Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
It had to happen in a classroom filled with students. The difficult question was asked: “What should I look for in a personal call?”
This question is important because we often are attracted to profound stories of God calling people. In that moment, I honestly stuttered. The question was real, and it yields an important truth that God calls people.
But what does this call look like? Maybe your question is similar to my student’s. Maybe you are scared to ask the question. God’s calling can feel nebulous and strange to the hearer. It raises eyebrows and uneasy feelings.
Two Ways That Every Christian Is Called
The concept of calling provokes theological questions and causes us to search for biblical answers. And so we look to Scripture for help.
1. God calls us to know him.
The call of the gospel is mysterious and by God’s sovereign will (Romans 8:30). The beauty of the mysterious nature of the gospel-call is that God calls people “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). God calls people “into the fellowship of his Son” (1 Corinthians 1:9). We are called “saints” (Romans 1:7). We can now live in peace (1 Corinthians 7:15), freedom (Galatians 5:13), holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:7), and patiently wait with endurance (1 Peter 2:20-21).
The effectual calling of people to the gospel should be distinguished from the general gospel-invitation that goes to all people. Scripture is also clear that people will reject and or accept the invitation of the gospel (Romans 1; 2 Thessalonians 2:14).
The call of the gospel is mysterious and sovereign. Jesus shares the truth when talking with Nicodemus about being born again. Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and so it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3). I love this verse because it tells me that God is divinely and mysteriously working in people by his sovereign power.
There are no accidents within God’s calling. Each person has unique story of God’s work of regeneration. God takes my stony heart and makes it a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36; Romans 10:9-10).
2. God calls us to live for him.
The Bible calls me to work. There is no getting around the command. I would equate the call of work to the command of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Each Christian is called to witness and to work for the Lord.
Work is a divine assignment, and people select careers by different means. If you are a Christian, God has a plan and a divine assignment for you. Work is a universal call originating in creation. God expects people to work. However, God does not tell us the type of work that we should do.
I believe God arranges the time and place for each one of us to be used in a particular work experience. No matter the career, God is using you in a profound way for his glory. All work is fulfilling God’s creation call (Genesis 1:27-28, 2:15, 19-20; Exodus 20:9; Isaiah 65:21-22; 2 Thessalonians 3:10).
While work is a divine call of the Lord, we are also commanded in Scripture to do all activities to the Lord’s glory (Colossians 3:17). This verse is a profound statement of God’s concern for my personal activities. The activities of leisure, learning, work, and responsibility (such as being a father) are noble callings, and I should perform them and work diligently for the glory of God.
It is important to note that we do not just arrive at our calling by chance, but each of our assignments is moved by God’s gracious and providential hand. So, whether I am working in a job that seems to be going nowhere or one that is overtly “Christian,” I can believe that God has my best in mind and will work out all of the details for his glory.
God may be working his divine plan in you through a job, through an experience, or through human interaction. God is active. He is preparing and tilling the ground so that when testing and tribulation come, the seed that is planted will bear much fruit for the Lord (John 15; Colossians 1:6; Psalm 1).
Four Lessons on Calling from the Bible
Here are four biblical stories that will help us understand God’s calling more deeply. Each of them underscores the principle of preparation.
1. God calls weak people and supplies for them (Exodus 3:1-8).
The life of Moses can be divided into three unique sections. The first 40 years Moses spends learning in Egypt. The next 40 years is spent learning in Midian, caring for sheep, and finally the last 40 were spent in the wilderness. He both failed and was successful. In all three places, God is preparing Moses.
The burning bush experience is the notable event where Moses is confronted by the presence of the Lord, and this is where we see God’s call for him to be a leader. Moses felt inadequate, unable to accomplish God’s mission and probably a little fearful of the Egyptians.
Normal routine had set in for Moses. A new responsibility raises his senses of inadequacy. He lacks a speaking gift and the needed tools to lead. God solves both flaws. He gives him Aaron to speak, and reminds Moses of his rod. He becomes God’s instrument of power. Moses is God’s mouthpiece to the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 5:23-27), and he leads them out of slavery in Egypt.
2. God calls all people to faithful obedience (1 Samuel 3:1-10).
The call of God came to Samuel when was a young boy and even before he actually knew the Lord. The significance of Samuel’s call is that during that time “the word from the Lord was rare.” The Lord used Samuel’s ministry in strategic ways to point Israel to their Messiah (1 Samuel 3:20-21).
What strikes me about Samuel’s call is that at a young age, he responded to God’s call with a simple statement: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” May we respond in this same manner, whatever God calls us to do and at whatever age he calls us to do it.
3. God calls his people to speak truth in dark times (Isaiah 6:1-8).
King Uzziah had been king of Judah for about 52 years. He was one of the Judah’s good kings. Yet, in spite of this commendation, Uzziah failed in honoring the Lord (2 Chronicles 26:16-23). God judged him with leprosy.
These difficult days and dark times for God’s people was when God raised up a leader. For Isaiah, his calling was in a worship service. Isaiah recognized the state of his personal wickedness and his unworthiness to preach. But God restores him and prepares him for service. Isaiah responds, “Here am I. Send me.” God uses Isaiah for over 50 years of ministry, enabling him to write the Book of Isaiah and to prepare Israel to trust in the Lord as they entered into Babylonian captivity (586 B.C.).
4. God calls his enemies (Acts 9:1-6).
Saul was a Pharisee who set his fierce anger toward the Christians of the first century. He was determined to win and keep the new movement from gaining success. He dragged men, women, and children out of their homes. He allowed Stephen to be murdered.
God intervened in Saul’s life, and he did in mine and also in yours if you are a Christian. God softened Saul’s heart to see the marvelous life and light of the gospel of Christ. His conversion radically prepares him to proclaim the living Christ in the Roman Empire. Here is Paul’s attempt of sharing his story:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to me on that day… (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
God’s Mysterious, Miraculous Calling
God’s calling is often beyond what we can understand. The way the Lord opens the heart or the ways in which salvation blows is mysterious. “The wind blows where it wishes” (John 3:8) is a biblical truth. Despite our understanding, God is working divinely in his called servants. He is active and causing the ears to open and the eyes to see his purposes and plans (Luke 4:18-19). This should motivate us to pray for the lost and praise God for our salvation. We should also not forget that what God has started, he will finish (Philippians 1:6).
When talking about calling, we should be careful. God calls all Christians to know him and live for his glory; that is true. But specific callings will look different for everyone. It would be foolish for us to directly equate God’s personal calling to us with the four biblical stories above. God chooses the time, the place, the manner, the content, and the means to express his will to his people.
Finally, God confirms his calling through other people (Acts 6:1-7; 13:1-12), especially vocational callings. I remember following God’s call to be ordained to the ministry. The leaders of the church confirmed this personal call through examination and observation. I find great personal encouragement from the confirmation of others. God is also speaking to them by his Spirit and, in doing so, is speaking to me.