I was talking this morning with a fellow missionary, and we were discussing the question that we have been asked by many people, including leaders in the church issuing our licenses. The question is: Is there a verse that sums up your calling to missions or that helped confirm your calling? Talk about one of the most difficult questions to answer! We both agreed that there were times in our past when our inability to answer this particular question made us doubt our calling (or our grasp on the Bible as part of our calling). What a tragedy this is! I know that this is not the intention of our advisory boards, but we must make sure that our calling is Biblical. Although for us, to sum it all up in one verse or passage was nearly impossible, I have come to understand that this is definitely something that everyone entering ministry should spend significant time thinking and praying about. It is also important to understand that just as one verse or passage may inspire us, we must learn to see that passage in light of God’s story.
As a writer, I am fascinated by the Bible. Only Almighty God could orchestrate such a beautiful plot throughout a history that spans thousands of years, beginning in a garden and ending in the throne room of God. Only He could take a man named Abram who did not know anything about Him from His home country and create a nation for Himself that survived for many generations through impossible trials, all from this man who was a century old and a wife who could not have children. Then Jesus came from this same nation to fulfill and renew the same covenant made thousands of years before to this very man. There are so many subplots played out throughout the generations such as kinsmen redeemer, rescue, and sacrifice. From the very first story of the Bible until the last word written, God is telling His story of love and redemption. What an incredibly beautiful and fantastic story it is! No author in the world could create one better. It is impossible to describe without writing thousands of books about it. Frederick Lehman said it best in his song The Love of God: “Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made; were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.”
It is important to understand the Bible as God’s story. Seeing the big picture of His fantastic love causes all the parts of it make sense. Then we make the difficult transition of what is written in the pages of this book to our lives: what does it mean for us? Acts 2:38-39: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’” When we stand before Christ and accept His forgiveness and redemption, we learn that our story is not really our story at all. It is God’s story. His promise is to give us the Holy Spirit, that He might live out His purposes through our lives. We are ALL CALLED to be a part of His story and mission in various ways and in various places.
If I were to describe my calling to you, there would be no way that I could explain it outside of the context of God’s story and His Word. Is there one verse or passage that sums it up? The answer would be both no and yes.
I was called as a child to be a missionary to another country somewhere in the world. The question I have been asked so many times is: how were you sure that was your calling? Well, I don’t know how to answer that. For me, I just knew. There were other options for what I could be when I grew up, and no doubt my family helped and encouraged me to explore all the different options. At several different times throughout my life I wanted to be many different things. However, I kept coming back to missions. I couldn’t get away from missions. When a missionary would come and speak in our church, my heart burned with passion. Even though every missionary knows that the life is anything but romantic and fantastical, there was always an element of fulfillment in the possibility of total surrender when I imagined myself leaving everything I knew behind and following God. When I heard the call of Christ, “Take up your cross”, I knew that there was something reverently literal in that message for me.
As a child, I loved the story of Samuel and his simple response to the Lord’s voice in the night, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3) So many times I recognized distractions in my life that crowded out God’s voice. I wondered if I would hear Him if He spoke. Through reading His Word, understanding His character, and building my relationship with Him I learned to tune my ears to hear Him despite all the other voices in my life. I wanted to jump up and run to God when I heard Him speak, eagerly willing to listen to whatever it was He had to say.
During that time, Jeremiah chapter 1 captured my heart as well. I desired for the Lord to say to me, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations (v. 5).” I loved God’s response to Jeremiah’s doubt, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you (v. 7-8a).” In the midst of Isaiah’s incredible vision of the throne room of God in Isaiah 6, I wanted my response to God’s question, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” to be, “Here am I. Send me (v. 8)!” God took that desire of my heart and made His deep call clear to me, even when I was young. Through every doubt and fear that I have faced over the years, He has given me the strength to respond to each step just as Isaiah did.
