How Do You Know You Have Been Called?
When Do You Know It?
How Long Must You Wait For It To Happen?
What Do You Do When It Does Happen?
By Chuck Swindoll
Insight For Living
- How can I find my spiritual calling?
- How can I know if I am being called to preach?
- How can I know if I am being called to serve as a missionary?
- How can I know God’s Voice?
- What does it mean that teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1)?
The number one desire of Christians is to live in God’s will. And the number one question is, “How do I know His will?” The answer is two-fold. First, God’s general will for all Christians is revealed in the pages of Scripture—instructions in righteous living for God’s glory. But then there is the specific will of God for one’s life.
Psalm 139:16 suggests that God has a plan for everyone’s life, and the Bible is filled with examples. Jeremiah was told that God set him aside as a prophet. David was told he was to be Israel’s king. Paul was commissioned as an apostle to the Gentiles. Moses was appointed to deliver the Hebrews from slavery to nationhood. Samuel was called as a child to be a prophet. Barnabas was confirmed by the Church to be a servant-leader, an encourager, to others. Solomon was commissioned to build the temple and rule over Israel. All these callings share one thing: They came in the process of time.
Don’t doubt that God has a specific purpose for your life. Just be patient and prayerful as you see it unfold.
Three New Testament writers opened their epistles in a similar way: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus…” (Rom. 1:1), “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 1:1), and “James, a bond-servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ…” (James 1:1). They viewed themselves as humble workers.
God calls each believer to a life of service. This should be an exciting prospect, but too many people get hung up on the belief that they cannot be as good as the apostles. A popular idea in the church is that the Lord’s servants are those doing full-time ministry but that everyone else is simply trying to live well. Nothing could be further from the truth. We all are servants with important kingdom work to do.
Some kingdom jobs look more important than others, but that’s only because we evaluate with human eyes. Every work that advances the gospel or serves a need is valuable. Not every person can be on a far-flung mission field, but we all can share the gospel with a neighbor. Some people can sing in the choir; others can give money to someone. God invites us to do His work in the world, whether the task is great or small—and we do it by serving our fellow man. What’s He calling you to do?
Our Purpose As A Christian
Christian missions is unique in the aggressive movements of history. Christianity in its pure form has no “axe to grind,” no system to foster, and no profit motivation. Its job is simply to “seek and to save that which is lost.” Nothing more, nothing less. The words “apostle” and “missionary” mean the same thing: “One who is sent.” The word apostle is from the Greek; and the word missionary is from the Latin.
The New Testament is a book of missions. The Gospels tell of Jesus’ missionary accomplishments, and the Acts tell of the missionary endeavors of the apostles. The disciples were launched into the world by the power of the resurrection, and the Gospel made its impact upon the world’s people. Peter went to Lydda, Joppa, Antioch, Babylon, and Asia Minor. John went to Samaria, Ephesus, and to the cities on the Mediterranean. Thomas journeyed to far away India. Paul, the peer of all early missionaries, used the roads Rome had built to take the Gospel through the Empire. Today the need for missions is greater than ever before! The world is shrinking in size but expanding in population. We live in a world of conflicting, confusing beliefs! We live in a world of complex problems! But, more important, we live in a world of dire spiritual need.
Trusting God In The Shadows
I want to dispense a fresh supply of hope. To help accomplish that, let me suggest four principles. They may mean more to you later than now—in a time when God leads you to wait in the shadows.
First, when God prepares us for effective ministry, He includes what we would rather omit—a period of waiting. That cultivates patience. As I write these words, it occurs to me that I’ve never met anyone young and patient. (To be honest, I’ve not met many old and patient folks either.) We’re all in a hurry. We don’t like to miss one panel of a revolving door. Patience comes hard in a hurry-up society. Yet, it’s an essential quality, cultivated only in extended periods of waiting.
Second, as God makes us wait, hiding us in His shadow, He shows us we’re not indispensable. That makes us humble. One major reason the Lord removes us and has us wait in His shadow is to remind us we’re not the star attraction. We’re not indispensable. That realization cultivates genuine humility. I’m convinced Paul never once questioned God for having His hand on Peter and Barnabas, rather than on him. In a time when most gifted individuals would have been volunteering at the revival headquarters, Paul willingly remained behind the scenes. All the while waiting for his time—correction, God’s time.
Third, while God hides us away, He reveals new dimensions of Himself and new insights regarding ministry. That makes us deep. What we need today is not smarter people or busier people. A far greater need is deeper people. Deep people will always have a ministry. Always. God deepens us through time spent waiting on Him.
