Clay Jars

Honestly, this whole idea of being a worthless clay jar can be somewhat discouraging. After all, a clay jar is fragile and can only withstand so much before it shatters. It can only be dropped or chipped or cracked so much before it comes apart all together and then there’s nothing left. Have you ever been at that point where you feel you just can’t take another hit or you’re going to come apart? I know I have. Okay… I’m there now.

Fortunately, we’re not alone in our discouragement. When Paul started writing the epistle of 2 Corinthians, he talked about receiving comfort of Jesus Christ in his troubles. And these were not just some little or light troubles because in verse 8 Paul says that he was weighed down with a burden that was beyond his ability to bear. As if to clarify how serious these troubles were, Paul says that he “despaired even of life/living.” In other words, Paul’s burdens were so crushing that he felt he was going to die. In v. 9 he said that he felt like he was living out a death sentence – that at any moment it was all going to come to an end. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s actually encouraging to me. That a spiritual “giant” like the Apostle Paul actually went through a time when he felt like his trials were going to kill him. I don’t know if this trial was something physical, emotional, or spiritual, other than that in 7:5 Paul said that there were “conflicts on the outside and fears within.” Paul was at such a loss during this extremely difficult time that he didn’t even know if he was going to make it through. Whew… so it’s not just me.

But what’s helpful to me is what Paul says immediately after this, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God…” Touché. The fact is that if God is going to break me, His clay jar, there’s nothing that I can do to keep myself together. So often, I feel like I have to keep it all together since that’s the respectable thing to do. After all, what would happen if everyone saw me come apart? Well, like we mentioned the last time, a lot of that depends on what’s in my jar. But if I’m filled with the treasure, then when I come apart people are going to see and get even more of the treasure. And that is the goal, right?

I believe that in my situation right now, God is trying to teach me this. He is teaching me to rely on Him and not on myself or worldly wisdom (1:12). He is teaching me that I am not competent to do anything on my own (2:16), but the competency comes because Christ has made me competent (3:5-6). And to teach me all that He has had to crack me and poke holes in me and break me in order to bring me to the point where I am dependent on Him and not on me. I just hope that I’m truly learning the lesson.

But another thing that I find interesting is that Paul says that we rely on God because He delivers us (1:10-11) and also because he raises the dead (1:9, 4:14). That is to say that we can have a double confidence in God. He can keep us, the clay jar, from going through the process of being broken or, if He smashes us, He can also put us back together. But we are powerless to do either and thus we must place all our confidence in Him, knowing that God is good and will use us in the way that He knows is best to further the gospel of His grace.

It is for this reason that Paul says twice in chapter 4 (v. 1, 16), “Therefore we do not lose heart.” Even though we may be cracked and coming apart, we must realize that we are being used by God to further the gospel of His grace and we must be drawing closer to him through the difficulties. And when we look at things through this eternal lens, we see that the burdens which had previously caused us to “despair even of life/living” are now nothing more than “light and momentary.” Hmmm… at this point, a light and momentary load sounds pretty good.


Clay Jars

So, I’ve been thinking about this idea of being a clay jar. The fact is that in our own pride, none of us really want to be a clay jar. We might say that we’re fine with that, but deep down most of us don’t really want it. Oh we’ll give the acceptable answer and say, “As long as God is glorified He can do anything He wants with me” but when God really does do “anything He wants” with us, we chafe because deep down we don’t like being a clay jar. Like MacArthur said, “they’re cheap, common, breakable, replaceable, valueless, and ugly” – not really words that I want people using to describe me. If I were to be really honest, I’d say, “I don’t really wanna be a clay jar. Let me be something made from a little bit nicer material or at least dress me up – put some nice painting on me or carve a real cool design in me. But not some common, ugly, nasty ol’ clay jar. What good is that? Who’s gonna want that?”

And if that’s not enough not only do we have to be a clay jar, but we get used like one too! Since we’re just a simple clay jar, people aren’t going to treat us like anything special. They’re not going to dress us with all the trappings or give us all the niceties. No way! They’re going to give us their trash and their filth. They’re going to leave us outside in the rain. They’re going to drop us (sometimes intentionally) and we’re going to crack and break. Who wants to be treated like that? Not me! My pride would rather have me be a nice gold or silver vase (at least gold plated) that gets put up on a shelf where people can’t touch me and where I can be admired.