1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” My dad is a youth pastor, and he always told me growing up that I should never let people treat me as incompetent just because I was younger than them. He cautioned me, however, that in order to earn that respect, I must always set the example of Christ and maturity in every area of my life. This is such an important lesson to learn, especially in this day and age when people are demanding respect but living in immaturity. As I walk forward in ministry, I always remember this lesson that my dad taught me that as I set an example through my life, I should never let anyone discredit my calling or my relationship with God especially because to them I seem young. I must live in obedience before God and serve Him courageously through every season in whatever way He asks me.
Jeremiah 29:11 was every teenager’s favorite verse, and for me it was no different. However, as I have grown older, I have begun to understand the verse more in context as I have witnessed God’s redemption story being played out in my life. In big and small ways, God has shown me that there is no room in my walk with Him for prejudice, pride, or apathy. Whatever it takes for Him to melt us down and refine us of these things, our loving Father will do because He has incredible plans for us: to prosper us and not to harm us. The nation of Israel needed a similar lesson. They had grown apathetic and prideful in their hearts. They needed a wake-up call and a cleansing of the sin in their lives. Just like He offered to them, He offers us hope and a future! He will bring us back from the exile where He refined us. His promise in verses 12-14 are as follows: “’Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. [There’s that redemption story.] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’” The definition of redemption is restoration. Just like Adam and Eve had perfect communion with God in the beginning, so God desires that we have perfect communion with Him. Through all the refining that He does in our hearts, the purpose is to bring us back: to restore us to right relationship with Him.
For much of my life, I identified with Moses. God called Him divinely through a burning bush and Moses threw every possible excuse at God why he could not fulfill His call (Exodus 3-4). There was a time when I was living in Ecuador during college that I had a similar experience. I battled mightily with my calling because all I could see were all the problems I brought to the table and my inabilities to do any of the things I knew God was asking of me. My burning bush moment happened when all of this came to a climax and before God and a trusted friend I gave up my calling to missions. I sat in a church service wishing to be anywhere but there. As I threw every possible excuse I had at God, each verse that flashed on the screen were God’s words spoken contrary to my excuse and affirming His hand on my life. This happened repeatedly for an hour until I had nothing left to throw at God and the tears streamed down my face. I ran out of the building before anyone could notice I was gone and met God on the mission steps. It was then I realized, just like Moses, that it was not anything that I could offer God that caused Him to choose me for this particular task. He chose me because He wanted me. He chose me because He is God and He can do anything He wants. All my imperfections, chips, and cracks were exactly what God wanted. Paul says it well in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” God knew that in this highly imperfect jar of clay He could best show His perfect love. May He be brought glory through my life!
I went through a season in my life for about nine years where I struggled a lot with my health. Looking back, I see myself identifying a lot with the story of Job. Throughout the process, like Job, I found myself trying to explain God’s reasons to those around me for why He was allowing me to go through that season. In the end when I cried out to God, the answer He gave was not the answer to “Why” but rather “Do you understand who I am?” I was reminded that God never owes me an explanation for why He brings me through certain struggles or difficulties, yet He is big enough to handle my questions. In the end I stand humbled before God, praying that I might faithfully trust Him regardless of His reasons or the pain. I do not remotely understand why He has allowed me to struggle so much physically, but I don’t need to. I know that He is good. That is sufficient.
About a year ago, I felt God leading me somewhere else. As I explored the options, I felt His blessing leading me toward Nashville. Through the process of moving to a city where I knew virtually no one, I clung to the story of Abraham as God led Him to a country that he had never been. I heard God’s promise to him, “I will bless you…you will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2).” Just as God made a covenant with Abram (that was his name at the time), for the first time I sensed that I was making a covenant with God. I promised before Him that no matter what I must sacrifice for Him, even if it was everything, that I would in love give it to Him. I heard Him say to me, just as He said to Abram, “Do not be afraid…I am your shield, your very great reward (15:1).” What a rich thing it to cast everything off, knowing that no treasure could compare to knowing God! There is no blessing that God offers as a reward. The reward is Himself! HE is my shield, my very great reward!
