Examining the Disruptive Call of God…
Not long ago a young ministry leader facing a clear call wrote to me and asked about dealing with the painful reality when God’s call collides with everyone and everything you love and have given your life to. He is being called to leave people he dearly loves and a life he has spent years building by God’s grace. Now God is saying, “Follow me…”
In my opinion, and personal experience, there are few things so difficult in life as that moment when God calls you away from good things. It’s truly a “lovest thou me more than these” moment!
I don’t envy someone facing this decision right now. Leaving the place I loved, the life I shared, the people I knew was the absolute most painful and difficult thing I have ever done. Nearly two years later, there are still corners of my heart that are re-orientating, settling, and growing in God’s will and grace.
The man who wrote to me asked me to write a blog post about this complex process and the outcomes that followed. Here are my transparent thoughts about the internal crisis of God’s call…
1. God’s Call is a Crisis of Supreme Love.
This is what Jesus meant about loving Him more than father, mother, brother, sister, etc. This is what He meant by losing your life to find it. The crisis of His call will test every love, every security, every dream, every anchor of personal identity in your heart—all of it will be laid on the altar like Isaac. It’s just hard!
We teach it, we preach it, we believe in it—surrender is a good thing, in theory. But when surrender hits this hard, this close to home, with this magnitude, it’s a whole new place. This is the post-graduate course on surrender.
2. God’s Call is a Crisis of Calling vs. Chastening
God’s call is absolutely compelling. There’s no escaping it. There’s no reasoning it away. There’s no denying it. Your only choice is to either obey or disobey, which was not an option for me. If I had tried to disobey, I’m sure I would have deeply regretted it. You either obey God’s call or endure God’s chastening. Those are the only two options.
In the middle of my six month wrestling match with God, I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating, was losing weight, and God was tightening the headlock with very passing day. At a critical moment I looked at my wife and said, “What is God doing to me?” She calmly said, “Do you really want to know what I think?” I said hesitantly, “I don’t know…”
Dana isn’t one to insert herself into this sort of wrestling match. She was as comfortable and deeply rooted as I was. Yielding to a call would upset her world more significantly than mine. Her face, her tone, her spirit in that moment gave me a breathless pause. What is she really thinking?
Then she said these words, which I will never forget: “Cary, I don’t want God to do what He’s doing. I’m very happy with our lives. But if God is calling you, you can’t work through it like a mid-life crisis. You can only surrender to it.” Her words were profound, alarming, and poignant!
She continued, “I wish He wasn’t, because the very idea is terrifying. But I’m watching you wrestle with God, and I think I’m one of your excuses. So let me just assure you, whatever God wants you to do, I will accept and support.”
It was like getting a bucket of cold water thrown into my face. She told me what I knew, but didn’t want to hear or believe. She said what she didn’t even want to hear.
3. God’s Call is a Crisis of Companionship.
Launching out is lonely. Leaving people you love and relationships you cherish is painful like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Letting go of human dependence—relationships on which you have relied and into which you have deeply invested—leaves you feeling extremely petty vulnerable.
Driving away from the LBC campus brought a flood of tears and emotion that lasted for hours, and in some ways weeks and months. Missionaries instantly became my new life heroes! The level of sacrifice that others have borne for the sake of the gospel made me feel like a true wimp. Nevertheless, in my tiny, self-orientated world, it hurt.
What did our family discover in the ensuing months? Simply, Jesus will walk this path with you, and He has prepared new relationships just around the next few bends in the road. He will not let you fall into a dark hole of alone-ness. His grace has already prepared a soft, pillowed landing place of new relationships where He is leading you. He is not only walking with you, He is walking ahead of you. He calls it “making the crooked places straight.”
Time would not permit me to share all the ways God orchestrated our transition in small but miraculous ways. Suffice to say it was personal, it was intricate, it was intimate, and it was obviously His hand tracing our steps and touching our hearts all along the way. His grace didn’t remove the difficulty, but it did salve the sorrow in countless ways.
4. God’s Call is a Crisis of Control.
I’m not a control freak over the lives of others, but I am a control freak in my own world. I enjoy predictability, planning, preparation, and abhor urgency, flying by the seat of my pants, etc. It’s a myth, but one I enjoy nonetheless.
Truly, no one has control of their lives or the circumstances unfolding around them. So we tend to create little bubbles, small worlds, in which we feel we have control. We create manageable environments and comfort ourselves with the sense that we have a well-ordered bubble. We feel in control. It’s an illusion, but one that God affords us for a season.
God’s call is a crisis of control. He calls you outside of the bubble you’ve built. He pops the bubble and calls you into an existence that feels, in human terms, like a typhoon. But from His view—it’s a providential work designed to glorify Him. It’s scary through human eyes, but reassuring through biblical eyes. Just writing these words puts that “pit in my stomach” feeling in my all over again.
Here’s the good news. He has gone before you. He knows the answers to all the questions—the way is paved, and it merely appears complex and confusing. In God’s view, He’s ironed out the kinks. One by one—one painful step at a time, He will unveil a mysterious, marvelous, miraculous unfolding of His grace and leadership in your life. It’s terrifying, but providential as the same time. He will not fail you.
You will die for want of more information, clarity, or comfort. You will be desperate to know if, what, where, when, and how… in that order. But God will keep you in the dark—painfully and intentionally. He will ask you to trust Him blindly, to risk radically. He will say, “Follow me” with no additional information. He wants to know if you love Him that much!