This has brought me back to verse seven of 2 Corinthians 4 – “We have this treasure in jars of clay.” Why in the world would God put His treasure in clay jars? Why not put his treasure in jars worthy of holding it? Okay, technically there’s no jar worthy to hold His treasure, but why not gold or silver or fine china? Seriously, who’s going to put treasure in a clay pot that could crack or break? But that’s exactly what God did and I think a couple verses later we get a clue as to why.

In both verses 10 and 11 of chapter four we find a little phrase “so that the life of Jesus (his life) may also be revealed.” When we put a treasure in something it’s because we want it to stay there; we don’t want anyone touching it or stealing it. We’re not looking to give that treasure away, but to hide it. But God acts in exactly the opposite way with His treasure. God doesn’t want his treasure to be hidden; He wants it to be made visible and He wants others to have it. He’s not trying to keep it but to give it away. And in order to do that, he puts it in clay jars – us.

Now this doesn’t do anything for the clay jars in and of themselves. They’re still clay – cheap, valueless, and ugly. If anything, it tends to make the clay jars look more insignificant and overlooked. If you’ve got a treasure in a clay jar, you don’t really care about the jar. In fact, you probably don’t even notice the jar because you’re looking at the treasure. And this is exactly how it’s supposed to be.

But this doesn’t bode too well for us, the clay jars, because we often want to be noticed and to be made much of. We want the excellence and power (v. 8 ) that goes to God to be ours, but God specifically put his treasure in us the clay jars to focus the attention on the treasure and not on the jar. The fact that we usually don’t want to hear or consider is that we are insignificant. We can be broken and replaced and it doesn’t really matter because we’re just the container holding the treasure that is meant to be given away. The treasure is what matters, not the jar. In other words, we’re expendable.

Now let’s explore this imagery a little further, because there’s an interesting idea here. If God fills his jars (us) with something that He doesn’t intend to stay in the jar, then doesn’t it stand to reason that He’s going to take some measures to make sure that what’s in the jar comes out. So maybe He’s going to take that jar (me) and turn it upside down so that His treasure comes pouring out. Or maybe he’s going to take the tool of adversity or sickness to make some cracks or little holes in the jar so that his treasure can ooze and flow out. Or just maybe he’s just going to smash the jar so that the treasure get’s flung all over the place. Well that should be no problem because it’s His treasure and His jar and He can do with it what he wants, rght?. So why is it so often a problem when it happens?

The first problem comes in the realm of what I expect, what I want, what I’m comfortable with. I don’t expect to be turned upside down. I don’t want to be cracked or have holes poked in me. It’s uncomfortable and it hurts to be smashed. Ultimately, the problem rests in that I expect to be treated differently. I say, “After all, I am the jar holding the treasure! That’s got to give me some value, some honor, doesn’t it?” and the reply comes back, “Ummmm….. sorry. You’re still just a clay jar.”

The second problem comes in the realm of what’s already filling our jar. If my jar is filled with other things, then I can’t hold as much of the treasure because it’s not the treasure that’s occupying my jar, but something else – like dirt, sand, mud, trash and other kinds of filth. This creates a problem because when I’m turned over, or I get cracked, what comes out is something horrible. Even worse is when the treasure gets put in the jar with all that other junk. Then you never know what you’re going to get when the jar gets turned over – maybe the filth, maybe the treasure. But even when the treasure comes out, it’s so covered in the filth that it doesn’t look like much of a treasure. And that’s what makes this worse because not only are we pouring out the filth, but we’re making the treasure that was put in us look much less attractive.

So how do I live in light this? First, I need to follow the admonition of Romans 12:3 and not think of myself more highly than I ought to think. In other words, realize that I am nothing but an ugly, valueless, and utterly expendable jar. I don’t need to worry about having a low self esteem – I don’t think that’s really ever the problem. Romans 12:3 doesn’t say “Don’t think too lowly of yourselves, now! Don’t let your self-esteem get too low.” No, I think we all tend to err on the side of thinking too highly of ourselves. That’s why the command reads the way it does.

Secondly, I need to make sure that my jar is filled with His treasure and not with my filth. I need to be a clean jar in order to give the proper honor due to the treasure. Like 2 Corinthians 4:5 says, I’m not putting forth myself, but Jesus Christ, so I must put him forth in the way that He deserves.

