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Prof Theo talks about calling, zeal and service.

Reading student essays makes me groggy, and that’s not a good state of mind to grade them in. Sometimes, when I’m losing the war for wakefulness, I pick up the whole stack and find another place to grade — noisy enough to keep me alert, but not noisy enough to make work impossible. At certain times of morning the Edge of Night will do. That’s where I’d been for several hours, but I needed a break. Looking up from essay number fifty-nine, I pushed aside my cup of coffee, rubbed my eyes, and looked around for distraction.

Into my field of vision drifted a young man I hadn’t seen for several years. He had a double latté in a “to go” cup, and he was clutching it for dear life. I watched him approach.

“Professor Theophilus! Remember me?”

“Would I be likely to forget one of my best students? Have a seat, Blue.”

He hesitated. “Well, why not.” He sat.

“Are you in a hurry?”

“No, just busy. Seems like I’m always busy. But there’s something I want to ask you about.”

I looked closely at his face. “You look like you’re the one who’s been grading papers. Heavy course schedule this semester?”

“I’m not taking any courses this semester.”

“You’ve graduated? Already?”

“Um, no.”

“Of course. This must be the year you do your practicum.”

“Actually, Prof, I’m not in school at all.”

“You don’t mean you’ve dropped out?”

Again he hesitated. “Not exactly. I think I’ve still got my student status.”

“How long have you been out?”

“Only two semesters. No, wait — it’s three, I think.”

“You think.”

“I’m pretty sure.”

“You said you’ve kept your student status. Does that mean you’re going back?”

“Oh, uh, sure. Eventually.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“You know, when I have time again.”

“Is everything all right, Blue?”

“Sure. I’m not starving or anything. Is that what you mean?”

I smiled, glancing at his double latté. “Not exactly.”

“I’ve got a job. In fact I’ve got lots of jobs. Must eat, must pay rent, right? I used to work in the student accounting office, but they let me go because I’d been out of school for too long. Turns out there’s a rule. But I do lots of things.”

“These ‘lots of things’ — do you mean that you’ve had one job after another, or that you hold down lots of jobs at once?”

“Not all at once — like I said, I don’t work in the student accounting office any more. But let’s see.” He ticked off his jobs on his fingers. “Mondays and Wednesdays I work in a day care center. Weekends I work in an office supplies warehouse. I help out a photographer on 38th Street whenever he has a wedding or Bar Mitzvah. I’m a substitute teacher for grades K-12 —”

“Not so fast. Don’t you need certification or something to be a substitute teacher?”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? No, I’m what they call an NDS. That’s short for Non Degreed Sub. It’s not as good as being a Degreed Sub, but it’s better than being a District Sub. All I had to do was prove that I’ve taken thirty semester hours of college coursework, then take a three-day training course. I can teach any class in any school in the district. I can even teach French.”

“You speak French?”

“Not a word. Pretty good deal, huh?”

I shook my head in bewilderment. “So you’re working four different jobs all at the same time.”

“More. Those are only my paid ones. Well, there’s another, but sometimes they pay me and sometimes they don’t. See, it depends on —”

“Never mind, Blue. You’re making my head spin as it is. Instead of all these part-time jobs, why don’t you get one full-time job?”

“Because I have to fit my paid work around my other work.”

What other work?”

“Lots of things.”

“Not another list.”

“Sure. For instance, I’m running the high school ministry at the Church of the Ragged End.”

“You’re running it?”

“For now. See, I was helping the youth pastor, but he left to go into missions. Let’s see, I think he went to New Caledonia. Or was it Newfoundland? One of those ‘New’ places, anyway.”

“I don’t care if it’s New Brunswick. You were telling me how you wound up running Ragged’s high school ministry.”

“Right. See, when the youth pastor left, I offered to keep the program running ’til they got a new guy. Someone had to do it. One thing led to another, and they liked how I was doing the job so much that they asked me to stay on a while longer.”

“I’m surprised that they hired you without a seminary degree.”

“I’m not drawing a salary, remember?”

“Of course. I’d forgotten.”

“And of course I’ve got other jobs.”

More jobs?”

“Yeah, isn’t it cool? God just keeps opening doors. I wish there were more hours in the day, just so I could walk through them all.”

“So what other doors have you been walking through?”

“Lots. Making New Testament recordings for the blind. Playing guitar at the Sunday evening service at my own church. Helping with the food drive at the homeless shelter. Redesigning the church newsletter. I haven’t even mentioned the main job yet.”

“There’s another?”

“Sure. Do you know Cal Zwingli?”

“I know who he is, but I haven’t met him. The InterChristian campus minister, right?”

“Right. I’ve been helping him expand his student Bible studies.”

“That’s the main job, you said.”

“Yeah. We’ve started so many groups that the Student Organizations Office ran out of campus rooms for us to meet in.”

“So the new ones meet —”

“In my apartment. Where else?”

“How often?”

“Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights. Hey, that reminds me of what I wanted to ask you about!”

“I’d forgotten that you were going to.”

“Tell you what. Let me tell you what happened in last night’s Bible study, then you tell me what you think.”

“All right. What happened last night?”

“I know it’s not right to lose my patience. But you know how sometimes people resist God’s word?”


“That’s what was happening. It seemed like they just didn’t want to get it.”

“Get what?”

