Recently someone asked me about how to determine the call of God on a person’s life. I have been pondering this question and this is an attempt to answer that question.
So how do I know that what I am doing with my life is God’s will for me? Is there a list of tasks with my name on the top which I can consult? If there were such a list I could look for the date and say, “Aha! Today is Sunday 20th April 2008 and I should exercise, pray and go to church to preach a sermon, followed by family time and free time in the afternoon.” This sounds like a camp schedule! In reality there is no list, but there is a relationship. That relationship is what Jesus laid his life down for. We relate to our heavenly Father because that is what people are made for; John 17:3, “Now this eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”.
“But”, you say, “Surely Jesus knew everything about the will of God”. Did he have access to the list? Sometimes we get the idea that Jesus automatically knew everything because he is God. This is not so. As Phil 2:7 says, “He made himself nothing”. Jesus did not enter the world with the list secretly tattooed to his left arm or carefully hidden in the back of his mind for him to access at will. As a human being Jesus had to discover the will of God just as you and I do.
How did he know what to do then? Firstly, Jesus grew in wisdom – he learned about who he was and what he was to do over time just as a human child/or adult does (Luke 2:40). Secondly, he read the scriptures and, through the Spirit of God, grew to understand what they said about him. So Jesus could read the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue (Luke 4:18ff) and say that the word had been fulfilled in their hearing. Thirdly, Jesus prayed a lot. Luke 6:12-16 records Jesus choosing his apostles. He spent the whole night in prayer and then he called the disciples to himself. He needed to ask his Heavenly Father who he should call because he did not simply know.
Applying these things for ourselves
Reading the scriptures
It is worthwhile getting a concordance and studying the word “call” to see what we are called to. I can’t go through all of that in one message so I will summarise. While there are several instances of people in the Bible who are called to specific vocations, there are some general things that every Christian is called to. Rom 6:7 called to belong to Jesus Christ, called to be saints (holy ones); Rom 8:28 called according to his purpose; 1Cor 1:9 called into fellowship with Jesus Christ; Gal 5:13 called to be free; Eph 4:4 called to one hope; Col 3:15 called to peace; 1Thess 2:12 called into the Kingdom of God and his glory; 1Tim 6:12 called to eternal life; 2Tim 1:9 called to a holy life; 1Pet 2:9 called out of darkness into light.
I give this as an example of the fact that the scriptures contain a vast amount of the will of God for you and for me. This is always our starting point when considering the will of God. This may be obvious but it is worth repeating so that we are brought back to the truth. God continues to speak through his Word every day and it is best to put ourselves in a place where we can hear what he says.
As I began this discussion with mention of relationship so we must speak of prayer. God does speak in his Word and we relate to him through the intimacy of prayer. Many of you are intercessors and no doubt you know how to pray. I still must direct you to prayer if you are seeking God’s will in a particular area of life.
Grace and Works
There is no list but there are works for us to do in this world. First we must understand that these works are part of God’s grace. Let’s look at Eph 2:8-10, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. We do not seek to do the will of God because if we are good people then God will reward us with heaven. The grace of God in Christ has wrought salvation and what we do cannot add to that.
Why do good works then? Some Mormons asked this very question of me last year. I was explaining that salvation is by grace and that all the Temple rituals and going on mission, etc could not bring salvation. If God saves you without works then why do good works? The answer is because of love. If someone is hungry and you feed him then what you have done changes that man’s life. This is the love of God in action. We act out of love because the Spirit of God enables us to love other human beings. These good works won’t bring salvation but they will change the world.
I spoke before about our interdependence in church and how God equips us with gifts to meet one another’s needs. These gifts which God gives are also for the benefit of the world. The church is equipped to serve the world because God loves humanity. God provides care for the world through the church. One way of finding your calling is to look at your gifts and find a way to minister to others with those gifts.
Wanting to find the will of God can sometimes be a desire to put meaning into life. We have the meaning of life: Jesus is the meaning of life. “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him”, Col 1:16. You and I exist because Jesus created us and we exist for him. We are for the pleasure of Jesus and for his glory. This is the meaning of life, not running around after something to do which makes us feel important.
