How To Know God’s Call For Ministry
1. Call To Live A Holy Life
First of all we are called to live a holy life. We read in 1 Thessalonians 4:7,8 “For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity but to live a holy life.” Also we read in I Peter 1:16, “You shall be holy for I am holy,” and in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (holiness)…” We read in Hebrews 12:14, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
This is a general call after the call to repentance. All believers are called to be saints (Rom. 1:7). The ultimate purpose of such a call is that they might be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:30). In addition to this all believers are called to grace (Gal. 1:6), peace (1 Cor. 7:15), light (1 Pet. 2:9), hope (Eph. 4:4), glory (1 Thess. 2:12), liberty (Gal. 5:13) and suffering (1 Pet. 2:20-21).
2. Call To Be His Effective Witnesses
All believers in Christ are called to be God’s fellow workers or co-labourers. We read in 1 Corinthians 3:9-15, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” We are called to build the church of God on the foundation, which is Jesus Christ. Each man’s work will be tested and rewarded by our Lord. We Christians cannot just while-away time and rest. If a Christian rests he will rust. We read in Amos 6:1, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria.” Also we read in Deuteronomy 10:12,13, “What does the Lord your God require from you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways and love him and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…” So, there is a general call to all Christian believers to be witnesses for Christ and win souls for the Kingdom of God.
3. Call To Full – Time Christian Service
All believers in Christ are called to be saints (Rom. 1:7) and to be witnesses, but not all are called to be Apostles (1 Cor. 12:29). Paul in his epistles is careful to point out that he was a genuine apostle (1 Cor. 9:1,2). More over he insisted that he was an apostle by the will of God (1 Cor. 1:1), and by the call of God (Rom. 1:1). He did not choose this high calling (1 Cor. 9:16-18) nor was it conferred on him by others (Gal. 1:1).
He described himself as having been made a minister of the Gospel (Eph. 3:7). He was appointed to be a preacher, apostle, and a teacher (2 Tim. 1:11). God said to Ananias, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” (Acts 9:15). This call was later confirmed by the Holy Spirit of God when he said to the leaders of the church in Antioch, “…Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2).
Therefore the call for full-time Christian service is a very definite call. Jesus called Peter and Andrew to follow him and immediately they left their nets and followed him (Matt. 4:20). Later he called James and John and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him (Matt. 4:22). It seems clear from this passage that this “call” involved a clean break with their previous occupation and launched them into a brand new occupation, that of “fishers of men.” Apparently it was not possible for them to be fishers of fish and fishers of men at the same time. This does not mean that there was anything wrong with their previous occupation or that their new occupation was to be regarded as “higher” or “holier.”
It was a completely different occupation that would require all their time and energy. In today’s terminology this can be termed as the call to full-time Christian service. Paul spoke of Epaphras, as a “Faithful minister of Christ” (Col. 1:7, 4:12), a description he obviously did not apply to every one. He reminded Timothy of his consecration to the gospel ministry when the elders laid their hands on him (1 Tim. 4:14). The apostles felt that there was something “sacred” or “special” about their ministry, for when the daily distribution of food threatened the unity of the church in Jerusalem, they refused to get involved in “serving of tables” (Acts 6:2,4). Instead they decided that they would continue to devote themselves to “Prayer and to the ministry of the word.” They considered totally devoting their time for prayer and to the ministry of the Word as the call for full-time Christian service, which they have received from the Lord. They committed themselves to this call.
All Christians are expected to work and witness for Christ regardless of their vocation; but only a few are called to leave everything and follow Christ in order to give themselves unreservedly to prayer and the ministry of the word.
This idea of a call to full-time Christian service is further strengthened by our Lord’s attitude towards those who took it upon themselves to volunteer for his service (Lk. 9:57-58). One man in a moment of enthusiasm said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But after hearing the reply of Jesus regarding the hardships involved, this man apparently withdrew his offer. Another person also volunteered in verse 61, but Jesus declared him unfit for the kingdom of God. Therefore it is very clear that there has to be a definite and a clear-cut call from the master to His service and no one can choose it as a profession. Today we see a very sad thing that many choose to serve God as their profession.
