Jeremiah 1 vs.4-10 (ESV)
4 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”
9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Romans 12 vs.3-8 (ESV)
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Luke 3 vs.21-22 (ESV)
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
I used to teach that God calls us to perform a particular task and gives us the gifts to perform that task. This is true, but such a task-centred approach is hopelessly inadequate to express the depths of what it means to be called in Christ.
For example, in giving instructions about marriage and singleness Paul says, “I wish that all of you were as I am (unmarried). But each of you has your own gift (charisma) from God; one has this gift, another has that…. let each person lead the life… to which God has called him.” (1 Cor 7:6, 17).
A Christian is called and spiritually gifted to be either single or married but this is not a call to a mere task but to a profound state of life. Marriage and singleness, like every part of life, are a “call” to serve God’s great “purpose… to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (8:28-29), many brothers and sisters just like him.
The subject of the call and gifts of God is so intimately related to Jesus that only the Lord can teach us about them in depths of our being (cf. Ps 42:7). In outlining Israel’s rejection of the gospel Paul can still say about who they are, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Rom 11:29).
The call and gifts of God stamp us with an indelible identity. For us they reside in the core of what it means to follow Jesus.
A Brief History of Calling
God’s original call, ““Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Gen 1:28), established the life vocation of humanity. Adam and Eve were to communicate God’s communication across the world by means of his supernatural gifts and presence.
When however Satan deceived human beings to seek their own glory and purpose (Gen 3:5) they abandoned the glorious call of God and no longer sought his spiritual gifts to fulfil this call (Rom 3:23).
This has left lost people with a “future shaped blank” inside them, a blank which they will try to fill in with all sorts of optimistic hopes infinitely less wonderful than the purposes of God e.g. big win on Lotto, job promotion, holidays, retirement. The Lord of all however cannot be silenced and keeps issuing a call which shapes and reveals the character of our true human identity.
The Bible has many famous call stories. Abraham called from his homeland to a land of promise (Gen 12:1- 3), Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3:1- 12), the boy Samuel (1 Sam 3), Isaiah in the temple (Isa 6:1- 13), the prophets Jeremiah (Jer 1:4 – 10), Ezekiel (Ezek 1:1ff.) and Amos (Am 7:14 -15), the apostles Peter, James, John by the Sea of Galilee (Mk 1:16- 20; Luke 5:1-11), Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus (Acts 26:12 – 18).
There is no record of any human qualification, initiative or legitimate objection to God’s call in these stories. Strikingly, in almost every case the called person expresses a deep sense of inadequacy. I’m a poor speaker says Moses, a sinner says Isaiah, too young says Jeremiah and so on (Ex 3:13; 4:1,10,14; Isa 6:5; Jer 1:6- 8; Am 7:14; Luke 5:8).
When confronted by a genuine call of God we naturally feel shamefully disqualified from, as Paul puts it, “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). When the great Scottish Reformer John Knox received a call to be a pastor he burst forth into tears ran out of the room and withdrew from society for days.
When called to ordination the famous preacher George Whitfield exclaimed, “I am unfit to preach in thy great name, send me not, pray, Lord.” We are all incompetent to be called of God but the call itself contains a grace which enables us to accomplish it (cf. Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 1:1; Phil 2:13). To best understand the inner reality of calling and gifting we must talk about Jesus’ own call.
The Call of Jesus
The Old Testament prophesied of the coming Servant of the LORD called from the womb of his mother to bring light to the nations (Isa 42:6; 49:1). Jesus’ calling may be from eternity but it is first manifested at his baptism. “vs.21 when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, vs.22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:21- 22).
Jesus’ own call story echoes multiple Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah; the language of sonship drawn from Psalm 2:7 confirms to Christ he has a vocation from the Father to rule the nations; the expression “beloved Son” from Genesis 22:2 testifies that he must complete Isaac’s call in Gen 22:2 to be a sacrificial lamb (cf. John 1:29).
The gift of the Spirit identifies him as the empowered Servant of the LORD of Isaiah 42:1 who in the delight of God will bring justice to the nations. Every dimension of the life of Jesus marks him out as called and chosen and faithful (cf. Rev 17:14).
As soon as Jesus obeys his own call at baptism he manifests authority to call others to be his disciples; an authority reached completion when he was raised from the dead following his great obedience to the call of the cross (Mark 1:9-15, 16-20; Matt 28:18-20).
The Call of the Heart
To be called by Jesus involves a full sharing of his life and supernaturally gifted ministry; “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor 1:9).
This inclusive communion with Christ explains why the New Testament frequently links our calling to glory; “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess 2:14 cf. 1 Thess 2:12; 1 Pet 5:10; 2 Pet 1:3).