5. God’s Call is a Crisis of Vision.
Building your life around one vision and then being called by God to completely reorientate that vision is complex. True ministry and vision always traces back to loving people. Unless you’re a hireling, you really LOVE the people you serve. Like the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians, they are dear to you. You’ve imparted not only God’s truth, but your own heart and soul to them. Your hearts are intertwined and your vision is completely orientated toward their spiritual health and future.
Therefore hearing God call you away from well-rooted relationships is confusing. Why would He require this? What could He possibly find good about this? It hurts people. It doesn’t make sense. And yet, it’s all over the New Testament. Tears of temporary goodbyes stain the pages of scripture and all of Christian history.
You’ve probably heard the missionary metaphor, that on one shore there are people weeping for sorrow as the missionary departs, but on another shore there are people celebrating with anticipation that a missionary is coming. Such is the crisis of vision.
You must intentionally decide to love those you will one day serve as much as you love the ones you now serve. How do you choose to love someone you don’t know yet? By faith.
If God is calling you, then somewhere, somehow, there are sheep that need your leadership and investment. Loving them will call you away from people you love. It’s hard to comprehend, even harder to explain to others—but it’s a work that God will do in your life. Rest in this, God loves those on both shores, and He will not remove you without replacing you. He cares for His sheep a lot more than you do.
6. God’s Call is a Crisis of Expendability.
Truly following God’s call is truly an ego killing experience. It’s the fresh discovery of your own nothingness apart from Jesus. Following Jesus in this way poignantly reacquaints you with your own dispensability.
It’s like hearing God say to you, “I love you, you are valuable and significant to me, but I really don’t need you. I can use a bowling ball to do this if I wanted to. The question is, do you want in on my eternal plan? Or should I find a rock or telephone pole to use instead?”
God doesn’t need me or you. His call is not a call from desperation. You’re not doing Him a favor. He not wringing His hands waiting for your answer. No, His plan is like a massive river moving forward with powerful current with or without you. He invites you into the river, but He doesn’t need you to help it flow.
To follow God’s call will bring you into a crisis of identity. Your ego will have to die—repeatedly.
To speak transparently, I had a good bit of my identity wrapped into 22 years of ministry in one place. I wanted to feel needed and valuable to God and His work. It’s human nature to wrap our identity into our roles, our accomplishments, our “productivity for God.” Our propensity to do this is just another indicator of our flesh and our need for God’s transforming work within. His call is designed to set us free from this subtle self-deception.
Being asked by God to follow Him away from wonderful, fruitful opportunity required a willingness to leap into God-willed obscurity. It felt like a total loss of meaning and identity. But that simply exposed the many, subtle ways I had entwined my definition of self and significance into my performance and productivity. It exposed my lack of faith and the presence of spiritualized self-dependence—pseudo spirituality.
Part of the angst was rediscovering that God doesn’t need me, and can replace me a million times over without blinking. The crisis of the call was a total reorientation of identity—letting go of identity in accomplishment, productivity, relationships, measurable “success”—and rediscovering identity in Jesus alone. It was and is an exercise in rediscovering that HE truly is enough.
It was a process of rediscovering that He does not define spiritual success or personal value in humanly measurable terms—numbers, size, stats, personal performance, or ministry magnitude. There’s no escaping this deep plowing of God in your life. It’s deeply unsettling, but the outcome is worth it for what He does in your heart. It’s truly a process of God breaking you, releasing you from enslavement to self, that He might make you useful to Himself.
7. God’s Call is a Crisis of Dependence and Patience.
God’s work will require great patience and day by day, moment by moment dependence. Nearly two years into the journey, I look back with amazement at what I would have missed, spiritually speaking, if I had not trusted God. I was foolishly fearful.
Transparently, God is still very much orchestrating events and a work of grace far beyond my control, in ways that I can barely comprehend. But from my limited perspective, it’s been providential. From a minuscule viewpoint, it’s been wonderful to see God restore a discouraged church family and bring new souls to Jesus in an area that many people believe to be “God-forsaken.”
On Monday mostly, it’s still lonely at times. I still fight the sense of a total loss of identity. But that’s “self-orientated thinking.” The view changes dramatically when the heart looks outward and upward. Sundays it’s hard to describe the joy on the faces of new Christians; Monday an email from a growing believer reminds that God is working in ways I cannot count or measure; all week long it’s a delight to interact with hearts that are growing in grace. I see His hand, in spite of me. I trace His finger prints all over His work. I marvel at Him.
As a family we rejoice in blossoming friendships and new Christian family whom we love dearly. It’s all cause to thank God for His mercy and grace, and say, “Lord, THANK YOU for allowing me the privilege of being in the flow of this mighty river!
This post is not designed to unsettle you or to instigate or fabricate a call. Truthfully, the season of which I write is a rare occurrence in life. Annual or Biennial identity crisis or seasonal bouts with personal discontentment don’t equate to a call. Please don’t let my words unsettle or uproot the clear leading of God in your life to remain deeply rooted and planted where you are.
I have no agenda and no need to insert my words into God’s will for your life. Chances are, He has planted you right where He wants you to bloom by His grace.
Rather, this post is simply an attempt to encourage the Christian who is truthfully where I was—wrestling with the clear, undeniable, inescapable call of God. It is a crisis. I don’t envy you. But perhaps my voice from the other shore can encourage you that it’s not really as scary and life-threatening as your enemy wants you to believe. There is life, identity, fruitfulness, and blessing on the other side of obedience.
Venture forward through the crisis of the call, and be prepared for God to overwhelm you in many wonderful ways!
Luke 18:29, 30 “29 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, 30 Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.”