Jesus told his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit…” (Jn. 15:16). Also we read in 2 Chronicles 29:11, “My sons, do not be negligent, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before him, to minister to him and to be his ministers and burn incense.”
a) How Does One Receive This Call?
There are two major steps involved in it. A person can receive this call at any time of his life after he has obeyed the call to repentance. He may receive this call even while he is still a student, or while he is engaged in a secular work.
More often the call is a growing conviction based on certain well-defined principles laid down in the word of God. As one subjects himself to the Lordship of Christ and walks with the Lord in the light of his word, seeking to fulfill the will of God in his life, then he discovers that, step by step he is led to the place where he hears the still small clear voice of the Lord calling him to his service.
There must be on our part an attitude of receptivity and readiness, so that when the call comes we will be in a position to hear and answer. The chances of us getting a call will be greatly enhanced if we meet some of the following conditions.
i) An Open Mind
We would have long ago decided that there are certain things we will not do. We would not dare to tell it to God, but in our minds we would have decided, “Anything but full-time ministry” or “Anywhere but North India or Africa.” So long as we harbour pre-conceived negative notions about the will of God or purpose of God, we will only be waiting in vain for a call. J.B. Philips says, “Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defense that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5).
So, first of all we need to have an open mind to accept anything the Lord would tell us.
ii) An Attentive Ear
An open mind is a great achievement but it may still fall short unless an attentive ear accompanies it. It is not enough just to get rid of all the deceptive, pre-conceived ideas. We must also have our ears open to the still clear voice of the Holy Sprit of God.
iii) A Pure Heart
Understanding God’s truth, or ascertaining God’s will is not a purely intellectual exercise. It has a moral dimension to it. God reveals his truth not to those who want to know it, but to those who are prepared to do it. In the hall of science at the century of progress world’s fair in Chicago (1933-34) there was a huge motto that read, “Nature reveals her secrets only to those who obey her laws.” Likewise God reveals his purpose only to those who obey his laws, (Ps. 24:3-4, Ps. 99:5, Heb. 12:14).
iv) Busy hands
There is a common saying that Satan is sure to find some work for idle hands to do. If Satan prefers idle hands, God certainly does not. God never goes to the lazy or idle people when He needs men for His service. He goes to those who are already at work. He has always called busy people to be his servants. Scripture and history attest to this truth:
MOSES – was busy with his flock at Horeb.
GIDEON – was busy threshing wheat by the wine press.
SAUL – was busy searching for his father’s lost donkeys.
DAVID – was busy caring for his father’s sheep.
ELISHA – was busy ploughing with twelve yokes of oxen.
NEHEMIAH – was busy bearing the kings wine cup.
AMOS – was busy following the flock.
PETER & ANDREW – were busy casting a net into the sea.
JAMES & JOHN – were busy mending their nets.
MATHEW – was busy collecting tax.
SAUL – was busy persecuting the friends of Jesus.
Martin Luther, John Wesley, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, Hudson Taylor, all these people were busy, hard working people, when God called them.
Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night comes when no man can work.” (Jn. 9:4). So, any person contemplating even the possibility of a call should begin by getting involved in some kind of a Christian ministry such as Sunday school, taking Bible studies for small groups and so on.
v) Ready Feet
We must be ready at any time to receive and obey the call of God. The Psalmist says, “I will run in the way of thy commandments.” (Ps. 119:32). We read in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, “But this I say brethren, the time has been shortened… for the form of this world is passing away.”
Young people with a burden to serve the Lord encounter two temptations. One is to run before the Lord; the other is to lag behind. Some wait till they are 100% certain. God’s guidance is perfect but may not be 100% certain, many times, because if it were so, where would faith come in? We must remember that the Christian walks by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).