Some time ago, while I was busy having a mid-life crisis for about the third time, I said to John Yates, “I am afraid that I will never accomplish anything with my life.” He told me that Jesus has accomplished it all on the cross. When Jesus was close to death, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The work of God has been fully completed by Jesus on the cross. To different degrees, Christians participate in this finished work of Christ. So we can be at peace; our Heavenly Father is able to grant us a share in the work of Christ so we do not need to fret about what we should do.
Having said this we need to have a right heart in order to know the will of God. The godless are unlikely to know the will of the Father because they have been given over to their sin and to following the desires of their own heart (Rom 1:18-32). Jesus gives us the example to follow as Heb 10:5-7 says, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.’” And again, a more familiar passage Rom 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is for spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
It is clear that our attitude must be that we seek to do the will of God in our bodies. The first thing that God desires is our obedience to him. When our hearts are right and willing to obey then we will know the good, pleasing and perfect will of God. We cannot know the will of God without this obedient heart.
God is in control of circumstances
Perhaps you think that is rather theoretical and not practical enough. I want to give you an example of how this works out in practice. But first I want to establish that God is in charge of the circumstances of your life – whether good or bad. Jesus told us that not one bird falls to the ground without the Father’s knowing. Surely God loves us more than the birds. I am going to give an OT example and a NT example and then one from my own life.
OT example: We are no doubt familiar with the story of Moses delivering Israel form Egypt. The Israelites thought that God had forgotten then and left them to rot in slavery. Not so. Hundreds of years earlier God spoke to Abraham and told him, “Know for certain that your descendents will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions.” (Gen 15:13-14). What happened to Israel was part of God’s plan and at all times they were in his hands.
NT example: In the first few chapters of Acts the church is enjoying the wonder of the fellowship and teaching and miracles. Then Stephen is stoned and the church is persecuted and scattered. This seems bad in contrast to what happened earlier but it is exactly what the church needed so that they would do the will of God. Jesus commanded them to preach the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) and it was not happening so God gave the church a shove. The result was Acts 8:4, “Those who were scattered preached the word wherever they went” and the will of God was done.
My own example
I want to tell you now about an example form my own life. In 1999 I was praying for a part time job because our youngest child had just started pre-school and we thought it would be a good idea to have a bit of extra money. I did get that part-time job in April 2000 but just before that something else happened that I was not expecting.
My mother-in-law gave me a voucher for a free copy of Today’s Christian Women – a magazine. I read the magazine and found it uninteresting. However, inside that magazine was an advertisement for a six week Bible study course with an institution in NSW. I don’t actually remember which. This interested me and I began to think about enrolling. But I began to wonder whether this course would be enough. Soon I began to investigate Bible Colleges around Perth and see what long term courses they had. I was sure that I wanted to study externally and one College that offered that was Tabor Adelaide. When I opened the Tabor handbook the Bachelor of Theology course fairly leapt out at me. Nothing else was even vaguely appealing.
Now all of this had happened quickly and I thought that doing a degree was a large commitment. All I had thought in the start was to do a six week course. I prayed about the decision but I did not tell anyone what I was thinking about. I asked others to pray but they did not know what about. I hoped that God would send someone with a prophetic word for me and that would be a confirmation. No such prophetic word has ever happened in regard to that decision.
Nonetheless I became increasingly sure that this was the will of God and enrolled in a Bachelor of Theology through Tabor Adelaide. So suddenly, instead of being a full-time mum I was working part-time and studying part-time.
I could go on and on about how God has directed me in this endeavour but I won’t. My point is that I discovered the will of God because God placed markers in my circumstances to lead me to where he wanted me. If my mother-in-law had not sent me that magazine it would not have entered my head to go to Bible College. God is fully able to direct each one of us if we put ourselves in a place where we listen to him. If we seek him and have a desire to do his will he will let us know how to proceed.