Thirdly, if my life gets turned upside down or if I get cracked or smashed, I need to remember that in that very moment God is giving me the opportunity to spread the treasure that He has placed within me. God will bring things into my life so that Christ, the treasure within me, can be more clearly seen. Rather than crying that my jar got smashed, I need to rejoice that the treasure is being spread. After all, it was never to be about the jar anyway.

Clay Jars

This weekend I listened to a two part sermon series by John MacArthur entitled “Certainties that Drive Enduring Ministry” given at the Desiring God National Conference in 2007. (If you’re interested, you can find the links to these two sermons here.) MacArthur shared from his own personal experience as he preached from 2 Corinthians 4. This message was definitely an encouragement for me as I considered the nine elements that are necessary to embrace in order to have a lasting ministry.

1. Embrace the superiority of the New Covenant (v. 1)

  • This ministry is presented in 2Cor 3. This is the message the world must hear, that it’s all about the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ and not about what we do to please God. It’s a ministry of life (v.6) and righteousness (v. 7-9), it is permanent (v. 10-11), it brings hope (v. 12), it is clear (v. 13), it is Christ-centered (v. 14), it’s about people turning to Christ (v. 15-16), it is empowered by the Spirit (v. 17), it is transforming (v.18).

2. Embrace the privilege of ministry as mercy from God (v. 1)

  • Paul didn’t earn it by his strength and therefore couldn’t forfeit it because of his own weakness (apart from disqualifying sin).
  • His ministry actually became more powerful through his weakness

3. Embrace the necessity of a pure heart (v. 2)

  • Renounce the things hidden because of shame – have no double life
  • Even the fact that we can serve with a clear conscience is the mercy of God (2Tim 1:3) and a goal of the ministry (1 Tim 1:5).

4. Embrace the duty of accurately handling the Word of God (v. 2)

  • Not being unscrupulous with God’s Word for our own gain
  • Accurately handling God’s Word to be approved before Him (2 Tim 2:15)

5. Embrace the reality that the results do not depend on me (v. 3-6)

  • I am not in control of what happens. It’s not about my technique of sowing, but about the soil – how God prepares it and how it responds to the seed.
  • We’re not advertising, trying to overcome “consumer resistance” to the gospel. The problem is too large for me to overcome because the “consumer” is dead and blind (like what God said to Isaiah 6:9-13) and our message is unbelievable – that Christ is Lord and we are His slaves (v. 5). And God doesn’t even choose the people that we think he should choose with this message. It’s by God’s doing that anyone is in Christ (1Cor 1:26-31).
  • A slave was bought and exclusively owned by one master, was totally available and obedient to a will other than his own, he was utterly dependent for all his provisions and his protection, and his master determined the final disposition of his life as to punishment or reward. The only dignity that a slave got was from the dignity of his master.

6. Embrace the reality of my own insignificance (v. 7)

  • Like the clay pots we put flowers in – they’re cheap, common, breakable, replaceable, valueless, and ugly. They were used in that day as trash cans, and toilets. That is what we are in comparison with the message that we carry.
  • But the insignificance of the vessel does not prove fatal to the work of God. In fact, it enhances the glory of God and the gospel.

7. Embrace the benefits of suffering (v. 8-12)

  • The way to power is through weakness and suffering, not wealth and prosperity.
  • Paul saw sacrificial suffering as the way to spiritual weakness, spiritual weakness as the way to spiritual power, spiritual power as the way to demonstrate the glory of the transforming power of Christ that was in him and that had an impact on people and built the church. The impact of Paul’s life was not because of Paul but because of the power of God working through his suffering.
  • We need things in our lives that break us

8. Embrace the need for bold conviction (v. 13-15)

  • Enduring ministry doesn’t belong to those who change easily with the trends – methodology, style, gimmicks, numbers, crowds, etc. To have an enduring ministry there’s got to be more going on than just a following of the latest fads.
  • We’re not changing our message, but faithfully maintaining what we believe and speaking it with boldness, even when it would be more comfortable or easy or safe to remain silent. No matter what it means to me personally, even at the cost of my life, I continue to faithfully minister the truth of the gospel.

