The story of Moses and the burning bush is the iconic example of God calling someone to accomplish His purposes in this world. Unfortunately, it has also led many people to delay following God’s call as they wait for that same kind of miraculous, heavenly message or sign before they get involved in ministry.
You may have heard someone say, “God will have to give me a burning bush if He wants me to do that!” That experience was pivotal for Moses and the eventual deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, but it is not the only way God has chosen to call His people into service.
It is vital for missionaries to have a strong sense of calling as they are being sent out to serve the Lord. Missionary attrition rates are high, which is why many missionary sending agencies rate “a strong sense of calling” as a top priority when vetting missionary candidates. The hope is that those who are sent out with a well-grounded sense of God’s call on their life can endure many things because, even when difficulties arise, they can cling to the knowledge that their suffering and hardship have meaning and purpose.
Throughout Scripture, the Lord interacts with His people in a variety of ways. Consider these three beloved characters of the faith:
Moses heard God audibly (Exod 3:2–10)
David was anointed by God’s prophet (1 Sam 16:1–13)
Paul was affirmed in his calling by church elders (Acts 13:1–3)
As a practical way to help a new generation of Christ followers hear and obey the call of God on their lives, let’s look at seven different call experiences from Scripture:
Leaders in the church can become mentors and teachers for those who are less mature in the faith simply by caring, being available, and investing in their spiritual development
1. Invitational. Jesus gave a personal invitation to several fishermen: “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17 ESV). Those men recognized Jesus as a religious leader and sought to become his disciples. Leaders in the church can become mentors and teachers for those who are less mature in the faith simply by caring, being available, and investing in their spiritual development. What an amazing thing for a young person to hear, “I sense that the Lord is doing something in your life, and I would like to invite you to join me as we serve Him together.”
2. Scriptural. The Bible has the power to transform the lives of God’s people. It chronicles the story of how God has called His chosen ones throughout history. Many people have read passages like Matthew 28:18–20, Acts 1:8, or Luke 10:2 and have accepted those directives personally. According to Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditation, and solitude help to open hearts and minds to receive God’s call to fulfill His purposes on earth.
3. Supernatural. We must remain open to the possibility that God can work in ways that are beyond the natural realm and our limited and logical understanding. This type of call is given in those moments that defy logic or reason (consider the calls of Moses, Jonah, Elijah, Paul, etc.). There are certainly abuses that take place in some “strange fire” circles regarding the supernatural, but how can we deny the God of all creation the opportunity to communicate with His “called-out ones” by way of visions, dreams, and the occasional burning bush?
We must remain open to the possibility that God can work in ways that are beyond the natural realm and our limited and logical understanding.
4. Experiential. Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God launched a generation of Christian workers. This study centers on the idea that God can speak to us as we “read the signs” that are all around us. Like a missionary in a foreign culture, we intentionally study the world around us with our five temporal senses to discover what God is doing. Then, with determination and willpower, we join Him in His work. All along the way, we abide in the Lord and remain sensitive to where His Spirit is leading next.
5. Affirmational. The Lord always provides affirmations to guide and direct His servants as they follow His call. Proverbs 3:5–6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” It is natural to feel confused and want answers to our many questions, which is why God calls His people to assemble in the community called “The Church,” where fellow believers affirm and encourage one another. Remember that, even though Paul received his personal calling directly from the Lord, the leaders of the church at Antioch heard from the Lord also and were able to affirm his call (Acts 13:1–3).
6. Personal. God’s calling is unique and individually designed for each person. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (emphasis added). God prepares us personally for the work He has in store for us, sometimes way before His calling is revealed. Someone trained to be an accountant may be confused about how God can use that ability for Kingdom work. Then they discover that churches and missionary agencies need people who are skilled at working with numbers. Those with psychology degrees are specially equipped to provide care and counseling for missionaries. Farmers can use agriculture as a way to gain access to developing nations that are closed to traditional missionaries. And the list goes on. If you are considering missions, then seek out an occupational assessment tool that includes spiritual gifts, background, experiences, passions, desires, and abilities to help you narrow down the world of opportunities that exists for being on mission with God.
God prepares us personally for the work He has in store for us, sometimes way before His calling is revealed.
7. Circumstantial. Sometimes the call of God can come when you least expect it. The book of Esther recounts the story of an unlikely hero, Queen Esther. Because of her particular circumstances, she was the only person who could effect a certain outcome (the salvation of her alienated people). Even though God is never mentioned in this story, His sovereign arrangement of circumstances to work through His people for their deliverance is certainly evident. A key verse for our topic recounts the words of Esther’s uncle Mordecai: “If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place” (4:14). Consider what your current circumstances might be revealing about the work God wants you to do. Are there refugees who have suddenly arrived in your neighborhood? Is your local church focused on an unreached people group? Are there short-term mission trip opportunities that will take you out of your comfort zone and show you foreign fields that are “white and ready to harvest”?
God’s purposes on this earth will be accomplished, regardless of whom He uses to make it happen. He invites us to be a part of His work, but He will not force anyone into labor. Many times, God calls us into something that we’re unprepared for or not expecting, but we must trust in His leading.
What would the world be like if the men and women we read about in Scripture had not surrendered their lives to the service of the Lord? What will the world be like if we don’t surrender our own lives to the call of God?
*This article is adapted with permission from David and Lorene Wilson’s Pipeline: Engaging the Church in Missionary Mobilization.
David J. Wilson (DMin) and his wife, Lorene, have served together in the local church since 1996. David was a missions pastor for over twenty years. They currently live in Kansas City, MO, where David serves as the Director of Church Engagement at Avant Ministries. They have written three books together: Pipeline: Engaging the Church in Missionary Mobilization; Mind the Gaps: Engaging the Church in Missionary Care; and Transforming Missionaries: A Short-Term Mission Guide.