Acts 9:3-6, “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (NIV)
“Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”, Acts 9:17 (NIV).
How do you know when God is specifically calling you to be a pastor or plant a church? How do you know where God wants you to go, when, and how? These are all questions that every pastor has or will face. These are questions that I have faced and they are questions I am facing again. Don’t you just wish we could have a Saul conversion with a follow-up vision, miracle and prophet who would just spell them out clearly for us? Unfortunately, for many, we make it much more difficult than what God may want it to be.
When I was a young man and wrestling with the decision as to whether God was calling me to the ministry or not, I had an older pastor tell me, “If you can be happy doing anything else, then you should do it. Don’t go into the ministry.” This answer disturbed me. Why would an older pastor, who had been in full-time ministry for so long, tell me to run from it? I realized later that he simply meant if you can be happy doing anything else, God is not calling you to full-time ministry. This is a good answer and wise advice to a certain degree. I found I could be happy doing other things…for a period of time.
As I have been struggling to find God’s will as to whether I should plant a church, I have found that there are some obvious signs that God sends our way. I say struggling, because I have been happy with my job, my church and my life…kinda. So saying, okay God, I surrender! was a tough decision. But I will tell you, the peace which followed was the final confirmation.
Here are some signs and obvious clues, as I have experienced them, that God is calling you to vocational ministry:
1. The Phone rings! The bells are loud and constant. Although not always clear, something will happen or occur that will get your attention. Noah saw the clouds; Abraham saw the casket; Moses had a burning bush; Jonah met a whale; David faced a giant; Joseph had a dream; Peter got an invitation; Paul went blind. I wish our phones would ring as obvious, but for many of these they didn’t recognize even the most obvious bells. However, in our call the ring will get your attention. Something will happen that will cause you to wonder, “Is God calling me?” It may be a spirit-moving revival. It could be the empty eyes of a homeless person. It may be a sudden dissatisfaction with your place in the church or your insatiable appetite to always want more. It may be an Ananias that God sends in your life to start the thoughts that God wants more from you. Whatever it is…You can be sure the phone will ring!
2. There will be static in he line. I believe that God will create a holy discontent for the church, a community or a need somewhere in your life that will Give God the Glory. I said earlier that I was happy…for a time. In every area of my life there has inevitably come a time that I was discontent. I don’t mean every-time you are unhappy with your job, God is calling you to the ministry. I do mean that out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, you become discontent with your job, your place, your purpose. You know there has to be more. What was once clear, now becomes somewhat unclear. I believe when God calls His people to ministry, at first, He will disrupt what was once clear.
3. Third-Party Lines. When I was a kid we had what was called a party-line on our phones. That meant several neighbors, 4-6, would share the same phone lines. You pick-up your phone to make a call, and somebody else would be on it. When God calls you to ministry, you can be sure He is stirring the hearts of others on your behalf and there will be several on the same call. He will cause others to say things to you to confirm the call, he may stir the hearts of others to join you in the call, and he may even give others the same message on the call that He is giving you.
4. There will be no doubt the call is for you. I spent a lot of time the past few years helping others in the ministry. I knew God wanted more from me, so I would just try to serve in other areas of ministry. Handing the phone to this person or that person, saying it’s for you. But when God kept moving in my heart that the call was for me and I said the words, “I surrender”, I knew the call was or me. I had a sudden realization that God created me for this moment. You can be sure God will ask for you by name.
You know you are called when you have such a passion that it is hard to focus or think about anything else except the particular ministry you desire. Also, if you are wrong about your call…you are still doing something honorable for God and THAT is never a bad thing. If you find out later that your were wrong about the call, what have you lost? A few years working for God? Not a bad decision, huh. Remember, God doesn’t want us to be in the dark so just listen-up, you’ll be fine.