9. Embrace eternity as the priority (v. 16-18)

  • My concern isn’t about my comfort, popularity, or success, but about the gospel of grace spreading to more and more people who will give thanks that abounds to the glory of God.
  • Paul preferred the spiritual over the physical (v. 16), the future over the present (v. 17), and the invisible over the visible (v.18).

Clay Jars
A friend and I were talking the other night and after our conversation he sent me a copy of a prayer letter that he had received. It was a good reminder for me of some truths that I need to keep in mind as I am ministering here, so I wanted to give you some excerpts from that letter:

A ministry is received from God, not achieved on our own… As I sat there [realizing things weren’t happening like he wanted or had planned], I instantly began analyzing how I could have done a better job of contacting people, and what strategies I could use going forward. I realized this morning as I woke up that central in my thoughts is what I can do rather than what God can do.

So often I find myself falling into this trap. I analyze and strategize but often forget that it is about God and what He can and chooses to do.

I often want to be successful more than I want to be faithful. Successful is all about me accomplishing something so that I can make a name for myself and have something I can feel proud of. Faithful is about doing what God calls me to do as best I can, and leaving the results in his hands.

Guilty here too! I often evaluate my success based on how closely I came to achieving my plan rather than on how faithfully I have followed the principles in God’s Word. In other words, I can easily have a results-based focus.

Only God can make a person hunger for truth and spiritual life. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44) … As I talked to [people] I was struck with the fact that I couldn’t do anything to make them interested [in spiritual things] if they weren’t already. In many cases, I could hear the apathy in their voices as we talked about spiritual things.

This was especially challenging and encouraging to me here in our context, where it often seems like people are coming for their physical desires rather than their spiritual needs. I can not do anything to create spiritual desires in people, especially if they’re spiritually dead!

Praying is harder than planning. I plan more than I pray, because planning is easier. Praying forces me to face my inadequacy, my need for God, my dependence on Him. When Jesus said “Apart from me you can do nothing,” I think he meant “nothing good.” I can do lots on my own, but I’m spinning my wheels when I am not trusting him, looking to him, and working so that he would be glorified.

I was particularly struck by this point because it was the second time I had heard it this week – the first time being in the message from last Sunday. I think that I like to plan often because it’s something that I can do and I’m a always-gotta-be-doing-something type of person. But praying is admitting that I can’t do anything and that God must do everything.

I really needed these reminders, especially this week when the pressures of life and ministry really seem to be pushing in from every side. These thoughts brought my mind to 2 Cornithians 4, especially verse 7, which says that we have this treasure (this ministry of the knowledge of God’s glory) in vessels of clay (something ordinary and very fragile) in order that the exceedingly great strength will be shown to be coming from God and not from us, and verse 16 which starts with the idea of not losing hope. It would be easy to lose hope if it all depended on us. Maybe, in those times when we do lose hope, it shows that we’ve also lost our focus and started to believe that it really does all depend on us even though we’re just the ordinary, fragile clay jars used to carry the immense glory of God to a lost world. My pride doesn’t like the idea of being a ordinary, fragile clay jar, but if that’s what magnifies the glory of my Savior than that’s exactly what I need to be.

The Missionary Miracle Diet

Posted: September 26, 2009 in Missions, Personal

“Need to lose weight fast?”  We’ve probably all seen or heard those ads for the miracle diets like the “Hollywood 48 hour miracle diet” that try to get you to try some crazy idea to lose weight quickly.  The funny thing to me is that every time you look at the bottom of the screen, right when they’re showing someone in a pair of pants that’s about 10 sizes too big for them, there’s always a little disclaimer that says “Results not typical.”  In other words they’re telling you that someone lost a bunch of weight using this method, but you probably won’t.  Great ad, huh?!  Well, I’ve got one to add to the list… I’m calling it the Missionary Miracle Diet.

We’ve now been in Cameroon for 13 months and I’ve lost at least 40 pounds.  I’m saying “at least” because that all depends on when you start counting.  Maybe about a month before we left for Cameroon (after almost 2 years of eating lots of fast food on deputation), I had ballooned up to the most I’ve ever weighed – 225 pounds.  I was able to shed about 10 pounds of that before we came, so I was tipping the scales at 215 when we left the U.S.  This past week I dropped below the 175 mark for the first time in I don’t know how long – at least 10 years. That’s a 50 pound difference from my heaviest weight till now. 50 pounds of change in 14 months.

