My understanding of "calling" has evolved over the years. Early on, a very institutional perspective defined my view of being called. It was the only framework I understood at the time. I grew up in a great little Baptist church in North Texas. They discipled me and taught me the Scriptures. They loved me through my rough years. When I began to hear the Lord speaking to me about my future and what He wanted me to do, I understood it through that institutional church lens. In my view, I had only a handful of options.
Option A--Pastor: Yeah that wasn't really me. Though I love God’s word and proclaiming his truth, I didn't feel I fit into that role.
Option B--Music Minister: Nope, I love listening to music, but leading people into His presence through a worship experience was not in my gifting.
Option C--Youth/Student Minister: Ministering to youth was great in my college years, but it was clear I couldn't keep up the energy needed for the long haul.
Option D--Missionary: Now this seemed a good fit. I loved the idea of sharing the love of Christ with those who had not heard. I was not afraid to eat strange things or live in a different country.
So as a freshman in high school I surrendered to full-time ministry. Less than a year later, I surrendered again, to missions. But it was more like choosing a career path than choosing to follow the Lord who was doing the calling.
My first mission trip to Brazil changed my life. Being exposed to the physical and spiritual needs in the world opened my eyes. I knew this was it, what God had called me to do.
So here is the short version of how it went from there:
I felt called to be a missionary in Brazil. (1992)
I was called specifically to do sports ministry in Brazil. (1998)
Oops, I was called to work with the Asheninka people in Peru. (1999)
I was called to work with remote people in the Amazon and Andes. (2002)
I was called to work with unreached and unengaged peoples. (2010)
I was called to disciple whomever I encountered. (2010)
I was called to unreached, unengaged Peoples in remote and difficult locations. (2011)
At each step, I thought I finally understood what God wanted to do with my life. After 10 years in the Amazon, God instructed us to leave the ministry we had started and start over in Africa. And I thought, maybe this is it… maybe I am called to Africa.
While we were in the States preparing to move to Africa, the reality began to sink in. We were leaving a thriving ministry where we knew the language and culture very well, and we were starting all over in a completely different place. Did we hear God correctly? Deep inside I started to question. What the heck are we doing?! This is crazy!
Then one day I was in a fine eating establishment in Texas (Waffle House). While standing in line to pay my bill, I struck up a conversation with a fellow redneck. I told him about our move to Africa. He was very confused, and he asked this question, “Why are you going to Africa?!” I had a quick answer, of course, but inside I froze. This simple question brought my secret doubts out in the open. So I asked God to help me understand what I was doing, because I wasn’t even sure I understood it. I knew I couldn’t explain it.
Suddenly, with all clarity, my whole definition of calling changed right there in Waffle House. I said, In the process of following Jesus, this is where I find myself. I was somewhere before, and I will be somewhere else in the future. But Jesus determines where I go and what I do there, simple as that.
So I don’t know where you are in your journey, but if I can help you to understand your calling without going through all the steps I just described, I’m gonna do that right here.
You are not called to a vocation or to a job, You are called TO A PERSON. His name is Jesus.
He called Peter and Andrew, not just to drop their nets, their hopes, and dreams , but to follow Him. He called Levi to leave his life and follow Him, to become his disciple. You are no different than them. Your calling is to the person of Jesus. You live out that calling by radical obedience to Jesus.
You are called to follow Him wherever He leads you. You are supposed to go wherever He tells you, anywhere in the world. Do whatever He commands. That is obedience. You are called to Jesus, to follow him and obey him, whatever that may mean. Hold nothing back, no reserves. You were purchased with His blood. Your life is now His. Everything has changed. You can never live like you used to.
This solves a lot of problems for us. We can no longer find our identity in our job or ministry, because He can change that at any moment. Also, we have no excuses. If we hear that still small voice whisper to us to sell our things and prepare to go overseas, we can’t say, “But Lord, I’m called to pastor. That isn’t my ministry.” You see, if you are called to obedience to Christ, your answer must always be “Yes, Lord Jesus,” no matter what the request is. Because your allegiance is 100% to Him.
We are called to Jesus, but then what?! After you accept your call, He puts you to work. He gives you task. Maybe He will want you to teach a Sunday school class for a few years. That is your task. Then He may want you to work with inner-city youth. Or He may call you to take a step back to focus on your family. If you are on the mission field, He may send you to another place, or He may send you back to your home culture. But when your calling is found in Him, nothing changes except the current task. Your calling is secure, because your calling is to Jesus.
I have seen many pastors and missionaries lose their way when they retire or return to the States. They had put their identity in doing the task and not in the One who called them to that work. It’s not the end of the world. We all get turned around sometimes. But if the focus is on the Master, you can be assured that His calling hasn't changed, and He certainly has not changed. He has just given you a new task. He is accomplishing His purpose. He wants to use you to do that.
So here it is in the simplest of terms:
Your calling is to obey and follow Jesus. He doesn’t change.
Your task is the thing He has given to you to do for now. The task will change from time to time.
Keep your eyes on the Master to know what you are supposed to do.