A few years ago I listened to a podcast of N. T. Wright teaching on Romans in a university in the US. One of his points jumped out at me and resonated strongly – when we are considering subjects like God’s will, calling, direction in life, etc. He pointed out that Paul wrote the letter to the Romans as a part of his strategy for a missionary trip to Spain. Rome would become his new base of operations. Of course, Paul never made the trip to Spain, he was martyred in Rome before it eventuated. Paul’s intention in writing the letter was for his missionary journey – God’s intention was that Paul write the book of Romans.
Calling is often like that. We have sense of call, of God’s intended purpose for our lives, and pursue that diligently. Then life gets in the way, circumstances change, things happen, and we wonder what on earth is going on? Doesn’t God know what he has called us to? How can his plans possibly succeed if we don’t fulfill this call on our life? What happens when we are called, and then it all seems to go wrong?
My life hasn’t worked out the way I thought it would when I sensed God call me into ministry forty years ago. I remember clearly being in a prayer meeting seeking God for direction in what to do when I finished school and his direction for my life. Although no one else in the prayer meeting heard anything, I felt that I actually heard the audible voice of God respond, “Can anything be greater than serving me?” And that did it, from that moment on my direction was Christian ministry. And not just Christian ministry, but if God was going to speak so clearly and directly to me then obviously I was being called into something so extraordinary that it would shake the world!!!
I didn’t. The world has remained largely unshaken by me. Through different seasons of ministry, the call I received as a fifteen year old still resonates with me, but God doesn’t seem to have paid much attention to the script that I imagined for my life. I feel a bit like Paul I guess, whatever I thought was going on in my life God had different plans. What I have learned about calling is that whatever we feel called to, whatever ministry or vocation, what is more important is who it is that has called us.
If the sense of call is directed towards achieving certain things, or even within a clearly defined vocation, then changes, challenges, or even opportunities can lead to feelings of failure or confusion. If, however, the sense of call is founded in the one who has called us, then the different seasons of life will only serve to shape and develop how that call is outworked.
As I reflect on my life there are still things I don’t understand, but more and more I understand why God did things the way he did, why he has shaped me in this way. And like Paul, I am confident that what God began he will complete (Phil. 1:7) in his own unexpected and ultimately fulfilling way.