“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
When I tell people that I work to evangelize countries of South Asia I am often asked, “How did you get involved in those countries? Why did you choose them, of all the places you might go?”
These are good questions to which I have given much thought. The truth is I have never consciously picked a missionary field. Rather I have gone where circumstance and opportunity have directed me.
Each country which I have visited has been “shown” to me by natural means, but I am convinced that those means were and are providentially guided.
Abram is a Biblical example of one to whom the promise was given that he would be shown where to go. How was Abram directed on his journey that eventually led him to Canaan?
He was commanded to go, but rarely, if ever, were specific destinations revealed to him. His movements were dictated by considerations of weather (Genesis 12:10), water and food for his flocks and herds (Genesis 21:25, compare 26:17-22), and even by the decisions of others (Genesis 13:8-12).
He traveled according to circumstance and opportunity, but these were obviously divinely directed.
It has long been my conviction that God’s people receive calls to ministry ( Romans 12:3-8). This includes, but is not limited to, evangelists and missionaries. God does not call us today through miraculous signs or direct revelation apart from His word.
First of all, he calls us to serve him through direct commands of Scripture (such as Matthew 28:18-20). Beyond this he calls us to specific places and ministries through circumstance and opportunity.
I have known men and families that have committed to foreign missions as their life’s vocation. They took the Great Commission personally and seriously. Yet they were unable to find sponsoring and supporting congregations to permit and assist them to do that work.
Others found such support, but were unable to secure the necessary visas and travel documents needed to enter their chosen country. Still others have been delayed or prevented by illness or tragedy, either to them or to immediate family.
In each of these cases the decision to work abroad was necessarily reversed.
On his second missionary journey the apostle Paul desired to work in the Roman province of Asia (part of modern Turkey) and in Bithynia, “But the Spirit did not permit them”
Even on his first journey he came to Galatia “because of physical infirmity” (Galatians 4:13). That indicates that it was circumstance which directed his movements, not prior intentions. It was at God’s direction but not always revealed through specific visions or revelations.
God continues to call us to do his work. The method of those calls varies widely. Frequently they come through a combination of the worker’s desire and talents, his opportunities, and the need of specific areas or people for that which he would bring to them.
Let us always be alert to signs of God’s will and pray that we will ever be willing and ready to do it, even if his will does not always conform to our own.