The following article is abridged from an Echoes of Service booklet of the same title. Copies of the booklet may be obtained from the Echoes of Service office in Bath.
Effective Christian service requires both determination and consecration. Behind these qualities, however, must lie a call from God for the service He has for us. This call, and the growing conviction that He will equip for His service, are factors that will strengthen and support us when the going gets tough.
There are many examples in Scripture of God calling His people to special service. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Peter and Paul are just some of those called by God to fulfil important roles within His purposes. In their lives they displayed a desire to be used of God and developed a relationship with Him founded on trust and obedience. In the case of Paul, God’s call was dramatic; for others a call came through then-knowledge of God and their daily walk with Him. God has continued to call men and women in succeeding generations to serve Him and, although He is gracious with those who may not respond easily, a willingness to put God and His service first is essential if we are to know His will.
Putting our lives at God’s disposal
Conversion is a wonderful experience and the beginning of a lifetime’s walk with God. In the light of what He has done for us, Rom. 12. 1, our lives should be at His disposal for whatever He chooses. Disobedience and unwillingness to serve God will always lose us the blessing of His peace. God’s desire is to bless us, but this will only come as we are in His will. Our relationship with Him, and the realization that we owe everything to Him, will deepen our willingness to serve as He directs. Isaiah, overwhelmed by the presence of God and the experience of cleansing, responded to the call of God by saying, ‘here am I, send me’, Isa. 6. 8. Moses initially felt his weakness to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, but God not only gave him strength but also gave him experiences that showed his nearness to Him. A daily walk with God is the foundation of knowing and serving Him.
Listening for God’s voice
It is possible, with all the babble of today’s voices, to miss the authentic voice of God. He is not always to be heard in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in a gentle whisper, 1 Kgs. 19. 11-12. It is important then to listen. Such communication is rarely received in a seemingly supernatural way, but comes from the daily waiting upon God, the times of prayer, the reading of God’s word and the company of spiritual people. But how can we distinguish the true voice from one that is false? God often works in answer to our call and this is why our willingness to serve Him is so important. We must remember, however, that He never acts outside His character, nor will He ever encourage us to do wrong. His purposes always further His glory and kingdom. The ‘voices’ we hear must therefore be tested against Scripture, by prayer and, if appropriate, by sharing with a spiritual friend or elder. We should be suspicious if the ‘call’ opens up the way for something that was particularly desirable or gratifying to our self esteem. Constantly seeking to walk with God will ensure that the Holy Spirit can do His work effectively.
Strengthening God’s call
God is never in a hurry and will sometimes wait years for His servants to be property prepared. In the choice of David, it was not the outward appearance that mattered but the heart, 1 Sam. 16. 7. David had been observed by God long before Samuel recognized his worth and, as he cared for sheep, he occupied himself with things that would benefit him in later life. We may also need a time of preparation before we set out on whatever path God has for us. Learning to live by faith, development of spiritual character, knowledge of God’s word, time spent in prayer, undertaking Christian service and encouraging others will strengthen us for whatever lies ahead. We should not chafe at time spent waiting. Moses was 40 years in the wilderness before he was called to lead the children of Israel. Hopefully, we should not have to wait so long, but some of us can be very slow to respond and learn God’s ways. God’s call must be tested and reflected in a growing awareness of what He wants for us. Others will also be testing our call. Do they see a growing spiritual maturity, an increasing usefulness in His service, an expanding ministry of service to others and a deepening sense that God’s hand is on us? Should the time come that we desire the fellowship of others in commending us to a work for God, then they can only do this if we have shown real dedication and involvement in the things of God. We must be able to demonstrate that our desire to do a work for God is not determined by just enthusiasm for, if this is the case, when difficulties come the depth of our call will prove to be inadequate.
Seeking information and advice
If the call of God is to some form of Christian service, either at home or abroad, we will need to be fully informed. What training do we need, what are the problems to be faced, are there any medical factors involved, is our family of the same mind? Spiritual advisors are sometimes scarce and we need to be careful with whom we share our confidences. Assembly elders ought to be understanding and give encouragement in knowing the will of God. Possibly, there is also a Christian with whom we have a special relationship. Certain groups have particular expertise, but we do need to be careful to weigh advice received, for not all of it may be useful. In the case of overseas missionary service, the Editors of Echoes of Service are also pleased to assist. There is, however, no substitute for prayer in the light of our own convictions and the calling God has given us.
Preparing to serve
During the period of waiting, our conviction of God’s will should have grown stronger as He revealed more of his ways to us. There are, however, dangers. Over-confidence, the desire to achieve something quickly, relationships, intolerance or just plain inexperience may sap our strength and cause both physical and spiritual weakness. The devil is not inactive at such times and we should be on our guard. Enthusiasm about the work of God is both right and necessary, but it is also advisable to take measured steps, assess situations and constantly proceed with prayer. Unfortunately, even in Christian service, jealousies and problems exist that can be equally as testing as any secular calling.
Getting on with the job
Our work may be in a pioneering situation or as part of a team. Both areas have dangers as well as blessings. Pioneering calls for self-discipline and determination for there is no one else to spur us on. Team work means getting on with your colleagues and probably at first, doing some of the more menial tasks that seem rather outside of God’s calling. Self discipline and being constantly before God will allow Him to reveal His will to us. Testing may come in all sorts of ways and some character traits may be shown that even we have not imagined! These may be difficult times and the sense of God’s call will be vital in sustaining our spirit and purpose.
Problems will not be over with the following of our calling. Family matters, such as the education of children, medical problems, strained relationships and, perhaps, the apparent lack of success, may all cause concern. Waiting upon God, seeking godly counsel and the assurance that God never makes mistakes, will help sustain us. We may take some comfort that others have had similar experiences and are still in the front line. God may also use the circumstances to show us another course of action.
Reviewing progress and keeping going
A time of review should provide us with that spur to greater effort. The goal for God is always ahead, Phil. 3. There will be gratitude to God for what He has accomplished through frail lives, and for the lessons and experiences that have shaped us. Some things we thought were important will now have become less so, and other things we thought unnecessary will have become vital parts of our ministry. God’s purpose is always to enhance the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Gal. 5. 22-23. A race is not over until it is completed. So it is with our calling, the inspiration, goal and prize is our Lord Jesus – continuance to the end is therefore all important in the Christian life of service, Heb. 12. 1-2. If we have experienced the call of God to special service, and have taken up that call, then there will be the joy of having run the race to the end. There is no greater calling and no greater Master. His service demands our best and should have our highest priority.