It was on one night in September 1991 during my weekly meetings with my girlfriend’s father, who was a pastor, when I surrendered my life to the living Lord Jesus. We had started these meetings six months earlier when I wanted to show him that I was serious about getting back on his good side after making many mistakes. He was going to forbid us from dating. It wasn’t just an act.
I knew I was a complete mess, and my life was headed on a collision course of complete ruin. It was during those meetings that I read any portion of the bible for the first time. It was during those meetings that a godly man invested in my life and showed me unconditional love. After months of meeting, he asked if I knew where I would go when I died; I knew that I deserved hell. He proceeded to share the gospel with me. To be honest, I can’t remember anything he said. As he was speaking, I felt the very real presence of God in a way I still can’t put into words. His holy light exposed all my sins and secrets before my eyes, but at the same time his holy love overwhelmed me. I knew to give my life to him meant yielding up all my sin, will, and control to him and him alone. I bowed my heart, mind, and life to Jesus that night and his liberating, lifegiving, and powerful spirit filled me.
The next year the growth and spiritual transformation in my life was evident to all. My teachers would pull me aside in class and ask me what happened. I was a chronic screw up who either skipped my classes or came to class stoned and reeking of weed. The Lord set me free from drugs and a whole bunch of “none of your business” as I was consumed by his word and experiencing his presence.
That summer, after graduating high school, God started to call me into his service. I would have regular dreams of preaching before crowds, which to a shy introverted boy was terrifying. Nevertheless, at around 4:00 am in the morning after wrestling all night with God about this call, I yielded to him. The experience I had of his presence that night is still one of the most sacred and special moments of my entire life. I preached my first sermon two weeks later.
“A call to preach is a call to prepare,” my girlfriend’s father would regularly say to me. By this time I had been a believer for a couple of years and my girlfriend also gave her life to Christ. I really wanted to marry her but since she just graduated high school, we agreed to wait a little longer.
I went to college, 500 miles away, in the mountains of Kentucky. This was before the internet was common and only rich people had cell phones. I didn’t want to leave her, but I knew I needed to follow God’s call to school. We married the following year and started our lives together as poor college students at a little bible college in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. I continued to grow and as I grew so did my understanding of calling. God began to stir my heart for the nations. God also gave me a love and gift for academics. This culminated when I was walking through the woods by myself praying and surrendered to pursue a Ph.D. to teach the nations the word of God (I really had no idea what I was in store for me).
Fast forward, the following decade involved moving to Memphis, Tenn. to get an M.Div. and then to Wake Forest, N.C. to get a Ph.D. Those years were hard but good. We were poor. Not just a little poor, but we literally lived week by week and did without a lot of things. We learned God was faithful in every way. We moved and started over after developing relationships and getting established in a variety of ministry positions. Each move was met with uncertainty, financial struggle, and loneliness, but also blessings, growth, new relationships, and ministries. During these years, I was a children’s pastor, youth pastor, and senior pastor. My wife and I had five amazing children. Also, during these years, I sacrificed time, money, and a lot of effort to pursue my calling. Along the way, we experienced heartache, loss, disappointments, frustrations, and closed doors.
It wasn’t until God opened a door for me to teach at Oklahoma Baptist University that I fully experienced the fruition of the call that God placed on my life years beforehand. After serving at OBU, leading mission trips, writing books, and preaching weekly at churches all over the state for over a decade, God once again stirred my heart with his call. It happened quite literally with a phone call from Jamie Dew. While we were settled and satisfied where we were, God moved in our hearts for NOBTS and the city of New Orleans. We are now well into the first year here and I thank God every day that he called me here for such a time as this. I see his handiwork, presence, and power actively at work at NOBTS.
I say all this to make a simple point. Answer God’s call no matter how hard the path, how uncertain the outcome, or how long it may take—it is worth it. God is faithful. God is good. We belong to him and are called according to his purposes—in his way and in his time. There are two verses that have been an anchor to me for what it means to be called:
Dr. Alan Bandy is professor of New Testament and Greek.