“We’ve been working through Paul’s letter to the Romans. Last night we were in chapter 12. One verse is about serving God with enthusiasm. It says ‘Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.’ So we talked about what that means in our lives.”

I nodded. “So what was the problem?”

“At first the discussion went along fine. Then — just because it was going so well — I thought maybe this would be a good time to challenge the group a little. So I mentioned what a hard time Cal and I have getting students to take part in all the InterChristian service projects. Less than fifty percent participate.”

“Was that the challenge?”

“No. I said, ‘If we had more zeal, we wouldn’t have that problem.’ That was the challenge.”

“How did the group respond?”

“It was awful. First this guy Stan — I thought he was more godly — complained ‘The only reason we have that problem is that we have too many service projects.’ How can you have too many? Then Julie — she’s a sort of unofficial discussion leader — let me down by saying ‘Yeah, one project was scheduled right in the middle of midterms.’ I couldn’t let that rest, could I?”

“What did you do?”

“I reminded her that most weeks we have two service projects, not just one, so she ought to appreciate the break!”

I winced.

“From there on, it was all downhill. Everyone started arguing with me. Maybe I harangued them a little bit — that was wrong. Even so, I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.”

“What exactly did you say?”

“I said ‘Maybe we’re all a little too interested in serving ourselves, and not interested enough in serving the Lord.’ And I said ‘If it’s really true that Jesus Christ sits on the throne of your life, you’ll grab every chance to serve Him that He sends you.”

“They liked that, eh?”

“They resented it. The conversation fell flat as a pancake. Nobody would talk at all until I gave up and changed the subject.”

“I see.”

“So what do you think, Professor T?”

I smiled. “I’m not sure what the question is.”

“The question is, why were they all so lukewarm about serving Christ, and why can’t I stir up their zeal?”

“Why are you so sure that their zeal is deficient?”

“Like I said, we never have full participation in service projects.”

“What’s your average turnout?

“Forty, maybe 50 percent. Tops.”

“With service projects scheduled twice a week, you consider 50 percent turnout poor?”

“Prof! I can’t believe I’m hearing this! Are you actually defending people for turning down chances to serve God?”

“How do you know they aren’t serving God in other ways?” Blue made a rude noise. “Why are you snorting?”

“Because I know what they’re doing,” he said, “and it isn’t serving God.” His voice became high-pitched and mocking. “I’ve got to study for my midterrrrrrm. I’ve got to write my paperrrrrr.” Face reddening, he stopped. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t talk like that. It’s just that I wanted them to be more like — more like — I mean —”

“More like you, Blue? Is that what you were going to say?”

“I’m not sure what I was going to say.”

I thought for a few moments before speaking. “Blue,” I said finally, “you’re frustrated with these friends because you feel responsible for them, and you think they’re holding themselves back from serving God. True?”


“Listen now. Is it possible that you’re the one holding yourself back from serving God?”

He was confounded. “Prof, I don’t see how you can even say that. You heard me list all the things I do for Jesus. What more could I do for Him?”

“You might try doing what He wants you to do for a change.”

“What do you think I’ve been doing?”

“I think you’ve been doing what you like doing for Him. Which isn’t the same thing.”

“You think I like juggling a dozen jobs at once and not getting enough sleep?”

“Not to put too fine a point on it, yes. Some people like being in a whirl and having too much to do. It’s their drug. In your case, the whirl has taken over your life. It’s in command. You don’t even have time for school any more.”

“But the things I’m doing instead of school are good things, Christian things.”

“There’s a difference between a Christian thing and a thing that pleases Christ.”

“How could there be a difference?”

“Suppose Christ calls me to serve Him through my scholarship, but I become a minister instead. See the problem?”

“I suppose so. Being a minister may seem like a more Christian thing, but it’s not what He’s called you to do.”

“Now you’re cooking. Sorry. Geezer expression.”

“But my case isn’t your case. I am called to Christian ministry. At least I think I am. I’ve always thought so. And isn’t that just what I’m doing?”

“Once upon a time you told me a different tale about your calling. We had a long talk one day in my office. Remember? You described a specific form of ministry to which you thought you were called — one which would have required a college degree.”

“That was a long time ago. Maybe I was wrong about being called to that form of ministry.”

“Maybe you were. That’s not for me to say. But it’s as plain as the clock on the bell tower that God has given you certain gifts — and instead of developing them, you’re wasting them.”

“I use my gifts all the time!”

“A lot of people could lead high school ministries, many of them better than you. A lot of people could help Cal with Bible studies, many of them better than you. There’s not one thing you do that many others couldn’t do just as well or better. Somewhere out there is a way to glorify God that nobody else can do better, because He designed it with your gifts in mind.”

“I sure don’t know what it is, then.”

“That’s because you’re not looking.”

“I don’t even know how to look.”

“That’s because you haven’t been developing your gifts.”

“Not everyone belongs in college, anyway.”

“That’s right, Blue. Not everyone does. But you do.”

He glanced at his watch. Panic splashed over his face. “I’m late. I gotta go.” He stood up.

“Think about it, will you?”

“All right. And I’ll talk to you soon. But if I do get back in school,” he said with a warning look, “I’ll see to it that you get what you deserve.”

That took me off guard. “What do you mean?”

“More essays for me” — he tapped my stack of papers — “more grading for you. Think about it.”

Copyright 2004 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

J. Budziszewski

Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.

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