When a Christian says he is called to do something, isn’t he essentially saying that the Lord has selected him for that particular task?
Someone may say, “I think the Lord wants me to….” You can fill in the blank. But how does this work? Does Jesus show up during a person’s quiet time and issue instructions? I believe that can and does happen, but not very often. Many people, without such an experience, hold firmly to the notion that they have been called into ministry by none other than the Lord Himself. Is a person’s calling a subjective thing? Is there any way to be sure the Lord is directing someone, beyond a visitation from Gabriel?
It strikes me that people are often “called” to things they already want to do. But, in Scripture, the Lord frequently told people to do things that they didn’t want to do. A number of them actually contended with the Lord. Consider, Moses, Jonah, Ananias (who healed Paul), and Gideon just to name a few. If the Lord is asking people to do His will today, and He is, wouldn’t it follow that a number of the “called” might not want the particular task offered to them?
How does a person discern whether or not the Lord is directing him? Is it a “leading?” Do we “sense” what to do? Do we wait for events to confirm our suspicions or wait for the community to appoint us? It would certainly be easier to tackle a challenge if we knew the Lord wanted us to do it. Think of the confusion that could be avoided!
The Holy Spirit can and does lead people in a way that is quite personal. But that doesn’t necessarily assist the person who is asking for help in discerning his or her calling beyond a “just wait and see for yourself” recommendation. The wait could prove to be indefinite. I am convinced we can, and should, engage in meaningful ministry, with a high degree of certainty that we belong in it, with this qualifier: We must be of an active, rather than a passive, disposition. Let me explain using two people from the Scriptures.
The first is found in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9, where Paul tells the Corinthian church, “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” Paul could see that an opportunity was in front of him and he chose to delay his trip to Macedonia because of the “wide door” that had opened to him. He saw an opportunity and chose to meet it.
Similarly, Peter, after seeing Jesus walking on the water, called out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Matt 14:28) Notice that Peter, like Paul, responded to what he perceived might be available to him. Remember, there were others in the boat who did not ask to walk on the water. Surely Jesus would not have refused them an opportunity to walk on water had they asked. Peter and Paul , however, each took the initiative.
Neither Paul nor Peter were passive bystanders — and that’s the point. If they were bystanders at all, they were viewing circumstances from an active disposition. They were ready to move. I have found a principle to be true in life which applies to life in the ministry. It is this: You cannot steer a parked car.
Is it possible that a person’s “calling” is linked to his willingness to reject passivity? This would be consistent with what Jesus said of the harvest. He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)
It is no stretch to suggest that there is work to be done in ministry today, and few are available for it. Are Christians waiting to be “called?” If a laborer came to the Lord and said, “Do you want me to work in the field, today?” does the Scripture incline us to believe that the Lord would say, “Nah, you just sit this one out.” Of course not!
We would do well to accept and teach this: If we are in Christ, we are all called to join in the disciple making process. (Matthew 28:19) Of course we have differing gifts and abilities, but we are all admonished to bring what we have to the service of our King. Our particular gifts and opportunities for ministry unfold for us as we move forward like the driver of a car who can choose to turn right or left. But there is no reason to respond to an anticipated intersection if the car stays in the garage.
If we approached ministry as if we are already called to it, rather than waiting for some special sign to confirm what we should know to be true, we would likely see a more vibrant church in America. There would be a lot less consternation over whether or not we should do something and more innovation in actually doing the work. How can the Holy Spirit guide the service of the one who will not serve?
But what if I make a mistake? My understanding is that Michael and Gabriel are still in the service of the Most High. God has ample means to tell us what we must know. In the meantime, hasn’t He already told us to go make disciples in His revealed Word? Who is exempt from this command?
In the end, success is an elusive thing. Ultimately the Lord has the power to make us prevail. But He has granted us the privilege to respond to what we perceive. The choice to be active or passive in ministry is ours. Let us choose well. (Ephesians 4:11-ff; 2 Peter 1:10-ff)