If you are around Christians any length of time at all, you will hear them say that they feel “called” by God to do something. They may say that they are trying to discern the call of God on their life, or they may say that they are answering God’s call, or even say they are called to ministry. Hopefully I will be able to answer for you what the call of God is and whether or not you are experiencing this very real phenomenon.
Where Do We Get the Term “Call of God”?
The concept of being called comes from the life of Samuel and his experience with God’s calling. It can be found in 1 Samuel chapter 3.
The Lord Calls Samuel
Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.
One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had gone to bed. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle near the Ark of God.
Suddenly the Lord called out, “Samuel!” “Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?” “I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.
Then the Lord called out again, “Samuel!”
Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”
“I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.”
Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before.
So the Lord called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?” Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord , your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed.
And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”
And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”
Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel. I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli and his family, from beginning to end. I have warned him that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God and he hasn’t disciplined them. So I have vowed that the sins of Eli and his sons will never be forgiven by sacrifices or offerings.”
Samuel stayed in bed until morning, then got up and opened the doors of the Tabernacle as usual. He was afraid to tell Eli what the Lord had said to him. But Eli called out to him, “Samuel, my son.” “Here I am,” Samuel replied.
“What did the Lord say to you? Tell me everything. And may God strike you and even kill you if you hide anything from me!” So Samuel told Eli everything; he didn’t hold anything back. “It is the Lord ’s will,” Eli replied. “Let him do what he thinks best.”
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable. And all Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord . The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh and gave messages to Samuel there at the Tabernacle. —1 Samuel 3:1-21
Discerning the Call of God
The first thing in discerning the call of God may seem very simple but actually is very profound and life changing. The call of God comes from God himself.
It is not something that man can produce or reproduce and it is unique to every individual that experiences it. In Samuel’s case it came while he was yet a boy and this passage seems to indicate that it was in the form of an audible voice. Not all calls come in an audible voice, but all have the key ingredient that the person being called knows that God is speaking to them personally.
In my own life, I never heard an audible voice calling me. However I did hear that still small voice that comes from my innermost being calling me, leading me, urging me to rise up and teach people how to love God and how to show that love to others. I was discontent with the status quo of spirituality. I knew I had to walk places that others don’t even think about.
When you are discerning whether or not you are receiving a call from God you need to understand the difference between need and spiritual compulsion. A need is something that is driven by a place of woundedness or carnality within your heart. A spiritual compulsion is something where you know it is a matter of obedience to God even though you really don’t feel adequately prepared, worthy or gifted to do so.
Some of the ways you discern the difference is whether or not you feel you “need” to be the focus of attention or whether your concern is not to be the focus of attention. Do you want people to listen to you, or are you concerned that they hear the voice of Jesus rather than the voice of the messenger? Do you need to be in charge or are you looking for ways to empower others as they are seeking God’s plan for their lives? Do you have to micromanage everything, have your own way, always know what is right and make sure people know you are right?
As you will notice, Samuel was not all that thrilled with the message that God gave for him to deliver. He didn’t have a need for Eli to listen to him. He didn’t seek to be the one in charge. The first thing I look for in people who say they think they are being called by God is whether or not they are being stretched in areas of obedience and submission. Are they willing to go anywhere, do anything to be used by God or are they dictating the terms of the call?
When I first started sensing the call of God on my life, I just “knew” I was going to the mission field. I was going to have to eat bugs or something. I had to wrestle with my heart until I was willing to say; “Lord wherever you lead, I will follow.” That included being willing to eat bugs!
He never asked me to go to the mission field, but He did ask me to be willing. I believe that it was because of the wrestling I did with obedience and submission that I was sent to areas in my own country that most people are not willing to go. I pastor in what is called “fly-over” country. That is the region that airplanes “fly-over” when going between major cities. I live 45 minutes from a major retail store and two hours from a mall. I have known many a Christian who were not willing to serve in “fly-over” country because of such earthly considerations. If you are truly sensing the call of God, be prepared to wrestle with obedience and submission.
Answering the Call of God
You will notice that when Samuel finally understood that it was God who was speaking to him, that he responded with a very important response. “Speak, your servant is listening.” In order to answer the call of God, you have to be willing to give up the rights to your own life and destiny and place them in the hands of God. You have to be willing to be a servant.
I once knew a family in Canada who had two teenage daughters. They had been raised in church all their life and had a believing mother, but they had never heard that Christians were called to be servants. The concept was foreign to them. I think we spout our Christian lingo around about being a servant and servanthood, but to actually apply it is a different thing. When you answer the call of God, you in a very real sense, place your life into servitude to the One who has called you. You are God’s servant, you are no longer the master of your own destiny.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. —Philippians 2:5-8
The example laid before us on how to answer the call of God is the example that Jesus gave when He answered the call of God. He took the humble position of a slave. So the way you answer the call of God is to start being a servant. If God has called you to leadership then there will be a foundation laid where all you do is serve without the recognition of men.
God’s Calling to Ministry
I remember when I first started following the call of God on my life. I enrolled in Bible college and had started taking classes. I was attending my uncle’s church and he was willing to teach me the nuts and bolts of ministry. After a couple of months of doing whatever he asked me to do, I confronted him and asked him when he was going to allow me to “minister.” He handed me a mop and a toilet brush and smiled and said “you are!”
It was then that I got the idea that ministry is not a position or an office, but it is an action. In the NKJV version of Ephesians 4; Paul talks about five positions or offices that are part of the church.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; —Ephesians 4:11-13
The word used for “ministry” in the greek is Diakonia. It means service, ministering, esp. of those who execute the commands of others. Now here is the catch that most people do not understand. Most people want the authority and the position that comes with one of these offices. (I am amazed at how many self proclaimed apostles and prophets there are in today’s church.) What they don’t want is to show themselves as servants. However, think about this. How can someone teach or equip someone else to do something that they have never done themselves?
Go back up and look at the story of Samuel. What happened as he was “growing up”? The people found that what he said was reliable! The only way people can find that out is if he served faithfully. There was a long transition period between Samuel the boy who God called and Samuel the Prophet who was recognized as called by God.
So my recommendation to all of you who are sensing the call of God to ministry, is be patient. Get rid of all those delusions of grandeur where you see yourself as God’s man or woman of power for the hour, and clothe yourself with humility, be a servant where you can serve now, and in God’s timing and in the way and path that only He knows, He will raise you up to be His type of servant (minister) rather than the world’s type of leader.
About the Author:
Pastor Duke Taber has been a believer in Jesus for 33 years. He has been a pastor for over 20 years currently serving at the Vineyard church in Pine Haven Wyoming and was formerly the secretary treasurer of White Pine County Ministerial Association. He is an alumnus of LIFE Bible College and Multnomah Biblical Seminary. Pastor Duke publishes a Christian living magazine called Taber’s Truths and is the owner of Christian Faithbook.