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One day John’s boss calls him into his office and announces that a new position has opened up in the company. It’s a prestigious position—one which will give John a lot more clout than he currently has. John is shocked and thrilled when his boss promotes John to the new position right then and there. Now John has a new title, a bunch of new responsibilities, a new staff, a new office, and a ton to learn. Does merely receiving the promotion mean that John will be a success at the new job? Not hardly. The promotion is merely an opportunity—it’s now up to John to decide how he is going to use the opportunity. He might do great, he might turn out to be mediocre, or he might miserably tank. If his boss isn’t happy with John’s work, John could get fired. The promotion isn’t a guarantee of success or of job security. Promotions can be taken away the same way they are given, and when they are taken away, it’s bitter. It would be less humiliating for John to get fired from his low ranking job than it would to be fired from a high ranking position. His new promotion has not guaranteed his success, but it does come with extra responsibility and the threat of extra humiliation if things don’t work out.
Among Christians there is endless fuss surrounding the subject of Divine callings. Yet while we’re busy envying titles and prestige, we’re forgetting about the great responsibility and risk that come with Divine appointments. If you get iced out of a church congregation as an untitled layperson, it’s certainly a painful experience, but you can find another church where the people are less twerpy. Meanwhile, the whole community isn’t gossiping about what happened to you. But if you’re the pastor who the church board just decided to fire, there’s now a bunch of flack and embarrassment following you around and making it difficult for you to find a new position. Once you gain a reputation for being a “somebody” in the Church, you end up being the target of intense scrutiny and criticism. There’s enormous pressure to compromise, and there’s a growing mob of folks who are eagerly waiting to celebrate your demise. But beyond the human realm, there’s God. He’s the One you’re serving, He’s the One who gave you the promotion, and He is holding you accountable for how you use it.
God is very easy to succeed with at every level, but the more responsibility He gives us, the more He demands from us. In the Parable of the Talents, a master entrusted three servants with three different amounts of money. The fellow who was given five bags of gold was rewarded for producing five more. But the fellow who was given ten bags had to produce another ten to receive the same praise from his master. The master in that parable represented God. When God gives us more, He demands more from us. This is why we’re being so foolish when we view Divine callings like mere symbols of status. Any status we receive is merely a side effect of the extra responsibility God has dropped onto us. If a man is called to preach, then merely by obeying God’s command, he will end up being known by others because the nature of his assignment requires him to do public speaking. But the call itself isn’t about gaining status—it’s a very serious charge to function as a mouthpiece for the Creator of all things. Anyone who takes such a calling lightly is a great fool.
The more God associates you with Himself in public, the more He is going to demand of you, so there’s no room for just enjoying the perks and never doing any of the work. This is what Samson attempted to do, and he ended up mutilated, publicly degraded, and crushed to death. But these things are nothing when you consider that Samson is most likely in Hell right now for failing to submit to Yahweh. Once Samson realized that he was being used as a vessel to flaunt God’s supernatural power, he tried to use that power for his own glory and to attain his own carnal goals. Even his famous pushing apart of the temple pillars at the end of his life was nothing more than a selfish attempt to stick it to the Philistines, a people who he had feuded with his entire life due to his infantile obsession with revenge. While the fool who wrote the book of Hebrews actually lists Samson as a role model of faith, in real life, Samson was an odious creep whose entire life was ruled by a lust for sexual release and merciless brutality. And yet Samson was set apart by God before he was even born to be someone special. So does being chosen by God guarantee that He will always favor us? Not hardly.
In the Bible we find several examples of folks who received special callings from God only to miserably tank and end up on the wrong side of eternity. Not just anyone could be a high priest in Israel. A man had to be of the right bloodlines, and the office of high priest had to become available during his lifetime. The high priest Eli had a very special calling, as did his two priest sons. But all three were damned to Hell by Yahweh for their failure to sufficiently honor God in the work He had assigned to them.
The apostle Paul had a direct encounter with Jesus, and yet he ended up rejecting the Divinity of Christ and serving Yahweh out of a greedy desire to gain glory and power in eternity (see The Great Offense of Paul: Rejecting the Divinity of Christ).
Saul was chosen by God to be Israel’s first king. But his refusal to submit to Yahweh resulted in Yahweh cutting him off and plaguing him with demons (see Lessons Learned when King Saul Consults a Dead Man).
Gideon was visited by Yahweh and called to lead his people to freedom, yet at the end of his story, we find him bowing down to an idol god which his own hands had made.
