People who are genuinely, seriously, deliberately engaged in a relationship with Jesus Christ, people who regularly top off their Holy Spirit tanks, who are led by and walk in the Spirit, have a common desire; they always want to be answering God’s call on their life. Unfortunately, hearing, discerning, interpreting and acting on that call can become difficult. Why? Depends on who you ask.
I have tried to maintain a mode of operation over the years. It has always been my desire to be doing what the Lord wants me to be doing, when and where he wants me to be doing it. Sounds noble doesn’t it? Let me tell you, it can be frustrating sometimes trying to live out that flexibility, especially with a family. I find myself in a situation that I’m sure will spawn many other entries on many different topics. I am in the process of stepping into a vacant pastor position at an established Calvary Chapel. When I say established I mean it has been around for 9 years. The decision to take this position has caused me to question what it means to be called.
Calling was a big deal at Bible college. “Where are you being called to?” “What are you being called to do?” The big follow-up question then becomes, “How do you know that’s God calling you to do that?” And that’s kinda what it boils down to, doesn’t it? How do I know if this is God’s will for me? How did I come to this conclusion? What resources do I use? Was it circumstances? Was it written in the sky? Was it a burning bush? The answer is that there isn’t one answer. As we read through the word we see that God called all kinds of people in all kinds of ways to do all kinds of things. There isn’t just one pattern. There isn’t just one way.
There are those who subscribe to the idea that you know God is calling you when He has put the desire in your heart in advance, then He opens the door for you. Is that true? I think it can be. But I also think that’s the bottom line. I’ve known people for whom that has been the case. Of course the problem with it then can become, how did you know if it was your own desire or God putting it in you? I could say God is calling me to Hawaii to serve over there because I like Hawaii. Is that really from the Lord or is that just my flesh? How do I tell?
Can God call you to do something that you don’t want to do at all? He sure can. Let’s look at Gideon for example. There Gideon was, minding his own business, when God showed up and gave him his marching orders. God had a call on Gideon’s life. Gideon didn’t like what he was called to do. He didn’t want to do it, but he obeyed. Even while he was obeying the call, he didn’t like it. So does God’s call on a life always include a positive “feeling” that says “This is what I was meant to do.”? It doesn’t appear that way.
When I was at Calvary Chapel Bible College I was all fired up to get out there and be a pastor. It is what I believed God had called me to do. It was in my heart. It was my desire. It’s what others told me I was gifted to do. When I got done with school I found myself as a youth ministry intern working for someone who had about as much experience and training as I did. Possibly less. It was a bit frustrating. I finally decided to go and make my own opportunity to fulfill my calling. Didn’t work out. Then I found myself out of vocational ministry all together because someone spoke very falsely of me. It was at that point I think I lost all my joy in my calling and I’m still recovering almost 8 years later (at the time of this writing).
Six years after that bad experience it seemed that God had pulled me off the shelf. I felt the call again and pursued it. One day I’m working in Pittsburgh, PA, the next I find myself the pastor of a church in South Dakota. Sweet! I’m back in the saddle again baby. As it turns out the Lord used that 7 month experience to simply get me warmed up again. It didn’t work out and we moved back to Washington State were we are originally from. That was August of 2006. In December I got a call that I would have peed myself over had I received it just after Bible college. “We want you to go and pastor this Calvary Chapel.” At first I resisted. I didn’t want to. We had just moved cross country twice in a year. We had settled into a house. We had just gotten into a groove at the church where I was an Associate Pastor. Coming in we knew it would be temporary, just not 6 months temporary.
So how did I know this is what I was supposed to do? At first it was this sense in my heart that said, “This is what you need to do.” At first my wife was frustrated because we had just settled down. As a few weeks went by she felt the same. I kept changing my mind. So I did the same wrong thing Gideon did; I put out a fleece. Why is that wrong? Because God had already clearly told Gideon what to do. There was no need to test anything let alone test it twice. God had already told me but I wanted to test it anyway. I got in the car and decided to drive until God clearly spoke to me. I said, “Lord, if this is what you want me to do, have (blank) call me and talk to me about it.” I had no reason to expect this person to call me so it sounded good. About an hour and a half goes by and (ring ring), guess who? Yup, it was him. D’oh! So I went home. About an hour after I go home, the pastor of the church where I was working, who had been initially reluctant to let me go, out of nowhere comes in and says, “I think you should take it.” Man! Before he was all “You can’t go, we just got the youth group really going, you’re doing a ton with the computers, what will we do for a bass player on the worship team?” Now he says, “I think you should take it.”? OK, Lord, I get the hint. I wasn’t even asking for that one.
I have another friend who is going through a similar period of life, wondering if God is calling them to pack up and move. She keeps wondering, “But how do you know it’s the Lord and not you?” You can test the motivation of the heart for one thing. If the motivation is pure then it becomes a matter of faith and obedience. See? There isn’t always a simple formula for discerning if God is calling you to something or not. It seems like it’s easier to tell when He isn’t calling. But we’ll save that for another blog.