings Wilson. We can simply stop, notice where we are and share God’s love with those around us.
On the other hand, we also hear the urgent message to go and do something for God. Think of the disciples leaving behind their families and fishing business to follow Jesus. Think of the often-invoked reminder that following Jesus should take us out of our comfort zones. Think about Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous line from The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
What should we do when we get both of these lights at the same time?
In the opening verse of singer-songwriter Matthew West’s song “Do Something,” West sings about how there are many things wrong with the world—such as “people living in poverty, children sold into slavery.” He asks, “God, why don’t you do something?” and in the lyrics, God replies, “I did. I created you.” This is the call to go and do something for God. You can’t do that where you currently are.
So what should we do when we get both of these lights at the same time? These are both common and important messages about living the Christian life, but they sound contradictory.
One way to balance these messages is to say that some people are called to stop, and some are called to go. For example, some people have gifts that allow them to serve behind the scenes, while others have gifts that allow them to serve as missionaries around the world. But while it is true that different people have different gifts, that can also become an excuse or a cop-out: “I’ll let someone else go. I’d rather stop here and stay comfortable.”
Another solution could be that we are called to take risks in our daily lives. When was the last time you spoke to a coworker about your faith? Have you spoken the name of Jesus to someone in your neighborhood? When did you tell your children why Jesus matters to you?
Yes, we are called to stop and show love where we are. But we are also called to go and do something risky to share Jesus with those around us. Unlike driving on the road, the red and green lights when following Jesus are not contradictory.