Often we hear Christians talking about being called. Pastors being called to ministry; missionaries called to serve in a foreign country, such big decisions that demand absolute certainty of God’s leading and direction. I have personally experienced this when I felt called to ministry and again when my wife and I have felt called to serve as missionaries in the east. But how does anyone know if they are called? How can we be sure this is God’s leading? Let’s consider how God called some of the leaders in Scripture.
Abraham heard the voice of God through direct revelation when he was called out of his own country. Moses had a personal experience with God as the LORD spoke to him through the burning bush. Samuel heard the LORD’s voice when he was called as a boy. The disciples were directly called by Jesus, Paul had a personal encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road. These are but some examples where God clearly and undeniably calls someone for service. None of these methods are normally used by God today, I have not yet spoken to any pastor or missionary who felt called because of a similar miraculous sign given by God; yet Christian workers still speak about feeling called, how can we be sure? How can we know that our tug to going east is not just curiosity or a selfish sense of adventure? Well let me give you a few guiding lights which has helped confirm things for us.
– God’s hand of providence
God guides His children through circumstances and events that happen throughout our lives. These events do not just happen randomly because God is sovereign, even over the seemingly mundane things in our lives. It is only when we look back that we begin to see how God has sustained us and led us; bringing certain people into our lives, orchestrating a move, a new job, even something painful like sickness or financial loss can be used by God to bring about His purposes in our lives. In our case God has given us opportunity to do some travelling. (Thailand, Turkey, Japan) What started out as a simple interest in travelling has providentially grown into a desire to work as missionaries. This is but one example of how God orders events in our lives that would shape us and propel us toward His will for us.
It is of course essential that pastors and missionaries have the necessary gifts and abilities. This does not mean that only certain Christians are called to full time service. All Christians are called to holiness, worship and mission. However the body of Christ is diverse and certain tasks requires certain gifts. This is also true in our desire to do missions in the east. If we are not gifted in the right areas, we should not go. Advice I was given as a seminary student was never to try and identify your gifts before you actually start using them. Over the years I have found myself doing many things; music, outreach, preaching, leading Bible studies, events planning, discipleship, youth ministry etc. I now have a pretty good idea of what I am good at and what I stink at. I feel my gifts are suitable for missions in a foreign land and the same goes for my wife who has a passion to teach children. Ultimately it is God who rescues sinners and builds His church and He uses us in many different ways. Identifying how God has gifted you gives good direction as to where He has called you.
– The Church
God has instituted the Church as the primary messenger for His gospel. The mandate to go and make disciples has been given to the church collectively and so the lone ranger approach towards mission is bound to fail. If we consider Acts 13 we see how the church at Antioch, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work God has called them to. The church then prayed, fasted and laid their hands on them as they were sent off. This shows us that God operates through His church in the calling and sending of missionaries. When one consider a call then the counsel of other men and women in the church must be taken seriously. A calling cannot be pursued if it is not recognised and affirmed by the church. This demands prayer from both the individual and the church and a joint humility and sensitivity towards the leading of the Spirit. My calling to pastoral ministry came mostly because it was suggested by men in the church wiser than me and later confirmed as the Lord began to use me in this specific role. Now as my wife and I prepare for missions we must continue to remain sensitive and submissive to Christ as well as the body of believers He has placed us in. We have been called into the family of God and without the family’s support and prayers we cannot take on the call to missions.
– Feeling the need
Sometimes God impresses a need upon the hearts of His servants. I think of Nehemiah’s calling. He did not receive a miraculous sign before giving up his lofty position as the king’s cupbearer to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It started with Nehemiah feeling the need. Weeping for the condition of his people. This led him to action and God continues to propel people into missions because they not only see the need, but feel it in their bones. For us it happened gradually as we saw the lack of gospel light in the east. In Thailand and Japan less than 1% of the population are believers. The dominant religions are Buddhism and Shinto. Many people in the east might never hear the good news as clearly as we hear it so often in our churches. Two situations during our visit to Japan has really stood out as defining moments in God calling us. One was when we visited the atomic bomb museum is Hiroshima. One of the displays included a story of a young girl who contracted radiation poisoning and would face the reality of death at a young age. There is a legend which says that if you folded 1000 origami cranes you would have one wish granted. This young girl folded those 1000 cranes, wished for health and life, but died shortly thereafter. To this day the crane has become a symbol of peace, hope and determination. If only someone gave this girl the hope of the gospel! That Jesus died for her sins and by believing on Him she would have eternal life! The second incident happened as we were walking through the streets in Tokyo. We walked past a primary school as the bell rang for break time. We witnessed hundreds of children coming out to the playground and Aven asked me the haunting question…how many of these children will ever hear about what Jesus did for them? It is moments like these that are used by God in calling His children to service. I am sure God has given you feelings like this too, are you going to act?
This last point might be a bit hard to explain because it can be rather subjective. The term I would like to use is “unio mystica”. The mystery of an intimate relationship with God. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not advocating that human beings can be gods, but simply what the Bible defines as a relationship with God through Christ. The wonder of the gospel is that God not only saves us from hell, but brings us into an intimate relationship with Himself. Consider Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”. Ponder these magnificent words: Christ lives in me! Because Christ lives in us there is that mystical but notable inner voice that directs us and calls us to service. Now this hardly happens outside the ordinary means of grace. Don’t think that God will speak to you when you are not reading, praying, worshipping and meeting with the saints. God quietly directs us as we are obedient to Him in the ordinary spiritual disciplines.
I hope this has been helpful in some way, even just perhaps clarifying our own sense of calling. If you wondering whether God has called you then ponder these points: Can I see God’s hand of providence? Am I gifted in the ways suitable for this calling? Is the church supportive? Do I feel the need? Can I sense the inner voice of God as it comes through my spiritual disciplines? May God bless you as you live out God’s calling upon your life and do pray for us as we prepare to minister in a different part of His vineyard.