Understanding God's Calling for Missionaries
Knowing God’s will. We talk about it, pray about it, even agonize over it. But we often do not feel like we know what God wants us to do. Yet Ephesians 5:17 says, “Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” We often make it much more mysterious then it needs to be. It is very possible to know and do God’s will.
Principle # 1 - To do God’s will, you need to be involved in His direction. James 1:7 says the person who is double-minded, not fully committed to God’s priorities, cannot expect direction from God. The Bible tells us a lot about what God’s will is. Things like: trusting Him to care for us rather than trusting the world’s system of taking care of us, connecting to His values rather than those around us, going to Him in dependent prayer that expects Him to act, and being on mission to see people around us and around the world come to know Him. If we don’t make these directions our own, we can’t expect God to guide us. When these are our values, the only question is, where among all the opportunities does God want me; What is my role in what He is doing?
Principle # 2 - God shows you what He wants you to do through who you are. Romans 12:3 tells us, within the context of getting involved in ministry, that we are to “think [of ourselves] so as to have sound judgment.” Five parameters help us think through our personal issues to see where we fit.
- Parameter # 1 - What are your gifts and abilities? Romans 12: 3-8 says that we are to be involved in ministry according to “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” If God wants you to do something, He will gift you for it. So look at your gifts and abilities for evidence of what God may be calling you to do. If you “feel called” to a particular ministry, but see no evidence that God has gifted you for it, you need to re-examine your feelings.
- Parameter # 2 - What are your circumstances? Our circumstances include issues like health, marriage, and people who depend on us. In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul tells the Corinthians that God has shaped their individual circumstances, so they should not fight to change them, but serve God through them. Yet they are to act wisely, not passively. The Bible is full of God’s plans for relationships and the obligations that come with them. We also see God using sickness to shape people for His glory. God is sovereign. He has allowed everything in your life. He calls each of us to fulfill our obligations in a way that honors Him and to live wisely in light of what He has allowed in our lives.
- Parameter # 3 - What is your local church telling you? God does not call us to be “Lone Rangers” or a single-celled organism. We are connected to, are cells of, a body. So we need to be talking to our “body.” 1 Tim. 3:1-13 shows us that our spiritual family needs to evaluate our desires against our track record. The desire by itself is not enough. God confirms direction through our body’s evaluation. No matter what thoughts, ideas, or hopes we have, God will use our local church to help shape and mold those and give us perspective.
- Parameter # 4 - What is God’s Spirit saying to you? In Galatians 5:16-25, the key to obedience is not getting the right list of rules to keep, but “keeping in step with the Spirit.” When in the crucible of making choices about behavior, listen to Him and do what He tells us. The Spirit does not just tell us what to avoid so as not to sin, but also the positive steps He want us to do. There is a subjective inner working of the Spirit that we need to listen to. Going through the first three parameters can narrow the millions of opportunities down to a hundred. Of the hundred, which is the best for you? Sometimes you just need to listen to the Spirit. This usually feels like an option that resonates in your heart and that you keep coming back to. This leading, though, always has to be worked through the first three parameters. So many things can feel like God’s Spirit leading when in fact it may be our own desires, our own ideas, or our own needs talking.
- Parameter # 5 - What step of faith are you called to take? Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). At some point, Abram had to quit talking about God’s leading and walk out through the gates of Ur, even though he did not know where he was going (Heb. 11:8). God calls us to depend on Him, so He rarely tells us about 10 steps down His path for us. He calls us to take that first step and trust Him with the rest. Don’t get hung up on the possibility of missing “God’s very best.” Don’t get caught in the American consumerism trap of playing the options, waiting for something that might be a bit better. Don’t get stuck waiting for God to show you all about His will so you can choose if you want to do it [He does not operate that way!]. Pray! Think! But then, act! It does not matter which option you pick if it fits the parameters and is moving in the direction God calls us to go.
Principle # 3 Make a plan, start following it, but give it to God and let Him lead. Proverbs 16:9; 3:5,6; and 16:1-3 assume that you do make a plan but tell you to trust God, not your plan. After working through the five parameters, pick a ministry or a direction. What would it take to get there from where you are? Start taking those steps. God directs people who are actually moving in a direction. Too many people are waiting to see what God wants them to do rather than taking steps in a direction and letting God lead them from there. God is more interested in you taking steps of faith than the actual direction you are going. As you say “yes” to Him, He will direct your steps to exactly the place He wants you. But you only find out which doors God has opened or closed by trying to go through them. Look at the example of Paul in Acts 15:36 – 16:10. Where did God want Paul to end up? In Macedonia. But God used Paul’s plan to revisit the churches and his desire to reach first Asia (south west from the original churches), then Bithynia (northwest) to move Paul to the far west, where He then made clear His plan for Paul.
Principle # 4 Target the option where the fewest people will go and that fits who you are. I have one life, one chance to make a difference. Wouldn’t it make sense to try to invest it in a place where no else will, rather than in a place where there are 10 or 15 others who will do it if you don’t? Push the boundaries. Investigate the options. Ask God to broaden your vision. I don’t want to come to the end of my life with lots of “what ifs”! “What if I would have aimed out further, tried harder, trusted more, protected myself less?” I want to come to the end saying, “I pushed the boundaries and I saw God confirm His plan each step of the way.” If you aim way out there, but give God your plan, He will shape your path and get you exactly where He wants you.
Principle # 5 Don’t sweat the details. Do your planning based on what God had shown you through His word, through an awareness of yourself and His call on your life, and through an awareness of the world. Don’t worry about the details of how it is all going to happen. Many people allow their concerns to keep them from moving forward. Things like “How will I raise support?”; “How will my children be schooled?”; or “How will I get married?” become barriers. These are important issues. They do need proper attention. But trust God. He will work out the details. In Philippians 4:13, Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul wasn’t saying, “I can do everything and anything I want.” Rather, Paul is saying, “Whatever ministry God has called me to, I will be able to do, because it is God who will strengthen me to do it. I’m not dependent on others to allow me to do my ministry. I’m only dependent on God and He has promised He will give me the strength to do it.” God knows you. He knows your future. He knows all the costs and the rewards of what He is calling you to do. And He already has worked out all the solutions to all the problems. Trust Him.
Now what? Get in step with God’s direction. Pray hard. Think clearly. Listen well. Plan wisely. And get moving. You will be doing God’s will!
Are you ready to begin your journey in cross-cultural ministry?