You've heard someone say this before: "God called me." Sometimes, this little phrase is used like a 357 Magnum--to neutralize objection. If God called me to protest that cause, leave this church, kiss that girl or change academic majors, who's to argue? I wonder how many selfish (and sinful) pursuits have been undertaken under the guise of God's calling.
Still, there are times when right-minded people are impressed with Divine leading. I have a friend in Austin who was called by God to launch a new church. It wasn't a kind of self-centered neo-church venture to make a name for himself. Instead, God was moving him to launch a church to reach a marginalized group of people his present church wasn't designed to reach.
Good call. And, God-called.
But, how do we distinguish between the genuine call of God and the temptation to do our own thing and simply affix God's name to it in the end? I think we must look at the subjective and objective elements of Divine "calling."
SUBJECTIVE NATURE OF CALLING
On the one hand, God's "call" is subjective. Many biblical people had the benefit of hearing God's voice, having angels appear at their bedside or stumbling across blazing bushes with unmistakable directions on what to do next. However, God more often moved "in the hearts of His people." Men and women experienced God's movement internally. It's that moment when we are suddenly excited or alerted to a need; where our spirit resonates with an opportunity; where our heart is weighted with a burden. At this point, a person cannot study or test these subjective feelings. All they know is that the Spirit of God is moving them in a particular direction [John 14:26].
OBJECTIVE NATURE OF CALLING
The problem with the subjective nature of calling is that it's...well...subjective. I know that my heart is deceitful above all things [Jeremiah 17:9] and, what I "feel" may not be what is true. So, if I'm not careful, I may conclude God is calling when, in fact, I'm just pushing my own agenda. What I need are "objective" confirmations of God's subjective calling on my life. I have relied on several objective benchmarks to help me discern when God is leading:
1. The truth of Scripture. What I feel in my heart must correspond to what is written in God's Word. If God has spoken one way long ago, He will not lead me in another today.
2. The affirmation of community. If I am being led by God's Holy Spirit, and the same Spirit in me resides in other godly people, then the Spirit in them will resonate with the Spirit in me. This is one of the grand benefits of community. Together, the whole Body works toward common purposes and the protection of its members.
3. Correspondence with my resources. God gives each person spiritual gift[s] for the work of ministry [1 Corinthians 12]. Most often--though not always--God's mission for me will align with the resources God has already given to me for the work of mission. In other words, God will not usually call people to something that does not align with spiritual gifts, natural abilities, personality or passions. [To be fair, I must admit that Moses didn't feel completely qualified to stand before Pharaoh. But, his prior leadership position in Pharaoh's palace was a resource that gave him standing at a later time].
4. Curious change in circumstances. When I graduated from seminary, I felt that God was calling me back to our church in Austin. The greatest obstacle to our departure from Denver was the sale of our home. Immediately after the church asked me to come, I received a phone call from a friend who said, "I've heard that you might be leaving. I'd like to buy your house." No kidding. That call was God's confirmation of His calling. When the circumstances of life curiously line up to support what God is saying, that can be a great confirmation of where God is leading.
Many times, God provides one or more of these benchmarks to clarify His calling. But, in the end, to follow God's calling is an act of faith [Hebrews 11:6]. And, while we might search for the signs, we ultimately say "yes" to Him because we trust Him in wherever He leads.