There is a story about a man who felt that he had the call to preach. Only nobody wanted to listen to him. So he approached the elders of the church that he attended, and told them that while looking into the sky, he saw the clouds in a formation that looked like G.P.C. He felt a strong urge that this means “Go Preach Christ”. The elders were not convinced, but making allowance for the fact that God sometimes works in mysterious ways, they gave him an opportunity to preach once. After the service one of the elders took him aside and said that he should reconsider if the G.P.C. didn’t mean “Go Plant Corn”.
Some bad humour that shows that some people miss their true calling in life. All of us have a true calling – God has a purpose and a place that belongs uniquely to us. While for some that may include full time ministry or foreign missions, for others it may mean being the very best in some other vocation, profession, or trade. But I want to discuss today the matter of a “call” to ministry, to preach, to be a chaplain, a counsellor or a youth pastor, or whatever. How does God call people to such special tasks?
Our catholic friends call this process “receiving a vocation”, and they have a unique process in place to help men who are called to the priesthood or diaconate, or women who might be called to a life of religious vocation such as nun discern if they have both the gifting, and the call of God on their life for that task.
As protestants, we also desire that people who enter our seminaries and Bible colleges in order to prepare for full time ministry have a sense of God’s calling in their life. Often this requires that a prospective student submit reports from those who know them spiritually. As a pastor, I have often been asked to fill out detailed questionnaires about applicants to various schools. In fact, I have even filled some out for students who wished to enter police college or medical school.
In the Bible we have various examples of the kind of person whom God calls for a special holy task:
- Sometimes God calls those the Reluctant. A good example of that would be Moses. Although Moses heard God speaking to him from within the burning bush, he had a litany of excuses of why he was not suited for doing what God was calling him to do, namely to lead God’s people out of Egypt’s slavery to the Promised Land. “Who me? (Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh); “Suppose they ask me something I don’t know?” (Paraphrased); “what if they do not believe or listen to me?”; “what if they don’t pay attention to the miraculous signs?”; “I have never been eloquent…I am of slow speech and tongue”. After God had given a gracious response and promise of provision for each of Moses’ shortcomings, Moses pushed the envelope and finally said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” While every church has a “someone else”, I wonder what would happen if God responded to everyone who asked him to send someone else in the same way as he did to Moses: “Then the Lord’s anger burned towards Moses”. (Exodus 3 and 4). As we know, Moses turned out to be a great leader with God’s help, and his leadership techniques are the subject of study today in both the religious and the secular realms. Other reluctant leaders in the Bible are Jeremiah, who thought he was too young (Jer.1:6-7). And of course who can forget Jonah, who learned to listen to God in the belly of a fish?
- Sometimes God calls the Unlikely. When Samuel received the task of finding a successor to King Saul, he was sent to Jesse, who paraded 7 of his sons before Samuel. To Samuel, some of these seemed likely candidates, but in each case God said that this is not the one whom He had chosen, or more emphatically, “I have rejected this one.” Finally, when asked if these were all the sons, Jesse replied, “there is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep.” In other words, Jesse didn’t even bother presenting his youngest. But that is precisely whom God wanted. His name was David, and he became king in place of Saul. We know that David also became an adulterer and a murderer, and yet still was known as “a man after God’s own heart.” We get an explanation in 1. Samuel 16 as to why David was chosen, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1.Sam 16:7)
- Sometimes God calls the Unworthy. Here I am thinking of the New Testament Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle. Think about it. If you had to choose a man who was to lead the expansion of the early Christian church into non-Jewish territory, in other words be a church planter, and on top of it author a large portion of what would become the New Testament portion of God’s Word, would you choose a man like Saul? Someone who was instrumental in the persecution of the church? But that is precisely whom God chose to call, to transform, and to empower with His grace for that task. Paul never lost sight of the unworthiness with which he came to God. To the end of his life he refers to himself as the “chief among sinners.” When we think of who Saul had been, and who he had become, it becomes clear that God can call and use anyone whom He chooses.
- Sometimes God calls the Volunteer. In Isaiah 6, is an account of Isaiah’s vision of God, “seated on a throne, high and exalted” ; his awareness of being cleansed after one of the seraphim flew to him and touched his lips with the live coal from the altar, saying “See this has touched your lips and your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
When Isaiah heard the voice of God saying, “whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” he gave a response that changed his life, “Here am I! Send me!”. Those words have been on the lips of countless people through the ages. This story in Isaiah 6, has always been one of my favaourites in the Bible. It was read on the occasion of my ordination to the Gospel ministry, and last year in Kenya, it was the text of my address to the graduates of the Missionary College in Eldoret. I challenged the graduates that the prerequisites of anyone who wants to serve God in ministry are that they must have an encounter with God that includes being cleansed from sin, they must have an awareness that God is calling them, and they must have a willingness to be sent by Him anywhere. I shared with the 1,000 or so people there that I had once said to God that He could send me anywhere but Africa! (I can’t stand the heat or humidity or strange animals). But there I was, preaching my first of several sermons on African soil.
Some lessons I learned over my life and career are these. NEVER say “NO” to God. If God is calling you to go, then you must go. And if he is calling someone you know or love, don’t get in the way. Don’t try to discourage or dissuade that person from following God lest you get in trouble with God.