Our call is as extensive as the identity of Jesus himself; “do not be ashamed”, Paul says to the Thessalonians, “vs.8 of the testimony about our Lord…but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, vs.9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim 1:8-9). Whilst we experience the call of God at a certain point in our lives the origin of our call is as ageless as Christ himself (cf. Eph 1:4).
Looking at our call through the lens of Jesus own call is the key to understanding; as Jesus was called the holy Son of God from his conception (Luke 1:32) it follows that prophets and apostles had an overwhelming consciousness they were set apart by God before birth (Jer 1:4-5; Gal 1:15).
This foundational reality is not limited to special saints; Psalm 139 testifies God formed all of us in our mother’s womb and laid out the course of our lives (Ps 139:13-16). To have insight into these realities will amaze and overwhelm us.
Christian service through the gifts of God is not a part of life but an expression of the life of Christ. Called to be like Christ our lives are not our own but lives on a mission (Rom 8:28 – 29; 1 Cor 1:9). Immersed in prayer Hudson Taylor had a sense that God had accepted him for some special service, “A deep consciousness that I was not my own took possession of me which has never since been effaced.” (1 Cor 6:19-20). He was called to be the pioneer of Protestant mission in China. The call of God is deeper than life itself.
I remember some years ago going through a period of unease about where I “fitted” in the Church. Just before an appointment I received a card which had a picture on it of a flower unfolding and with multiple coloured stripes on its side. (This reminded me of a revelatory experience I had years before concerning the wisdom of God.)
Then in the appointment I was given a prophetic word to the effect; “None of us know who we are, God is opening to you who he knows you to be”. Immediately I had a profound sense this was true and the Lord was going to give revelations to open my heart to express his glory. God’s call is a call to do good to others through the gifts he gives us, in obeying this call we discover who we are in Christ.
We receive the gift of our true identity and discover that the Lord has already formed our hearts in relation to the particular task to which he has entrusted us. Which is why the task is not a “job to be done” but an expression of our/Holy Spirit’s passion for Jesus.
We are joyfully astonished to find that the call and its gifts perfectly fit, not what we think about ourselves or what others think of us, but how from eternity the Father has seen us and how he has planned to form us in the likeness of the beloved Son with whom he is well pleased and to whom he has given the Spirit. All so wonderful! But only the suffering God’s call brings can teach us these things.
Call and Comfort/Suffering
The cost of all ministry is an involvement in the work of the cross e.g. 2 Cor 4:7-12. The struggle to obey the call to discipleship is not just the resistance of our rebellious humanity but a special sharing in the struggle of Jesus in Gethsemane to obey the will of the Father (Mark 14:36).
The glory of exercising the gifts of God is that while they are costless to their recipients they always involve a cost to the bearer of the gift. Genuine pastoral care in the likeness of the crucified Christ involves empathetic pain (cf. Gen 1:26; Heb 5:2), bringing words of judgement involves a pain in having to cause pain to others (e.g. 2 Cor 13:1-10), there’s agony when men and women reject the gospel (cf. Luke 13:34-35), and so on.
Such pains are unavoidable because we share in the calling of Jesus, who said; ““Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” (Luke 24:26 cf. Eph 3:13)
In a wickedly deceptive hour when people are taught they can define their own identity the difficult but glorious truth is that God’s call alone establishes our true self-understanding.
The man in the Gospels who confidently said to Jesus, ““I will follow you wherever you go.”” (Luke 9:57) failed to become a disciple.
But when it is revealed God’s call in Christ is overwhelming and irresistible; “the love of Christ leaves us no choice, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. But for Christ, who died and was raised for them.” (2 Cor 5:14-15).
Obedience to the call of God in Christ is his glorious remedy for the shame of originally rejecting his vocation for our lives. And we can rest in the truth, as Luther put it, “If God has need of you he will surely call you.“
If all these things are so wonderfully true so why then do we find such passivity in relation to the presence and power of the call and gifts of God across the Church?
Some haven’t been taught that all believers are called and gifted (1 Cor 7:7; 1 Pet 4:10), others are tangled up in a worldliness that excludes paying heed to the difficult call of God (Matt 6:21).
The most inwardly destructive opposition to living in the call and gifts of the Lord is our inclination to listen to the voice of our own conscience and the opinions of others about who we are rather than listening to the voice of God.
Let’s turn aside from every evaluation of our ability to perform a task that God might put before us, and turn to the one who alone has all the ability to call and gift us for a ministry tailored to our true identity, Christ.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: Alive@5 06th May, 2018
Author: Dr. John Yates
MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: 06th May, 2018
Related Link: Where has the Spirit Gone?
Part 1: Groaning is a Gift for Glory
Part 2: Call and Gifts
Part 3: In the Spirit