Some where along the line the individual must make up his mind to act, and to get going. It is always easier to steer a moving vehicle than a stationary one. The turtle cannot move unless it puts its head forward.
b) First Step In Responding To This Call
So, we must start some where by taking the first step. What is this first step? It is to receive the call and obey the call by saying yes to the Lord. As I said before, the call can come to a person at any time in his life, what he or she is supposed to do is to accept the call. Accepting the call does not mean that you should immediately step out into full-time ministry. By accepting the call you are taking the first step and that is all you need to do from your side. The Lord will take the second step. He will in the mean time prepare you for the ministry and when the right time comes He will show you what type of ministry you should do and where you should do it. For many people taking this first step is a very difficult. Since, they consider the various consequences that would arise because of their coming out into full-time ministry. This is the most grievious mistake they commit. We are not supposed to look into all those aspects when the call of God comes to us. God is no fool to call us blindly without taking into consideration every detail of our family needs and other needs. We need not worry about all that. He will take care of it. All we need to do is to say “Yes” to the Lord when He clearly calls us through His still clear voice.
c) Second Step In Activating This Call
After we take the first step of obeying the call of God, the Lord starts working in us. Often the second step is a developing process that may take months, even years to come to fulfillment.
In the after moments of a Christian endeavour convention missionary rally in San Francisco, California, a high school lad made a commitment to serve God whenever and wherever he would lead. Twenty years later, the “wherever” of that decision brought Rev. Douglas Hillis to Venezuela. He says, “It was not a delay, but the whenever and wherever have all my life. In reality I am in no way more in his service in Venezuela than I have been every day since that high school decision.” Following the decision at the missionary rally, Hillis has seen God work out the whenever and wherever of his service. After schooling he taught in an elementary school in California. Seven or eight years later God began to bring his future plan to light. He spent three years at Trinity evangelical divinity school. These left him wondering about the wherever of his 17 years of commitment to the Lord.
There was no startling revelation as to the place of his service; neither were there moments of doubt. Hillis says, “The Lord saw to the development of his will in my life.”
Many stages are involved in this second step:
The first step is curiosity. This may come about in a variety of ways-a casual remark by a friend, a letter from missionary, a chapter in a book, a hymn in church etc. Nothing is more unpredictable than the moving of the Holy Spirit. Under his leadership, the first step is often taken and the person involved remains completely unaware of it.
Curiosity leads to interest. The person will find himself again and again to the subject that has caught his attention. For the first time in his life he thinks and talks about missions, and he tries to attend or participate in as many mission camps or conferences as possible.
But curiosity and interest are not enough. Something deeper is required, namely, understanding. This is not achieved in a hurry. It will take time and study as he reads missionary literature and scriptures, a person gradually comes to understand something of the nature, scope, meaning and mandate of the Christian world missions, the lostness of man and so on.
As one continues to read, study, meditate and pray understanding leads to assurance. His heart is “Strangely warmed” and he begins to get a feel for that type of a ministry, which is full-time Christian service. The thought of being a missionary, once intolerable has now a new meaning and pleasant glow about it. He really could be a missionary! At this point he probably would like to share his heart with others.
As he continues to search the scriptures and as the Holy Spirit continues to work in his heart, assurance grows stronger and stronger until it becomes conviction. He feels he must take up that ministry or become a missionary. Anything else would be unthinkable. Once this stage is reached there is no turning back. He knows beyond a doubt that Jesus Christ has called him with his glorious service.
This conviction leads a person to commitment. He commits himself to that particular call of God. No disappointment, no discouragement, no opposition of friends or relations can turn him aside. He is firmly convinced about his personal call to full-time Christian service.
Finally, commitment culminates in action. He gets moving, he makes plans to prepare for the mission field, because that is where he is going. That’s where his heart is. And where his heart is, his feet will soon follow. So he resigns his job and goes to a Bible college or joins an organisation to prepare himself for a missionary career.
It is worth noting that these seven steps involve the whole man. The first three-curiosity, interest and understanding-involve the mind. The next three-assurance, conviction and commitment-involve the heart. The last one-action-involves the will. The missionary will be blessed indeed whose mind, heart and will are all involved in his high calling. He will not fail, nor will he become a dropout. He will be a missionary by the will of God, by the call of Christ and by the leading of the Holy Spirit.