God led me to the Appalachian Mountains for a weekend this past Spring where we dove deeply into the forbidden book: Song of Solomon. As I sat next to a waterfall listening to His words of passion over me and relishing in His sweet embrace, His words took my breath away: “My lover spoke and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come (2:10-12a).” The past few years had been anything but lovely. I had no recollection of the sunshine. Even now this verse brings tears to my eyes as I remember Him taking my hand and leading me into the light where there is freedom and air. I wrote all the things that I had been holding onto from the past on leaves and I dropped them one by one into the water carried quickly by the current to who knows where. More than anything I wanted to lose myself in His love. I wanted every part of me to be a part of His Kingdom. I wanted my story to be His story. God used that time, in ways that I did not expect, to soften my heart and align my will to His.
In February I had started wrestling again with my call to missions. Especially in April as I started considering moving overseas to do mission work with Extreme Nazarene Ministries, I was also wrestling with many of the things Jesus said. In a lot of ways I still am. I know that Jesus’ words mean different things to different people, but He has led me to a season in my life (and perhaps it will last my whole life) where I am taking His commands as literally as one can take them. The call of Jesus to follow Him leaves no room for anything to remain the same. Verses such as, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:37-39).” And, “…Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (8:20).” I pondered the stories of the treasure and the pearl of great price as I dove into understanding what the Kingdom of God is: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought the field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it (13:44-46).” It brought me back to the story of Abraham, when God said to him, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” I couldn’t help but realize that the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price was God Himself. There was nothing in the lives of either of these men that was worth the treasure of knowing and having God. When we think about following Christ, we tend to focus on the cost, and for good reason, because in order to follow God, it will cost us everything. However, it was transformational to look at it from the perspective of the pearl of great price. The Scripture says, “…in his JOY he went and sold all that he had…” As God asked me to lay down all that I had in order to move overseas and serve Him, I could not help but remember that it was not only a sacrifice as I left it all behind, but it was and is something I am doing in JOY that I might have GOD!
Most recently I have been studying and identifying with the life of Paul, and it is a scary thing to think about. I read through the book of Acts the past couple days, and there is no question that Paul had a difficult calling and path. He went through a lot of painful things and suffered greatly. Yet, despite everything he went through for the cause, he proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ boldly everywhere he went. No matter what he was feeling or experiencing, He never wavered in his resolve to follow and know Christ and represent Him well to all who observed his life. The book of Philippians has spoken deeply to my heart over the years and especially now. Paul did not necessarily have a home, but claimed his citizenship in heaven (3:20a). Paul summed up his life this way and I would say if I could sum up my life and calling up in one passage, it would be Philippians 3:7-14:
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Many people with many different callings have chosen this passage as their Scripture to live by. How could this serve as my particular life verse and reason for what I am doing?
More than anything that I am called to DO in this life, I am called to KNOW Christ and be found in Him. It is one thing to know a lot of things about Him. I could quote Scripture all day long but not know Christ. Jesus said to the Jews in John 5:39-40: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” I do not want to be guilty of having only head knowledge. I want to KNOW Christ. He is my shield, my very great reward!
Just like the men who sold everything they had to buy the field and the pearl, I want to see Christ in heavenly perspective. Nothing in the world could compare to Him, and anything I have apart from Him is rubbish. There is no way on this earth that I could be right before God on my own. It is only through Him that I can live a life that is blameless and fruitful. I must come to the end of myself to understand where true life begins. I don’t only want to know Christ when it feels good. True relationship with Christ requires total surrender of my will and my life. I must know Christ in His death before I can know His resurrection. With this goal and prize in mind, I run forward as fast as I can toward Christ. I follow His example and I live by His strength. This is what it means to follow Christ. This is what it means to be called: that we do whatever it takes to know Christ and be found in Him; that we learn to hear His voice and obey; and that we so identify with Christ that all that matters to Him is the only thing that matters to us.
Do you KNOW Jesus or do you simply know ABOUT Him? You are called…you are chosen…you are loved. Would you like to talk to someone about this? Message me or talk to a pastor that you trust. Don’t wait another day.