Now before you start either pitying or commending me for my diligence, let me explain this “rigorous” regimen that I followed.  For the past 13 months I ate healthy food like cookies often and enjoyed drinking Djino (which is like a fruit soda) and Coke each week… In other words I pretty much ate whatever I want.  It was actually this past week when I was sick that I dropped below 175 lbs.  For the physical part, I can’t say that I followed any rigorous exercise regimen either.  In fact we’ve been so busy with studying French and, once the Gaults left in June, all the ministry responsibility that I’ve pretty much been without an exercise regimen for this whole time. 

When Karis went back to the US she brought me back some pants and shirts that actually fit. These have been real life savers, but are already starting to get a little big on me. Fortunately she also brought me a new belt, which has already become a necessity again. Just in the last month and a half, I’ve gone from the 2nd notch on the belt to the 4th – all without trying.

I’m thinking this program would make a great fad diet. So if I wanted to put all this into an advertisement, I’d say, “Has your weight been steadily increasing over the years?  Looking for a really good reason to buy a new wardrobe?  Want to lose weight but just can’t give up sweets?  Try the Missionary Miracle Diet and you can eat whatever you want, not have to exercise, and still lose weight!  Just call your closest mission board or favorite missionary for information on how to sign up for the Missionary Miracle Diet today.”

So how about it?  Who wants to visit us out here and try the Missionary Miracle Diet?  We’d love to help you lose weight, but just so you’re aware – results are not typical (or are they?).  Oh and if you do come, please let us know so we can have you bring out a McDonalds, Taco Bell, Chik-fil-A, Sonic, Pizza Hut, Red Lobster or some other wonderful restaurant that they don’t have out here! =D  I really think that is one of the biggest reasons that we’ve lost all the weight that we have.

Praying through your Bible reading

Posted: September 25, 2009 in Bible Study, Prayer

For our Wednesday evening Bible studies at the Église Baptiste d’Odza we’ve been doing a series of lessons on prayer. We’ve examined the principles of Christ’s teaching on prayer in Matthew 6, the mentality necessary for prayer (life is war), prayer and our relationship with God, how to approach God in prayer (including the A.C.T.S. method), and, most recently, the relationship between the Bible and prayer.

We know that the Bible has much to say about prayer – how to pray, what to pray for, why to pray, and even when to pray – but what exactly is the necessary link between our Bible reading and prayer? 1 John 5:14-15 promises that if we ask anything according to the will of God we can be assured of receiving it, but how can we be sure we’re asking according to God’s will? Obviously that has to come from praying in accordance with how His will is revealed in His Word.

We know that prayer is not just asking for things but developing a relationship with God. As in any relationship, there must be communication for the relationship to progress – both listening and talking. As we read God’s Word we listen to Him talk to us and as we pray we talk to Him. But when we communicate with someone, we don’t just listen to what they say and then talk about something totally different that we want to talk about; we must listen and then respond to what is said. It was at this point in my study that a very interesting idea came to me – the idea of praying through your Bible reading, that is responding to what God says to you through His Word. The seed for this thought came from a quotation from John Doberstein, who said about prayer…

Prayer is turning to the Word of God. Prayer is nothing but response to God’s word and therefore it is nothing without the Word that precedes it. We must avoid the danger of making prayer an independent and autonomous concern of our devotional life. Our task is not to ‘practice’ and ‘cultivate’ prayer and the so-called spiritual life, but rightly to hear God’s Word and give him due answer in prayer.

As I thought about it I began to realize that in each verse, each sentence, each thought, or even each narrative section there is at least one way that I can and should respond to God. If you use the A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) method you can say that in each of these parts there is a reason to adore God, confess a particular sin, give thanks to God, or pray for someone else.