Fourth, when God finally chooses to use us, it comes at a time least expected, when we feel the least qualified. That makes us effective. The perfect set-up for a long-lasting, effective ministry begins with surprise. “Me? You sure You don’t want that other person? She’s got great qualifications and obvious gifts. You may want to talk to her.” That’s the idea. It’s refreshing, in this highly efficient age, to find a few who are still amazed at the way God is using them.
Out Of The Shadows
Some of you who read these words today could use a little extra hope, especially if you find yourself in a waiting mode. You were once engaged in the action, doing top-priority work on the front lines. No longer. All that has changed. Now, for some reason, you’re on the shelf. It’s tough to stay encouraged perched on a shelf. Your mind starts playing tricks on you.
Though you are well-educated, experienced, and fairly gifted in your particular field, you are now waiting. You’re wondering, and maybe you’re getting worried, that this waiting period might be permanent. Admittedly, your response may not be all that great. You can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. It just doesn’t seem fair. After all, you’ve trained hard, you’ve jumped through hoops, and you’ve even made the necessary sacrifices. Discouragement crouches at the door, ready to pounce on any thought or hope, so you sit wondering why God has chosen to pass you by.
I want to offer you some encouragement, but I need to start with a realistic comment: it may be a long time before God moves you into a place of significant impact. He may choose not to reveal His plan for weeks, maybe months. Are you ready for this? It could be years. I have found that one of God’s favorite methods of preparing us for something great is to send us into the shadows to wait.
But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to terminal darkness. Take heart from the words of British author James Stalker who wrote, “Waiting is a common instrument of providential discipline for those to whom exceptional work has been appointed.” Pause and let that sink in. Read the statement again, slower this time.
Waiting is one of God’s preferred methods of preparing special people for significant projects. The Bible makes that principle plain from cover to cover.
As Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD.”
Everyone Is Called
Although pastors are called to care for the needs of people in the church, this duty is not theirs alone. And it has nothing to do with the size of the pastoral staff—the entire congregation is to be involved in caring for each other.
Every Christian is equipped to serve other believers. First, God has distributed spiritual gifts that enable His followers to minister in the particular ways He’s determined for each one. And second, you may have experienced challenges similar to those facing another believer, which specially qualifies you to empathize, encourage, and strengthen that person. As you pray for your pastor and congregation, ask the Lord how He would have you share the load and help meet people’s needs.
The church is a network of shoulders supporting the collective weight of everyone’s troubles. When you dive in and help hold a sister’s burden, a brother takes on a bit of yours. Although your contribution might feel small and go unnoticed by all but the individual who is helped, your heavenly Father sees and will reward you for following His command.
As messengers of God, we will often lead lonely lives. “All men forsook me,” said Paul. It is a price we have to pay; there is a loneliness in the Gospel. Yet you will not be alone, because you will be ministered to by the Spirit of God, as Elijah was ministered to at the brook Cherith. A true messenger lives a burdened life. If he is the Lord’s vessel, he carries in his heart a burden for souls none can share but those who know it firsthand.
The next time you go to church, ask God to direct you to those who could use your help. When you extend the hands of Jesus, people find rest for their weary heart.
It’s Not About You!
I need to underscore a foundational fact: God’s goal is not to make sure you’re happy. No matter how hard it is for you to believe this, it’s time to do so. Life is not about your being comfortable and happy and successful and pain free. It’s about becoming the man or woman God has called you to be. Unfortunately, we will rarely hear that message proclaimed today. All the more reason for me to say it again: Life is not about you! It’s about God.
How can I say that with assurance? Because of Paul’s response: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 9–10). That’s it! He got it too. And he went with it for the rest of his days.
When you and I boast of our strengths, we get the credit, and we keep going under our own head of steam. But when we boast in what He is doing in the midst of our brokenness, inability, and inadequacy, Christ comes to the front. His strength comes to our rescue. He is honored.
Don’t miss that point. The very things we dread and run from in our lives are precisely what brought contentment to Paul. Look at the list: I am content when I lose. I am content when I am weak. I am content with insults. I am content when I’m slandered. I am content in distresses. I am content with persecutions. I am content with difficulties and pressures that are so tight I can hardly turn around. Why? “Because when I am weak then I’m strong.” Knowing that brought the apostle, ablaze with the flaming oracles of heaven, to his knees. What a way to live your life—content in everything—knowing that divine strength comes when human weakness is evident.
Be Ready – We Are The Clay – He Is The Potter
Keeping the clay of your will supple and flexible calls for constant attention along the way. Once you grow hard and brittle to God’s leading, you’re less usable to Him. I want to take the truths we’ve wrestled with here and make them into a softening ointment you can regularly apply when a change is on the horizon. The ingredients in the ointment you need to apply include a pinch of the negative and a smidgen of the positive.
