"When did you receive the call?" That's the question young, aspiring ministers ask seasoned pastors. "The call" has come to signify the very moment the pastor knew God wanted him or her to minister and shepherd a flock.
Biblically, the most evident passage referencing "the call" is the Apostle Paul's Damascus road experience. In Acts 9, we read about God's miraculous conversion of Saul, a religious leader who persecuted followers of The Way. Speaking of Saul, the Lord said to Ananias, "Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel" (Acts 9:15). In what seems like an instant, Brother Saul wais filled with the Holy Spirit, had his name changed, had blinders physically and spiritually removed from his eyes, was baptized, physically nourished himself to regain strength, and went off to begin preaching (Acts 9:17-22). That is "the call"—a unique, divine assignment given by God for his purposes, which requires faithful and active obedience, unwavering commitment, and devotion from the one called.
When pondering "the call" on this particular day, however, I was questioning neither a pastor nor an apostle, for divine callings are not limited to those offices of leadership. I was interviewing a university professor of divinity. He knows he is called to teach because he feels the same anointing of the Holy Spirit—that mighty rushing wind—in the classroom that his colleagues feel when they are proclaiming the truth of God's Word from the pulpit. In the classroom, teaching students, is where he feels most alive, like he is fulfilling his purpose on this earth. Not only is he anointed to teach; he is also good at it. He is a good professor because he has been prepared and equipped to do the work well.
A divine calling is first birthed out of conviction. God miraculously does a work—either immediately or progressively—on a person's heart, and that work propels the person into action. Many refer to Paul's Damascus road experience as the immediate heart-change of God. Certainly, this is where the Holy Spirit entered Paul's heart. However, the Father had been progressively and relentlessly pursuing Paul long before then. Paul's heart had always belonged to God; his vision was just a little distorted. Before Paul had an intimate encounter with Jesus on the road, the Father was preparing Paul through his birthright, citizenship, faith tradition, language studies, work, education, and life experiences. God's sovereign hand was at work in Paul's life from the beginning, aligning every piece to build Paul's character so he would be the faithful man God called to preach good news to the Gentiles.
And so it is with us. In his book A Work of Heart, Reggie McNeal recognizes that God uses culture, community, communion, conflict, and the commonplace to shape every leader's heart and define his or her calling. He writes, "The call is a mystery. It begins and ends with God, but it loops through a very human individual. It is personal, but bigger than the person. The call comes out of who we are as well as shaping who we are. It has both being and doing components…Those who describe themselves as called mean that they have made a commitment of life into God's service, to be at his disposal, to be in his employ for the efforts of accomplishing his agenda." It is important to know that each Christian, leadership title or not, has a specific calling on his or her life.
Once convicted, the anointing (or symbolic power and presence of the Holy Spirit) is what passionately drives the leader to faithfully continue the work. A true calling can be sustained only by abiding in Christ and totally depending on him. If "ministry" efforts can continue without a leader drawing near to God through constant surrender in prayer, and the faithful study of his Word, it is not real ministry at all, and it's most certainly not a calling. A divine calling cannot be self-contained by any human being. A true calling requires God to jump-start the effort and God's presence to sustain it.
The privilege of being called and anointed is a great responsibility, and it is also a reminder of how deeply we all need God. Every great biblical leader, from Moses to David and the prophets to Jesus and the Apostle Paul, understood this. The anointing of God keeps us. "For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ" (1 John 2:27b).
Through alignment and anointing, God sets us on track to pursue the vision and purpose he has for each of our lives. Our acceptance of that calling means that we say yes to God and fearlessly abandon anything that does not work toward his ends. We can answer the call of God with confidence, knowing that God does not waste anything. He uses every strength, weakness, heartache, success, relationship, and experience to shape our hearts, to draw us closer to him, and to equip us to fulfill our life's calling. God created us for his work, has already prepared the work for us to do (Ephesians 2:9), and will glorify himself through the work of our hands (Matthew 5:16).
Have you accepted God's calling for your life?
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson a full-time student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC campus (Christian Leadership). She also serves as co-director of the women's mentoring ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a blogger, a writer, and the founder and President for His Glory on Earth Ministries. You can connect with Natasha through her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.