When I entered the Christian faith, I stepped into a world of new and unusual language that made me feel at times like I did not belong. Of all the phrases or terms that Christians regularly used, none was used more often or made me feel more like I did not belong than “God is calling me to do x.”
God is calling? “I’m a new Christian,” I would think, “and God hasn’t called me to do anything, nor would I know what it was like for him to call me to do something.” I wouldn’t have dared let anyone know that.
As I grew in the Christian faith, I decided that not all Christians mean the same thing when using the phrase. I had to figure out, then, what it meant when the leaders around me said that they thought God was calling me to seminary. Why did they know that, and I did not?
More importantly, how do I know if other people’s claims for my life are true? Eventually, I understood God’s calling is much more complex than the general usage of the phrase, and what he calls you to is best understood as a three-fold check and balance. When examined, the three components can help you to discern God’s calling for your life.
The first two components are often the initiators of “God is calling me to x.” They are internal conviction and communal affirmation. Either of these might be first. In my case, the community told me that God’s calling for me was to attend seminary through various spiritual leaders in my life. Prayer and personal conviction came only after the community initiated my inquiry into God’s calling for my life. Often, this is not the case. People feel God’s calling toward a direction in life or decision before there is confirmation from their community.
Still, I would caution personal conviction without affirmation from spiritual leaders. Likewise, there is reason to question communal conviction without personal conviction. Look first at Saul’s kingship. When Israel wanted a king, God gave Israel a king (1 Sam 8). God’s response was, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.”
Consider second, Saul’s unlawful sacrifice (1 Sam 13). Saul did what he thought best for the community, and Samuel’s response was,
You have acted foolishly! You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for the Lord would now have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.
When we seek first the desires of our heart, we show our disinterest for the Kingdom of God. These two components help to balance interpretation of God’s desire.
The most important question, however, should always be “Is this biblical?” If God’s word explicitly prohibits something, then you ought to abstain. God’s Word is always the standard for all things good, and Jesus is the exemplar. God’s direct commands and ordinances go beyond individual calling, but for a personal calling, we must become accustomed to his voice to be able to instinctively react to it (Jn 10:27).
At the end of the day, we are all learning to be more sensitive to God’s calling in our lives and to abide in his will. I simply ask that the next time you want to do something, you distinguish your desire from God’s calling and be aware that participation in God’s will often means participation in fellowship with his body of believers. People, then, have three primary actions that can be taken that can open them to being sensitive to Gods calling: 1) silence and prayer, 2) surrounding ourselves in godly council, and 3) being in the Word daily to be familiar with what he has said.
Lastly, this article is a means for assessing a call from God, not a means of deciding if you should partake in it. When you understand your calling from God, then your duty to God’s ministry is always to partake in that calling. Understand God’s calling, then answer God’s calling.David Gamble is a Ph.D. student at NOBTS.