First negative: Do not remove any possibility. Stay open to whatever it is God may have for you by removing all the limitations. Tell the Lord you’re willing to cooperate. But don’t forget, you may be the next Barnabas or Paul the Lord decides to move. Remember, we’re dealing with change—changing so we might obey.
Second negative: Do not allow a lot of activity to dull your sensitivity. Remember, God spoke while they were ministering. You can be so busy in church activities you can’t figure out what the Lord’s saying.
First positive: Let God be God. He is selective when He moves people. He picked two and left three. That was His prerogative. He could have chosen all five or only one. It’s His call. Our sovereign Lord does as He pleases, and when it’s clear, our response is to obey.
Second positive: Be ready to say yes. Don’t wait for all the details to be ironed out before you agree to release and obey. Sure, there will be hardships, some uphill stretches in the road. So what? Be ready to say yes, and trust Him to take care of the rest.
Only you and the Lord know the condition of your heart. Is it soft and pliable clay, ready to be molded and shaped by the Master sculptor? Or has it hardened into brittle and fragile pottery from years of faithless living? You know exactly what God is asking you to do. It may be well beyond the boundaries of logic and far outside your comfort zone. You may even have a few friends telling you that what you believe He’s asking you to do is wrong, completely wrong. Still, His leading is clear. Only one thing is needed: say yes, Lord, yes.
Rekindling the Flame
Passion to serve the Lord and share the gospel will ebb and flow throughout a believer’s life. Some choose to settle for a lukewarm existence—neither risking much for His name nor receiving many blessings. Others stop ministering altogether and drift aimlessly through life. But whenever we feel indifferent, we should try to rekindle the flame of passion that was first lit at the moment of salvation.
When we were saved, we received the gift of the Holy Spirit. So, the first step is to pray for the Holy Spirit to fill—or control—us afresh. That requires self-examination and repentance of any sins the Lord brings to mind. It also means giving back to God the right to reign over our life.
Next, think about what was (and what wasn’t) happening in life when passion last burned brightly. What external pressures and activities affected your ministry then and now? How can you prioritize such things wisely?
Finally, devote a day or more to retreat and refocus on the Lord. Meditate on His words of encouragement, such as Isaiah 41:10. This way, instead of fixating on our problems, we can remember He is our shepherd in every situation. The passion we experienced at salvation can be ours again as we focus on the Lord.
Patience My Child…
Has God given you a vision that is yet unfulfilled? Has He assigned you a task that is still incomplete, though you’ve done everything you know to do?
Waiting periods in our life often prepare us for God’s purposes. Maybe there’s a rough edge He must smooth or a relationship He wants to restore before He’ll fully accomplish His purposes. He could be plumbing the depths of your faith, expanding its borders, and proving Himself faithful. Sometimes He’ll use these dry periods for correction, to steer a believer away from rebellion and back in a Godward direction.
Remember, it is always wise to wait upon the Lord while He prepares us for His answers. At such times, we should continue to pray and trust, but it’s essential to refrain from acting until we have heard from Him. This applies even to counsel we’ve sought from godly believers: Their advice can prove helpful but should always be brought to the Lord for His confirmation before we take action.
Anything other than God’s plan carried out God’s way and in God’s timing amounts to self-reliance. Depend on His Spirit when deciding how to proceed; any other course of action won’t lead to the full and abundant life Jesus promised.
Don’t Be Impatient..But Don’t Wait Forever…
The Bible oftens promotes waiting and allowing the Lord to open the doors and shove you through.
Right about now, you may need a change of emphasis. This is not to suggest you forget about waiting and trusting. Sometimes we realize the possibility of running it into the ground. We can get so good at waiting that we never act. We put everything on hold! Like having neighbors over for a cookout. Like signing up for that mission trip. Planning ahead and spending a week away with all the family. “Naw, not now, not this year . . . but maybe someday.
Don’t wait! It could result in something you regret for the rest of your days—especially when it comes to God’s calling.
There was no waiting around and praying about it when Jesus called the first disciples:
They left their nets at once and followed Jesus. There was no hem-hawing around! They heard the call, and decisively left everything . . . and then they got after it.
Do you know what God has called you to do? Do it at once!
Don’t try to measure results…Let God do it
A sentence in the diary of James Gilmore, pioneer missionary to Mongolia, has stayed with me since the day I first read it. After years of laboring long and hard for the cause of Christ in that desperate land, he wrote, “In the shape of converts I have seen no result. I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.”