I decided to try it out this morning as I was reading Hebrews 5. I was actually pleasantly surprised as to how the Word of God shaped my praying as I responded to what God revealed in that chapter. Here’s what my prayers from Hebrews 5 sounded like this morning…

v.1: “Thank you Lord that you are the one who chooses and appoints your servants and that our calling doesn’t rest on our own desires or merits.”

v.2-3: “Lord, so often I am not gentle with those who are ‘ignorant and going astray,’ even though I myself have many of the same weaknesses. Forgive me for self-righteously condemning others and being harsh with them rather than being gentle and offering them grace and mercy. Thank you that you are always gracious and merciful in your dealings with me even though you are perfect and don’t share my weaknesses and sins.”

v.4-6: “Lord, your sovereign hand was at work from the beginning in ordaining Christ to be the Great High Priest and author of my salvation. Thank you that you didn’t just leave my salvation up to ‘chance’ but that you secured my pardon through your preordained plan.”

v.7: “Jesus, when you prayed, you were submissive to the will of the Father even despite your ‘loud cries and tears.’ Create in me that same heart of submission even though my loud cries and tears belie the fact that I want the suffering to pass from me. Forgive me when I am so determined and focused on getting what I want that my heart is unwilling to submit to your will.”

v.8: “Lord, teach me obedience through the things that you allow me to suffer. I don’t want the trials that you bring into my life to be wasted by my not learning anything from them.”

v.9-10: “Because of your obedience and suffering I receive the benefits of eternal life and a sympathetic High Priest who understands and can help me. Thank you, Jesus!”

v.11-12: “I am so ‘slow to learn’ in many areas of my life. It’s not that I don’t mentally know the facts of the Scripture, but the fact that I have not put them into practice shows that I have not really learned the truth that I know intellectually. Especially in this area of prayer, although I am attempting to teach the truths that I know intellectually to others, I still have so much that I need to learn and put into practice. Forgive me for neglecting the practice of your Word and help me to progress in my growth not just in my knowledge.”

v.13: “Wow, Lord! I often tend to think that I know much about your Word because I have studied much, but this verse tells me that if I’m not actually putting it into practice I’m not even ‘acquainted with the teaching.’ Forgive me and guard me from pride because of my education. Just because I have studied your Word for years doesn’t mean that I know it – especially if I am not applying what I know. I desperately need your wisdom and help to not only understand, but to apply as well.”

v.14: “God, I desire to be mature in my faith. Help me to be constantly using your Word in my own life, not just to apply it to others. Help me to be able to distinguish the good from the evil in my life and not be blinded by what I know intellectually. Give me the courage to be honest with myself and the discipline necessary to train myself in the application of your Word. Help me to be as ruthless with myself as I can be to others and as gracious with others as I usually am to myself.”

Even as I was praying these things, I was struck by the way in which I “felt” myself communicating with God. As I was responding to what God was saying to me in His Word, I had no doubt but that God will respond to these prayers. How encouraging it was for me to have the Word of God direct my prayers in this way! It also made me feel as though I was not just reading the Bible for information or out of duty, but that God was really revealing Himself to me and confronting the real needs in my life with His Word.

Have any of you used this method in your own personal prayer time? What are the effects that you have seen in your own life of prayer and your Bible study from using this method?

I got an email from a college student a while ago asking a question that went something like this, “God has been working in my heart regarding missions, but I’m not sure if I’m called. What should I do?”

The question itself brought back a flood of memories from my college days when I was trying to figure out the same question. Obviously, having been on the mission field for a year now, I came to the conclusion that I was indeed called, but how did that get me to the point I’m at now? And how did I understand that calling? Looking back on what I often heard at college and examining it in the light of Scripture, I find myself now often scratching my head and wondering where in the world we ever got this idea of needing to have a specific “call.”

We’re all called to a life of sharing Christ, not just a select few of us. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15) applies to every believer. And it is to be a way of living – a vocation. Now we may do something other than “full-time ministry” to provide for our physical needs, but our life is to be consumed with sharing Christ. In my opinion, there is no scriptural support for the idea of a specific “call” to do missions; it’s something we’re all called to do. This was especially well stated on a blog I read the other day:

Right. You need a special call from God to share the Gospel with the lost of China. But you don’t need a special call to stay home, be a computer technician, make money, buy an iPhone, and take a vacation to Florida every year. Not that I’m against any of those things (anybody wants to send me an iPhone, I will send you my address!) – my point is, one life is clearly the more comfortable of the two. So why do we think that the life of luxury is by default God’s will?

Because it’s available to us, I imagine. So it must be God’s will, we reason. Why would he put me in a country where I could make six figures a year unless it was his will that I do so? There’s more than one way to read that evidence, though. A CEO of a large corporation could see that he has the authority over and access to large amounts of money. But it would be irresponsible (criminal!) for him to assume that the money is there for him and his comfort.

