I think one of the most fascinating aspect of the Christian life for a person redeemed by the blood of Jesus is the question of God’s calling. Study of God’s calling in Scripture seems to reveal no super-consistent pattern by which we can predict the call of God. Yet we often have preconceived notions about the what, the why and how of God’s calling. It receives no small attention from Pastors, authors of theology, bloggers, and the Jesus following Church member. I think that’s because it’s almost in no way theoretical and is extremely personal. Within God’s calling we find our guidance, our direction, our source of adventure, assurance and peace. We know God wants the best for us, so it’s naturally exciting when He shows up in a situation.
I wonder if the Apostle Paul got energized and excited when one night he had a vision in a dream. Within it he sees a man of Macedonia who is urging him and saying “Come over here and help us!” Paul is already on a missionary journey and is already ministering to people whom God had called him to minister to. But now God is issuing Paul new directions. “You’re now needed over here Paul.” I wonder if Paul had similar expectations as we often have. I wonder if Paul began to envision what this new opportunity would mean for him. I wonder if his expectations were high.
A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:9-10)
So Paul gets to Macedonia and he’s barely gotten acquainted with this new city and he gets seized and dragged before the rulers. I wonder if he thought, “Oh great-an opportunity to witness before the rulers!” However, before Paul and Silas know it they’re being handed over to the jailer and thrown into prison.
They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers…they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. (Acts 16:19-24)
I wonder if Paul asked God what He was doing. I imagine I would have been asking God what He was thinking. This, after all, was not the plan. Paul was there to preach the gospel! Paul was there to plant a church! Paul was there because they needed help! Paul had followed God’s call and before he knew it, following that call landed him in prison. This is the point where many of us might have thrown our hands up in the air and said, “That’s it God! This is not what I signed up for when I agreed to follow you!!!” It rarely is what we thought we agreed to, isn’t it? Even though Jesus challenges us to count the cost and warns us that following Him is not easy and that we will be hated and persecuted we often act surprised when trouble falls upon us when we follow God’s calling. While I might have given up, Paul doesn’t, he prays and praises the Lord.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened…the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. (Acts 16:25-32)
It’s a good thing too, because God’s plan is far bigger than I would have thought if I was in Paul’s shoes. You see God wasn’t planning on Paul and Silas being in jail for long; they didn’t even have to last through the night. God had called and God had a plan. While it might have broken the expectations Paul had, it was exactly what God had in mind to bring Himself the most glory. I wonder how often I get comfortable in ministry and God really wants to put me into a spot where I’m forced to depend on Him and step out in faith. What if God is calling you to a new place where He wants you to be used outside your comfort zone? What if this place brings deeper hurts and rougher hardships for His glory? What if God’s plan includes both greater heights of joy and deeper depths of pain? The future is His so when He calls I will follow regardless of the cost because I know He will get the glory. It’s His ministry and work after all, so regardless of the path He takes me down any fruit He wants for Himself will be His doing and not mine anyways.
I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)
It doesn’t matter how God chooses to implement planting and watering. It doesn’t matter if He uses my pain or your suffering for His glory. It doesn’t matter if He blesses us with great wealth for His glory or gives us a burden of poverty for His honor. What matters is that God is the one who calls. What matters is that we are faithful to plant seeds and to water as called. What matters is that God will make the growth happen. Our job is to follow Him and to be obedient to His calling. Paul’s suffering leads to the jailer and his household coming to a saving relationship with Jesus. His suffering gives an opportunity for God to show up. Paul’s suffering might not have been what he had in mind when God called him, but his suffering gives opportunity to glorify God and leads to the salvation of lost souls.