Let me add some further reality to that statement by taking you back to an entry in Gilmore’s journal made in the early days of his ministry. It expressed his dreams and burdens for the people of Mongolia. Handwritten in his journal are these dreams: “Several huts in sight. When shall I be able to speak to the people? O Lord, suggest by the Spirit how l should come among them, and in preparing myself to teach the life and love of Christ Jesus.”
That was his hope. He longed to reach the lost of Mongolia with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How different from his entry many years later, “I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.”
What happened in between? He encountered the jagged edge of an authentic ministry. When I write about succeeding in the work of the Lord, I’m not promising success as we define it in human terms. I’m not saying because you are faithful to proclaim the Word of God your church will be packed. Some of God’s most faithful servants are preaching their hearts out in places where the church is not growing. A great temptation for those in that difficult setting is to turn to some of the other stuff that holds out the promise of more visible results. Don’t go there. Stay at it. God is at work.
Thinking of preparing for a life of ministry? Does the thought of standing before crowds of people and delivering the Word of God with passion and conviction appeal to your sense of adventure? I need to ask you one more time: Is there anything else in this world that would bring you greater enjoyment? If so, go there. Don’t even hesitate.
But if you know the Lord has called you into His work, and you would not be fulfilled doing anything else, then go there and never look back, even if the results often seem disappointing.
If And When You Preach
If you are responsible for communicating biblical truth, consider yourself a preacher (at least for the now)—you are a communicator of God’s Word. If that describes you, these next four principles are especially for you. Pay close attention, read thoughtfully and carefully, as I apply this to whatever may be your ministry.
First, always stay on the subject—Christ. For Paul it was always about Christ. Though explaining the altar of the unknown God of Athens, everything for Paul pointed to Christ. Preaching that doesn’t exalt Christ is empty preaching. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). For Paul, to live was Christ and to die was gain.
Second, always speak the truth without fear. Do not be overly impressed with those who have come to the class or who sit in the church where you serve. And it makes no difference how much they’re worth or how little they contribute.
Third, always start where your audience is. Paul hooked those men in his first sentence. You can, too, if you spend some time thinking about it. Know your audience well enough to build a bridge quickly. Find a way to get into their world and then build a bridge to Christ. Remember: begin with the familiar in order to acquaint them with the unfamiliar.
Fourth, always surrender the results to God. Once they have heard the message, your part ends. Your task is to communicate truth. It’s God’s job to draw people to Himself. You prepare the patient; He does the surgery. They don’t need manipulation. There’s enough of that going on. You don’t need to follow them out to their car or push them into a corner. God will reach them, just as He did in Athens. Leave the results to God.
When your heart is right, it’s amazing what you’re able to see. And when you see it clearly, it’s remarkable how God can give you the words to say. You may be amazed how God uses you, just as He did Paul in that ancient metropolis so many years ago. When his moment arrived, he was ready.
When your moment comes, stand and deliver. God will give you courage as you tell others of His Son. There is no greater honor on earth.
When You Travel
Whether you are traveling as a missionary or in the midst of your personal profession, God would have you travel as Paul traveled. I observe four enduring principles that will help you maximize your effectiveness for Christ, wherever you may go.
- When you travel, don’t go alone. Stay close to at least one other person, ideally your mate. If not your mate, a family member. If not a family member, a close companion. But stay close. Think back. Call to mind those with whom Paul traveled. If at all possible, avoid traveling alone. If you’re lonely, a companion is there to lift your spirits. If you get into trouble, a companion is there to help get you through. Two are better than one. Three are better than two.
- When you travel, don’t lose touch with home. Stay accountable. Paul’s heart stayed close to home. While away, he stayed in touch. When he returned he gave his reports. When he was with his men, he willingly gave an account of his ministry. When he wrote the letters, he was often vulnerable.
- When you travel, don’t believe everything you hear. Someone has said, “An authority is anyone who’s one hundred miles away from home.” Because I’m fairly well known, when I travel, people show up thinking they’re going to be impressed. If they were around me more, they’d know better. When you travel, occasionally you’ll meet folks who will almost worship you. (It happened to Paul.) Don’t let them. On the opposite extreme, others will reject and mistreat you. Don’t be derailed by naysayers. A few may even conspire against you. Keep your eyes on the goal. Focus on the Lord, and none of that will get you down.
- When you travel, don’t become aloof. It’s easy in the busyness of travel to become a wax figure. Untouchable. Picking up the “circuit lingo,” the clichés of the road, and losing touch with reality. Resist that sort of superficiality. Stay available. Stay real. People need a real, authentic you. Not perfect, authentic.
By observing these four principles, you will maximize your impact for Christ and travel well.