It’s a sobering thing to realize how many of our Sunday School “heroes” were actually spiritual zeros, isn’t it? All of you teachers out there need to give serious thought as to what you’re doing when you teach children to admire men who so grossly offended God. How do you think God feels about you teaching impressionable young minds that Gideon’s victorious moment in battle was more important than the fact that he turned away from Yahweh in his soul? Are you not abusing your influence when you teach children to admire an irreverent yuck like Samson and fail to point out how selfish his prayer for vengeance really was the moment he pushed those pillars apart? Youth education in the Church today comes down to ripping exciting moments totally out of context, lying our faces off about the spiritual attitudes of the “heroes” we’re talking about, and then teaching our children to admire men who flagrantly disrespected God. We wax on about the Hebrews “hall of faith” without ever pointing out how most of the names listed in that chapter were rotten role models. When you just regurgitate the garbage that the Church mass produces and you don’t even bother to ask the Holy Spirit what He thinks of the lesson that some irreverent fool threw together just to get his name in print, you are setting yourself up for some severe discipline.
Teaching souls about God is not a game, it’s a very serious responsibility. Today we’ve got scores of Sunday School teachers and youth pastors using positions of influence to pump out false teaching, discourage maturity, and promote the idiotic notion that young people are incapable of grasping serious concepts. Today we act like the worst thing we could do to our youth is require them to sit in orderly silence and listen to a lesson that is sober in focus. Today we entertain instead of educate. Heaven forbid the instructional period should run longer than the games. And let’s not have youth pastors act like mature men of God, because that’s not “cool.” This is the imbecilic thinking we degrade into when we treat Divine callings as opportunities for self-glorification. But then again, many of us called ourselves into the positions we now hold—we didn’t receive authorization from God. And as we now function in positions which He has not given us permission to hold, we are only building up His wrath against us.
Making a mockery out of God’s Authority and trying to use Him as an excuse to build one’s own kingdom on earth is a game that always ends in great sorrow for those who play it. This is what the apostle Paul did with the concept of Christianity. He didn’t convert personally, but he used his clout as a Pharisee to build a large fan base of Jewish Christians who he then encouraged to endlessly admire him. “Therefore I urge you to imitate me” he tells the believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 4:16). Talk about unprecedented arrogance. Paul works for the glorification of Paul, and he actually boasts of how he gets his patsy Timothy to serve as Paul’s personal promoter.
That’s why I have sent Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you of how I follow Christ Jesus, just as I teach in all the churches wherever I go. (1 Cor. 4:17)
So wherever Paul goes, he boasts about himself, and he gets the young Timothy to assist him in promoting himself. Notice how Paul makes it clear that he doesn’t boast of Christ—he boasts of how he personally follows Christ. And this was the man who was struck blind by God and who claimed to have been directly taught by Jesus Himself. So we’re to believe that Jesus instructed Paul to go around talking about how fabulous Paul is? Not hardly. While Samson ripped the gates off of fortress walls and Paul experienced God healing scores of people through him, both men ended up wallowing in perpetual rebellion. Some Divine appointments include being used as a channel for God’s supernatural power to flow through. In the Church today, we find a ton of miracle fakers, but there are some real miracles happening as well. When we see God using some human as a prop in His miracle show, does that mean that that human is approved of by God? Not hardly. Being a channel of God’s power does not at all guarantee that we won’t go astray.
Adam and Eve walked around with Yahweh in Eden, yet that didn’t stop them from choosing to rebel against Him. Judas was called to be a member of Jesus’ personal incrowd, but that didn’t take away his option to rebel. Divine callings are opportunities. It’s up to us to decide how we will respond to them, and then God responds to our response.
No one gets to decide for God who He will choose for various tasks. Sometimes God calls people who don’t want to be called. This was the case with Saul, Moses, Jonah, Gideon and Jeremiah. Other times He calls people before they are even born, as He did with Samson and John the Baptist. We don’t get any say over whether God will select us out for some special assignment, nor can we reject that calling without landing in a heap of trouble. Once God chooses us out, we are held accountable for how we respond to His call. God’s appointments aren’t suggestions, they are commands. When God calls us, He doesn’t take away our option to choose obedience or rebellion, but He does force us into a position where we will now have to deal with more severe consequences.
In the Parable of the Talents, the master forced his slaves into a predicament simply by entrusting them with money which he then expected them to invest during his absence. The slaves who worked hard to double their money ended up with great rewards that they would not have received if the assignment had never been given to them. But the slave who buried his bag of gold and showed no concern for his master’s wishes ended up suffering a terrible fate. This is a theme which we find woven throughout Jesus’ parables: people receive invitations from a fictional character who represents God. Those who respond well to the invitations are greatly rewarded, but those who blow the invitations off end up horrifically tortured.
Divine appointments are very sobering things, and the call to salvation is not the only call we Christians receive. At any moment, God could drop another kind of assignment into your lap. Perhaps He already has. When God does call us, there is only one wise response: to throw ourselves entirely into His hands and sincerely ask Him to have His way with us no matter what the cost. It is only through absolute submission to God that we can find peace of soul in the midst of challenging assignments. As long as we know we’re holding back submission from Him and trying to find ways to use His sacred call for our own carnal purposes, we run the risk of suffering terrible consequences. Serving God is not a game.
Guidance for Preachers: Understanding the Call
Understanding Why God Calls Us to Serve Him