I was speaking with a someone today, uncertain about their calling. In the beginning process of exploring the road they felt the Lord place on their heart, this person expressed misgivings about whether the Lord had called and whether they were equipped for such a task.
This person, without much prodding or reminding, recited this truth themself so they are on great footing. The discussion was insightful and made me want to explore more on this issue.
“The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29.
The passage cited above is about Israel. Paul recites Israel’s being the subject of promises which God will never forsake. Thus, there is a future salvation for ethnic Jews (that is, those who will one day in this world embrace Christ). How does this relate?
When God places a call, he does something which is unmistakable and distinct. Paul describes himself as “set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom 1:1) even “from my mother’s womb” (Galatians 1:15). Is the servant of God any different? His call was so remarkable that he could say “necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). This is a call that cannot be missed.
Paul was an apostle which few would debate is a unique role. How can we say today’s persons called to serve Christ are set apart in an incredible way like him? Indeed, even if we extend this sort of set-apart distinction to (biblically speaking: male) pastors, what about the women of the church? Are they likewise set apart in this extraordinary way? Do those who are not called to the offices of the church (elder, deacon – biblically reserved for males) have such a call upon them?
I think that those who set themselves apart to seek the Lord can have a call placed upon them. Even Saul of Tarsus was once a simple disciple and only after a period of proven faithfulness could he say,
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,” (1 Tim 1:12).
Thus there was a period when Paul was just being a faithful believer and from there the Lord laid on him his apostleship.
In terms of particular calls for non-church office holders, consider the account of William Wilberforce. He was an English politician who after his conversion considered resigning his public office to pursue full-time ministry. John Newton discouraged him from doing so saying in a letter,
“It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and for the good of the nation.”Letter from December 7, 1785. Cited in John Pollock’s William Wilberforce (David C Cook, 2013).
Wilberforce heeded the counsel and threw himself into the life of politics for the glory of God. Wilberforce made the abolishment of slavery in Britain his life’s ambition. It was far from certain that this would be the case, however. Writing from his deathbed in 1791, John Wesley wrote to Wilberforce saying,
Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.Cited from CT.
Clearly the call of God, and special empowering of God was required to do conquer the slaveholding powers, as Wesley saw clearly. Because in 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act made slavery a crime throughout British Empire, there are special empowerings for non-church office holders which God himself empowers . Wilberforce died only three days after it was passed, having spent himself on the duty.
You may be set apart for a particular task which only you and God know. Whatever it is, when that call comes it will be unmistakable because if God calls you, it’s “irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). Some of the more interpretive translations helpfully clarify, “God never changes his mind when he gives gifts or when he calls someone” (GWT). You just can’t miss it. God promises here. Set yourself apart to serve the Lord with the whole of your life and his desires, whether in that task or something else he calls to, will grasp you and not let you go until you do all his good purpose. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17).