Moses was a very long way away, but not far enough nor remote enough to be outside God’s sight and call. When Moses led his herd of sheep into the Sinai Peninsula, to what was known as the mountain of God, God called to Moses: “Moses. Moses!” (Ex. 3:4). Out of the vast space of the desert, out of the long years of toil as a shepherd, Moses heard God’s special call to lead the people of Israel.
Zacchaeus was the wrong kind of fellow in Israel: not only a tax collector for the Roman Empire, but a chief tax collector—a man of great affluence at a time of great need. When Jesus came to town, Zacchaeus wanted to see this great teacher, but because of his short stature he could not see over the assembled crowd. Fortunately, he was in good enough shape to climb a nearby sycamore tree, and that’s where he heard the call from Jesus: “Come down immediately; I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). As a result of this visit, Zacchaeus learned that loving God meant loving his neighbor. Ultimately, he divested half of his possessions to the poor, and to those whom he’d defrauded in his tax collector days he paid quadruple restitution.
God calls all of us to love God supremely and to love our neighbor as ourselves. He also calls us to special assignments of ministry and service. In each case we are to fully embrace God’s call, and that embrace is called consecration.
Consecration and God’s call
Consecration is our response to God’s call, our affirmation of and commitment to God’s purposes for our lives. In other words, consecration is a response of whole-hearted dedication to God’s call.
Whole-hearted dedication is hardly a strange request when called to a mission or task. In fact, lots of enterprises—both sacred and secular—ask for such devotion. For instance, my children’s decisions to join the high school marching band required major commitment. Consequently, it was very difficult for one of our sons to participate in both soccer and band; both organizations asked for whole-hearted dedication.
In a way, consecration is akin to marriage vows. Because marriage is so comprehensive, so important, and so sacred, it warrants vows signifying whole-hearted dedication to the marital enterprise. We seal these vows with a statement of lifelong obligation: “Til death do us part.” So it is with the purposes of God: In order to fulfill the work to which God has called us, consecration is required.
Acts of consecration
Our life in Christ includes many acts of consecration. Baptism is an act of consecration in which one affirms fidelity to the lordship of Christ. Joining a church in membership is another such act wherein one affirms loyalty to the body of Christ. More specifically, those who agree to fulfill a specific ministry in their church for a particular term of service also go through an experience of consecration. When one signs up to serve, attends the required training, and receives prayer on his or her behalf in undertaking the assignment, one enters into the experience of consecration. He or she affirms and commits to whole-hearted dedication to God and His purposes.
Acts of consecration prepare us to fulfill the primary call of all believers: to follow Jesus by loving God and loving neighbor. In April 1952, Bishop Jesse Lady challenged young couples of the Upland (Calif.) Brethren in Christ congregation to go out to some of the smaller churches in the surrounding communities and serve there. Les and Dorothy Guengerich sensed God was speaking to them, and after a time of praying together they decided to travel to nearby Chino and serve the Brethren in Christ congregation there. For the next 62 years, Les and Dorothy served as laypersons in what is now called the Gateway Community Church. Their consecrated service has given life to the congregation.
Acts of consecration also prepare us for specific ministry assignments. A few years ago, Donna Harvey came to our church in midlife and renewed her decision to follow Christ. Along the way, she found herself drawn to a variety of ministry roles, including leadership roles. She began to prepare herself, consecrating and fully dedicating herself to God’s purposes. That process of preparation culminated in her ordination to pastoral ministry, a service in which I participated, at the direction of our bishop. That service of consecration acknowledged her whole-hearted dedication to God’s purposes, now expressed through her pastoral ministry.
Alertness to the Spirit and the flesh over time
Consecration is not an event of commitment that happens only at the beginning of one’s calling. Instead, it involves lifetime alertness to the Spirit and the flesh. The story of Judah’s king Asa is instructive here. Asa had a long tenure as king, 41 years altogether, with remarkable accounts of consecrated trust. Yet somehow, over time, Asa’s consecration waned. Tragically, after 35 years of serving as king and trusting in God, the king lapsed. He relied on the king of Aram rather than the Lord God (2 Chron. 16:7), treated his subjects cruelly (2 Chron. 16:10), and consulted pagan physicians rather than turning to God for healing (2 Chron. 16:12). When Hanani the seer tried to confront Asa on his disobedience, Asa had the man imprisoned.
As King Asa’s story demonstrates, consecration is to be a lifetime reality in which we remain sensitively alert to promptings of the Spirit and keenly alert to the desires of the flesh. Accepting counsel from other believers and resisting earthly temptations helps us to remain obedient to God’s call in the long term. Ultimately, the consecrated life demonstrates endurance and faith-fulness in living out God’s calling. We stay alert to drift and resist thinking that says, “I deserve better treatment,” or “I’ve served my time,” or “I don’t have to take this anymore.”
Consecration of every aspect of life
For many years the Brethren in Christ sang the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be.” Its lyrics offer a comprehensive prayer, to be sure:
Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee!
Take my moments and my days;
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
The hymn writer goes on: take my hands, my feet, my voice, my money, my time, my will, and my heart. The message of the song is that in consecration we give God every aspect of ourselves—from our material resources to our very bodies—in whole-hearted service. The consecrated life holds nothing back. Such dedication is realistically necessary given the intensity of dilemmas we face in life and the fact that our commitment to God is “til death parts us.”
Whether to a specific task of leadership like Moses, or to a general love of God and neighbor like Zacchaeus, God calls each and every one of us. In every case, the proper response to God’s call is consecration: whole-hearted dedication to fulfilling God’s purposes, a dedication that is life long and all encompassing. As we seek to be faithful to God’s call today, let us echo the words of the hymn writer: “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”