Our Captivating Call
Recently, as I conducted a regional renewal event in the upper Midwest, the host pastor spoke honestly of the challenges of modern-day ministry. He told me about his three best friends from seminary who all quit pastoral ministry in the last year due to overload and frustration. He described two of his pastoral colleagues in the city who fell to immorality in recent years. He spoke of his own struggles to stay encouraged and balanced in the midst of pressing demands. Twice, he and his wife have spent time at a retreat center designed to counsel ministry couples, seeking to affirm their calling and to persevere through many trials.
In surveys most pastors admit to battling burnout and depression. Seventy-five percent feel their seminary training did not adequately prepare them for the ministry. The vast majority admit to having no close personal friends and no one in whom to confide. Clearly church leadership is not an easy calling , but to be enduring and rewarding, it must be a sure calling.
It is imperative that every Christian leader, and every Christ-follower, stand strong in the truth of their calling by God, in Christ. In many places, God describes His people as those “called by His name” (Deuteronomy 28:10; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Isaiah 43:7; 63:19; Jeremiah 14:9; Daniel 9:19). This connection between a calling and the mighty name of God is the assurance that God’s initiative and character are the foundation of our service. When God puts His name on something, it is a done deal and cannot be revoked.
In the New Testament, Christians are described as those who have been called by God into His life and mission through Christ. Again, this invitation comes from God and is maintained by God, in spite of our failures and foibles that often hinder our obedience to the call.
Romans 11:29 affirms this truth: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Eugene Peterson describes it this way in The Message: “God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty – never canceled, never rescinded.” I am often encouraged by Paul’s affirmation of our calling where he says that God has “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9). We are not just called to “hang in there.” Rather we should live in the confidence that God has handed us a calling that is specific to our lives yet greater than ourselves.
Leaders Sustained by a Call
The Scripture presents leaders as having a special and specific call from God. Knowing the call came from God strengthened and sustained three prophets and an apostle as they faced opposition and pain. The prophet Jeremiah’s call came to him as a young man with God’s reassurance that before he was even conceived or born, God knew him and set him apart (Jeremiah 1:4–5). In spite of this, the young man initially balked, noting his age and lack of speaking ability. God countered Jeremiah’s reluctance with the reassurance that He would be with the prophet to deliver and strengthen him at all times (Jeremiah 1:8, 19). Later, Jeremiah faced persecution and reproach. His heart was again sustained in the truth of God’s presence and promise as the prophet confessed, “For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16).
The prophet Ezekiel was warned of the difficulty of his calling as he would speak to a stubborn, hardheaded people. But God gave him this reassurance, “Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed” (Ezekiel 3:8–9). With the call came the capability of endurance.
The prophet Isaiah describes the power of a call in Isaiah 49:1–2. It not only reflects the prophet’s understanding of a calling, but also refers to the calling of the Messiah: “The Lord has called Me from the womb; from the matrix of My mother He has made mention of My name. And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, and made Me a polished shaft; in His quiver He has hidden Me.” I’ve heard it said that the call of God will not take you where the grace of God cannot keep you. We see this message throughout the Bible.
The assurance of a calling also sustained the apostle Paul. Not only did he refer to it constantly as the power and authority behind all he did (see the first verse of most of the letters he penned), but he boldly explained the sustaining power of this calling in the midst of hardship. In describing his call, Paul reflects on this message from the Lord that carried the clear warning of suffering: “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15–16).
Paul’s very last letter contains an explanation of the sustaining power of the call. Encouraging the endurance of his disciple Timothy, he writes, “I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:11–12).
Trust the Call
We’ve captured this same principle in our day with the simple reminder, “Do not doubt in darkness what God has revealed to you in the light.” We must trust the call of God as we encounter the inevitable storms of leadership and service.
I have made it a habit to journal extensively over the years. The several journals I’ve filled are like the “memorials” of biblical times that always reminded God’s people of their great moments like the Passover and crossing the Jordan River. Countless times I have referred back to these journal entries to trust the Lord’s calling and direction and receive clear reminders of God’s work and calling in my life.
Remember – Rest – Receive
When we struggle with confusion, we must remember, rest, and receive. We must remember the “great moments” of God’s call, knowing that unless He clearly rescinds it, we should not. We are wise to rest and take time to care for our physical health through diet and exercise. We must receive objective counsel from those who have seen evidence of our call and can remind us of it when we have seemingly forgotten.
Galen Call, a retired pastor and good friend, summarizes our need to fight for clarity: “A good rule: never make a major decision when you’re discouraged! Get rest. Read the Word. Listen to God. Journal your thoughts. Be open with your spouse. Do something fun. Call a good friend and talk. Pick up a biography and see that you aren’t the first leader to face discouragement or doubt your call.”
Copyright © 2013 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
This e-devotion was adapted from Chapter 11 of the book Defying Gravity – How to Survive the Storms of Pastoral Ministry by Moody Publishers. To order your copy, or a copy for a spiritual leader you know, go to http://www.moodypublishers.com or visit our website at www.strategicrenewal.com.