One of the great sins of Western Christianity: misappropriation of funds. Of blessings. Of manpower.

The truth is, every one of us is spending our lives, our money, and our ability on a call, on a life-purpose. There really are no blank spaces where a life-purpose should be. If you can’t state your life-purpose on demand, I’ve got some bad news. It’s highly likely your life-purpose is your own pleasure. You are misappropriating God’s gifts; you are wasting your life.

Now with that in mind, I ask these questions: “Are more people in our churches today staying home or going to the foreign field to serve God?” “Why?” If it’s because they’re “not called” that simply means that we have a terrible misunderstanding about what it means to be called.

So what is a “call”? Simply stated, it’s a command given by Christ that is applicable to every believer in every era of time. Our call comes from the Scripture, not from our feelings. A call is not something driven by emotions – feelings of pity, compassion, etc. (although emotions can have a part in it). Perhaps the distinction that has been made between a burden and a call was made to keep people from running off to the mission field on pure emotion. I often heard that “if you don’t have a call you’ll never make it when things get tough on the field.” Which may be true, but what we need to realize is that we are all called and we must live our lives according to the Scripture and it’s principles and not off our feelings. If we live off of our feelings we’ll be in a constant state of flux rather than being fixed.

A call is also not something “supernatural” – a dream, a vision, an audible voice, etc. We are not going to get an Acts 13 call today where the Holy Spirit says to us, “Do this specific work.” In many circles today, the idea of ” the call” has been turned into something mysterious, speculative, and subjective. No one can tell you exactly how to know if you’re called, but they all say “You’ll just know” and then go on to say that “You have to be called before you can go.” Now while this whole line of thinking was no doubt well meaning and intended to keep uncommitted people from going to the field, I believe that it has also kept many people, perhaps even a greater number, off the field that should have gone because it made the call subjective and difficult to understand. However, when we look at the Bible we find clear, objective, concrete truth regarding our call. There is no subjectivity or mystery to it.

The thing that really bothers me is how can someone possibly say (as I’ve heard people say), “Well, I’m really burdened for missions, but I’m not planning to go because I haven’t been called.” What in the world is that?! It’s a bunch of garbage that has come along with this mystical idea of the call. Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” – in other words, as I am delighting in and pursuing after God, He is going to put desires (a burden) in my heart to do something specific for him. So if God is putting the burden in my heart, does that mean that I have to wait until I get a “special revelation” from Him to tell me that I can actually do what He has given me the desire to do? Of course not!

I believe that the real question to be asking, then, is not “Am I called?” (because the answer is clearly ‘Yes’ for everyone) but rather “Where does God want me to live out my calling?” That’s where we get into the specifics which are different for every person and known only to God. However, to give a general answer the question of how I go about finding exactly where God wants me to serve, it will be helpful to look at a couple biblical examples, one OT and one NT. First, let’s take Abraham. God just told Abraham to go, but didn’t specify where. And Abraham got up and did it! He packed up family and everything and went, not even knowing where he was going to end up. People probably thought he was foolish and reckless and crazy, but he knew God had spoken to him and he obeyed.

I fully and firmly believe we need more of this attitude in missions today. We already have the call of God, so let’s just get up and go and trust God to lead us! Often our problem is that before we’re willing to start our journey we want God to give us MapQuest directions for our lives. “Go 23.8 miles, then turn left. Go to this place for 4.7 years, then…” But that is not how God directs.

For the New Testament example, look at Paul and his missionary team in Acts 16:6-10. He was out on his missionary journey, already busy for the Lord and responding to the call he received in Acts 13. All the sudden, though, they didn’t know where to go; so they tried to go into Asia but the Spirit said “No.” So what did Paul do? Did he reexamine his life to see if he was really called? Did he just sit down and wait for another revelation from God? No, he just tried going to a different place – this time into Bithynia – and again was stopped by the Spirit. But that didn’t deter Paul. He kept on trying things, kept on going places until finally God opened the right door for him. And because Paul was trying different options, when he received the Macedonian vision, he was already in Troas, which was right on the coast where he could take a boat and go to Macedonia immediately. Had he stayed inland closer to Asia and Bithynia, he would not have been in the position God wanted him to be in when the vision came.

