Another Look at “The Calling”
Let me assure you that I believe in the calling of God. In addition to the preponderance of biblical evidence, I have personally sensed God’s call to serve him. Having taught in a Bible School for many years, and working with numerous ministers, I am aware that God calls and equips people to carry out certain assignments on his behalf.
Having said that, I think it is important to address some other issues relative to God’s calling. For example:
- What happens when a person’s insecurities obscure their perception of God’s call?
- Must a person have a specific call to do something meaningful for God?
- Does a person’s call need to be dramatic and sensational to be valid?
What About Our Insecurities?
I was recently impressed with statements by two outstanding female ministers, Glady Aylward and Kathryn Kuhlman. Aylward (1902-1970) had a distinguished and fruitful career as a single missionary working in China. In reflecting on her decades of ministry, she said, “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China. There was somebody else… I don’t know who it was—God’s first choice. It must have been a man—a wonderful man. A well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing… And God looked down and saw Gladys Aylward.”
Similarly, Kathryn Kuhlman (1907-1976), a powerful healing evangelist remarked, “I believe God’s first choice for this ministry was a man, his second choice, too. But no man was willing to pay the price. I was just naïve enough to say, ‘Take nothing, and use it.’ And He has been doing that ever since.”
I am not wise enough to know if these women were correct in their assessments, perhaps it was just humility on their part. However, I can’t help but wondering if—in their minds—an element of insecurity prohibited them from seeing themselves as God’s first choice when they very well may have been. Like them, it seems that many people have had difficulty processing God’s call on their lives.
A classic example of this is Gideon. In his case, a sense of inferiority seems to have been a significant stumbling block. When called on by God, Gideon protested “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15). Gideon was not alone, though, in struggling with the idea of being called by God. Other biblical figures that wrestled with their call include:
- Moses, saying, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh…?” (Ex 3:11). He also argued with God, claiming that the people would not believe him (Ex 4:2) and that he was not articulate in speaking (Ex 4:10).
- Jeremiah, who felt he was too young (Jer 1:6).
- Sarah, who thought she was too old (Gen 18:12).
- Isaiah, who when the Lord appeared to him, said, “I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips…” (Isa 6:5, NLT).
- Peter, whose response to encountering Jesus was, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8).
- Paul, who said of himself, “I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church” (1 Cor 15:9, NLT).
All of this makes me wonder how many people, through a sense of insecurity or inferiority, refrained from responding to a call from God to serve him? We would all do well if we took our eyes off of ourselves and put our eyes on God. Perhaps this is why Paul advised young Timothy that God, “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim 1:9).
How Specific Does a “Call” Need to Be?
Often when we hear of “the call of God,” we think of something that is highly individualized and extremely specific (e.g. God telling Moses to go and deliver the children of Israel from Egypt). While I wholeheartedly embrace the idea of specific callings for specific tasks, it is also important to realize that there are broad, universally applicable callings that apply to all of us. Consider:
Romans 1:6-7 (NKJV)
…you also are the called of Jesus Christ; To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.
Romans 8:30 (NKJV)
whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
1 Corinthians 1:2 (NKJV)
…called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours…
1 Corinthians 1:9 (NKJV)
…you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Galatians 1:6 (NKJV)
…Him who called you in the grace of Christ…
Galatians 5:13 (NKJV)
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty…
1 Peter 1:15 (NKJV)
but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct…
1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV)
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…
1 Peter 5:10 (NKJV)
…the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus…
Jude 1:1 (NKJV)
To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ…
We are called! Whether we have been called to be a preacher and stand behind a pulpit, or something else entirely, these and many other Scriptures indicate the calling of every believer to be salt, to be light, to be ambassadors, to be witnesses, to serve, and to be a blessing. I don’t say this relative to being a “paid” minister, but every Christian has a full-time calling!
A Christian should never use “I’m not called” as an excuse to avoid accepting responsibilities that are consistent with the calling of every believer. Paul writes, “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith” (Gal 6:10, NLT). If we are sensitive, the love of God on the inside of us will prompt and motivate us to act upon opportunities that are before us regularly.
Speaking of opportunities, is it possible that in some situations, God has not singled someone out for certain tasks, but is looking for someone, anyone, who will respond to him? Consider God’s words when he says, “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30, NLT). Similarly, the author of the Chronicles writes, “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chr 16:9, NLT). God is looking for individuals who will respond to him—people he can use.
How Spectacular Does a “Call” Need to Be?
People are naturally fascinated with spiritual calls that are more on the spectacular side. Moses’ burning bush experience and Paul’s Damascus Road encounter come to mind as very dramatic divine encounters. However, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of Christians experience subtler callings than some of the very high profile biblical characters. Instead of being intimidated, the majority of us can be comforted, realizing that a subtle call—one that comes through an inward witness or a still, small voice—is just as valid as one that is more pronounced.
When I was young, I yearned for something “impressive” from God. However, as I studied the book of Acts, I came to a very sobering realization. Whenever individuals received a spectacular calling or leading, there were seemingly two reasons:
- What God was asking them to do was so far out of the ordinary, so far outside of their comfort zone, that they never would have done it without very pronounced guidance.
- Or, what they were being told to do was going to result in so much adversity and persecution that they would have needed an unmistakable directive in order to persevere throughout the assignment.
Contemplating that, I realized that just acting on what is in my heart is not such a bad way to live and serve.
If you happen to have had a spectacular, overwhelming call from God, you probably did not need this information. But if you’re like the majority of believers, take heart in knowing that you have great value and significance in God’s plan. If you’re like Gideon (or Gladys Aylward or Kathryn Kuhlman) who felt like God surely should have chosen someone else, go ahead and do whatever he is putting in your heart. Look at him, not at yourself. If you don’t sense an extremely specific call, go ahead and serve God and others, seizing opportunities to demonstrate the love of God. Not having had a spectacular calling does not mean you cannot render spectacular service. Love, serve, and give extravagantly. What you do for God can be just as valid and significant as what anyone else does.
Finally, here are three great quotes to consider:
“The ‘layman’ need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act.”
– A.W. Tozer
“We are all priests before God, there is no such distinction as ‘secular or sacred.’ In fact, the opposite of sacred is not secular; the opposite of sacred is profane. In short, no follower of Christ does secular work. We all have a sacred calling.”
– Ravi Zacharias
“If you would do the best with your life, find out what God is doing in your generation and throw yourself wholly into it.”
– Arthur Wallis