By Michael E. Brooks
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. . . . Moreover whom he predestined, these he also called; whom he called, these he also justified; and whom he justified, these he also glorified” (Romans 8:28, 30).
There is no question that the Bible specifically teaches that Christians are called of God. This clearly means that we respond to God’s invitation when we trust in him and obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is, to be called is to be urged by the preaching of the message of salvation to accept God’s grace. His message was intentionally designed to appeal to certain types of people (the humble, needy, etc.) so that they might be chosen by him, through their faith, to be saved.
There is another type of calling of which we often speak, however. It is the calling of a particular work, or life-style, or geographic location. Some speak of being “called to preach”. Missionaries may feel that they are answering God’s call to work in a particular city or nation, or among a given population. Others may feel that God calls them to particular occupations, such as medicine or counseling. How may we know if God has a particular plan for our lives? Can we be certain that he is pleased with us in what we do and where we are doing it?
We read in the New Testament accounts of the lives of Paul, Peter and others that God chose them for particular purposes. Galatians 1:7 describes “the commitment of the gospel to the uncircumcised” to Paul, and of the “gospel to the circumcised” to Peter. Simply put, Paul was to preach to Gentiles and Peter to Jews, and this commitment in the context seems clearly to have been divine in origin.
God called each to a particular ministry. Acts 16:9-10 describes Paul’s vision of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to “come over . . . and help us.” Luke says that they concluded, “that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.” That God has issued supernatural calls of ministry to persons in the past is undeniable to those who believe the words of Scripture. The question is, “Does he call us to similar ministries today? If so how?”
The time of miraculous visions and revelations is past (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). If God does call us, it is by different means than that of the Macedonian call. Yet the Bible is clear that God gives each of us gifts (Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11) and holds us accountable for the profitable use of those gifts. Logically, this means we may determine what our gifts are and how we are to administer them. This amounts to a calling. What are the signs of such a divine purpose?
First, there is ability. Though the Biblical word “talent” as used in the parable of Matthew 25:14-30 usually refers to a sum of money, it cannot be denied that God is the giver of all resources, and that our resources include our individual skills and abilities. The parable of the Talents teaches emphatically that God expects us to be good stewards of all that he has entrusted to us. If we have skills of ministry, we should use them in his service.
Second, there is opportunity. On the second missionary journey Paul wanted to go into the Roman province of Asia. The Holy Spirit denied him the opportunity at that time. Later, on the third journey, he was able to go there (Acts 16:6; 19:1). Was Paul liable for the souls of those who died without the gospel during the years between those events? No, God held him accountable only for that which he was given opportunity to do. On his second journey he was permitted to enter Greece (Macedonia), but not Asia. Opportunity to serve may translate to a calling to serve. Many people have desired to be missionaries in particular areas, but were unable to raise support or obtain visas, or were denied the opportunity in other ways. Is it possible that they were given a different calling?
Finally, there is need. When we are confronted with great, obvious need we are often overcome with the urgency of ministry. Paul said, “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). This statement is given in the context of the great need of the Corinthians for the gospel. When we see the lost and dying, the hungry, the helpless, we understand God’s purpose for our lives and our place in his plan. We may then know that we are not only called to salvation, but also called to call others.