It’s easy to say that we want God to steer or direct our lives, but that doesn’t work if we’re just sitting still. Take the example of a car – even though I may be turning the wheel, if the car isn’t already in motion it’s direction won’t change. In the same way, we can’t just be sitting stationary waiting for God to steer our lives. We need to get moving, doing something that God has placed in our hearts and if what we have in mind is not exactly what God has planned, He will redirect us along the way, just like He did with Paul. Now we don’t know how the Holy Spirit stopped them from going into Asia and Bithynia because Scripture doesn’t specifically tell us, but it obviously was very clear to them at that time. In the same way we may not know right now “How will I know if I’m going the ‘wrong way’ or doing the ‘wrong thing’?” but God will not just let us go off in the wrong direction if we are seeking His leading. Often God uses very clear and concrete circumstances to direct our lives, but we can often miss those if we’re just looking for the mystical, supernatural ones.

So what do I do when I don’t know where to go? First, start by doing what you already know God wants you to be doing (obedience to clear commands of Scripture). God is not going to tell you something else He wants you to do if you’re not already obeying what He has told you. Second, be ready to take a step of faith. Try doing something – specifically what God has given you a desire to do. Because God is sovereign, as you start moving He will arrange the circumstances of your life to direct you where He wants you to go. Don’t underestimate the sovereignty of God in all of this; it is crucial! Often we can be paralyzed by the fear that we’re going to choose the wrong direction, as if we think that once we’ve started in a particular direction we can never change course. God is the one who is sovereignly in control of our lives, and as we start moving forward for Him, He will guide and direct us as we are continually listening to His direction. Sometimes we can be so afraid that God is going to shut a door that seems open now that we never start moving that direction to see what happens.

So those are the principles of a call as I understand them. Now here’s my personal experience with it in a nutshell…

When I started college, I was a Pastoral Studies major because I was thinking about church planting in New England where I grew up. After the first year, however, the Lord led me to change my major to missions, because I thought it would help me better prepare for a church planting experience. Part of the missions program at the college I attended is the M.A.P. (Missions Apprentice Program) trip, and so naturally I looked for a U.S. church plant setting, but couldn’t find anything. That’s when I found out about a group going to Cameroon and decided to make that trip my M.A.P. experience. My thoughts were still in the U.S., though and I remember thinking that a foreign missions trip would give me a better heart for missions as a pastor in the States. On that trip, the Lord completely changed my mindset and I became convinced that He wanted me in foreign missions.

When I graduated from college, I was ready to go to the field, but God had other plans and directed me to seminary. Honestly, at that time, more schooling was the last thing on my agenda, but I felt very strongly that it was God’s will, so I “had to” submit to it. Although I wasn’t initially thrilled about seminary, it was during my time there that God gave me a passion for His Word and a desire to teach it to others. After seminary, again we were ready to go to the field, but things were not falling into line with our search for a mission board, etc. (i.e. the doors were not opening). So I began to look around to see what else God wanted me to do and I ended up going on for a Master’s degree in education (again, not being too excited about more school). After that year, we again began trying to get to the field, and this time the doors started swinging open.

We applied and were accepted with BMM, but we had no clue where we were going. Heading into candidate school, we were the only couple that was undecided as to a field, but we proceeded anyway because we knew God was opening the doors at that time. That was when we met the our coworkers for the first time and ended up talking about the possibility of teaming up together and opening Cameroon as a new field. Now, after a couple years of deputation we’re finally here, and we are absolutely convinced that we are in God’s will being here. But the thing that gives us that confidence is not some sort of “mysterious” call we received in college, but the constant and continual leading (direction and re-direction) of God as we sought his will. And the fact is, I don’t know what the future holds – we could be in Cameroon for 50 more years or 5 more months. But I don’t have to worry about that because God has been and will continue to direct our lives as we are seeking him. Ultimately, the place where I serve isn’t as important as the call to serve. And that’s the same call that all of us have been given.

So when we talk about the call of God for missions let’s make sure we’re talking in biblical terms and giving an accurate representation of the biblical data and not just talking in the “conventional wisdom” in an effort to keep the uncommitted people at home. After all it should be God who decides who goes out into His harvest field (and where and when), don’t you think?