ANSWERING GOD’S CALL
We may not be able to define it, but surely we know it when we hear it–OR DO WE?
by Lisa Bingham –
Since the beginning of human history, God has called his people to accomplish his purposes. As members of the body of Christ we are all called to live by kingdom values and kingdom priorities. Jesus summed it up: we are to love the Lord with all our hearts, souls and minds, and our neighbors as ourselves.
The haunting theme of Eric Leidzen’s magnificent interpretation of The Call echos through the lives of Salvationists in all that they do. We are called to salvation. We are called to a commitment to the social redemption of mankind.
Come with your sin he calls to us.
Jesus is calling…for you and for me.
What shall the answer be? he asks.
In the process of answering this call to be a follower of Jesus Christ, we inevitably respond—by design or by default—to the question of how we will live out our calling to the Christian life. Practically speaking, how shall we spend our days this side of heaven?
Exploring the Call
As with most ideas that really matter, to explore the call and how to fulfill it is to tread on dangerous ground; dangerous because it may offend (after all, the call is personal, isn’t it?); dangerous because it may be life altering. But dangerous ground becomes holy ground when we sense God’s presence there. Every year at this time, men and women who profess to be called by God to a lifetime of service in The Salvation Army are commissioned as new officers. It’s a good time to consider “the call” with the hope of generating clear thinking about God’s will in our lives.
Are we all called to specific service? If not, why not? If so, how do we know for sure? How does God speak? How, in fact, are believers called to specific ministries? I do not presume to attempt adequate answers to significant questions such as these, but hope only to prompt further conversation about the meaning of “the call” and how to recognize it.
God’s creative ways
The Bible is filled with God’s creative methods of calling individuals to particular ministries:
Moses saw a burning bush on a mountainside and heard the voice of God.
Joseph was called to public service through dreams and the ill wishes of his brothers.
Elijah assumed God would present himself dramatically—in the wind, earthquake or fire—but instead, he spoke in a gentle whisper.
Jonah ignored God’s call for as long as possible, responding only when there was absolutely no other way out.
Jesus directly enlisted several disciples, but chose to get the incredulous Nathanael’s attention with a display of omniscience.
Saul was blinded by a great light and recognized the audible voice of Jesus.
Timothy responded to God’s call to ministry through the mentoring of Paul.
These are well-known examples of people who answered God’s call to specific ministry upon their lives centuries ago. But what about today and the particular call to Salvation Army officership?
Less than 200 years ago, itinerant preacher William Booth told his wife, Catherine, that he had found his “destiny” when faced with the poverty-stricken masses dying in sin in the East End of London. For Booth, the need around him was “the call.” Today, if you ask 25 different officers about their callings, you will get 25 very different explanations indicating that God still works creatively and being called is not a “one-size-fits-all” experience. Callings seem to include everything from an audible voice (this is an exception) to the desire and an opening of doors making training college possible, to a persistent conviction that cannot be ignored. One woman prayed about her life’s direction and sensed God was asking her to become an officer. She was willing, and felt a peaceful sense of confirmation, but she was engaged. She told God he’d have to call her fiancé as well. The next day her fiancé reported that he too, had received a call to officership the day prior, independently of her experience.
Sometimes miracles are involved.
For some, officership made sense from a very young age. A friend shared that having been raised in the Army, he had always wanted to be an officer and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. His passion for being the best officer possible motivated him to prepare himself educationally and experimentally before he went to training college. Those concerned for the Army’s future will applaud the view that says the Lord, the Army, and the people it serves deserve the best one can offer.
Others have been called through the example of another officer. Their lives were changed by God because someone cared and served as a role model worth emulating. For many, “the need” still remains the call. In 1998, TV interviewer Larry King spoke with Reverend Billy Graham about his life and faith, asking him to explain the meaning of “a call.” In the tradition of William Booth, Graham shared that to see a need and be moved to respond constitutes a call.
Enthusiasm – “God in Us”
Still others find that an enthusiasm or passion for what is otherwise a godly pursuit, might be the Spirit’s way of pointing them in their life direction. Olympic runner Eric Liddell expressed this idea when he said “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” This refreshing aspect of a genuine call is often overlooked and should come as a great relief to those who think God is in the business of calling us only to things we would never want to do.
Clearly God the Holy Spirit continues to honor our individuality, tailoring the call to the person and the circumstances. Perhaps it would be useful if officers who find fulfillment in their calling were to take more opportunities to share their own stories, emphasizing the many ways people are called to Salvation Army ministry. The best recruiter is undoubtedly an enthusiastic officer. On the other hand, appeals to officership must be made with sensitivity under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, in ways that don’t guilt young people into signing up.
Authenticating the Call
For those who do respond to an altar call appeal or other leading of the Spirit, are there further ways to authenticate that calling—benchmarks against which the legitimacy of a call can be measured? Pastor, author, and editor-in-chief of Leadership Magazine, Gordon MacDonald, acknowledges in his article entitled “God’s Calling Plan” that “the concept of a call is one of the most profound of all biblical ideas.” He describes a “call story” as “a history of ‘whispered words and events’ that capture the soul and make you aware that God is speaking;” Much like testimonies of new Christians, some are dramatic; some are not. MacDonald offers four guidelines for examining the authenticity of a calling to ministry:
1) Heaven does speak!—There is a moment of certainty that God has put his hand upon you and nudged you toward a particular people, theme, or function.
2) Confirmation—The genuineness of a call is usually confirmed by others who discern the unique work of the Holy Spirit in a particular person.
3) Giftedness—There are some romantic (and probably true) stories of calls where a person had no apparent capacity for the task of ministry at all. But those are rare…When…people are in alignment with their call, something powerful happens, and we the observers, are all left in amazement.
Commissioner William Francis, International Secretary for the Americas & Caribbean, suggests “three basic guideposts [as] the means of leading us step by step to know and do God’s will”: 1) “Through a faithful, disciplined reading of God’s Word, his will is revealed.” 2) “God uses the witness of the Spirit as a means of guidance…through prayer, the counsel of devoted Christian friends, and through our own sanctified impulses. However, the result of the Spirit’s witness is always inward peace.” And 3) circumstances. Francis states: “Once we have responded to the initial call to salvation, we must surrender our lives to follow his will…Begin…by acting daily on what is revealed. Those who wait for a divine career “blueprint” will lose precious time in discovering God’s will for their lives.” (Good News! Eastern Territory)
The Salvation Army’s New Zealand’s website concurs,“God speaks first and foremost through the truths set out in the Bible. There, as we read of the call to mission, service and discipleship, the Holy Spirit may give special illumination to a passage or a verse. As we read we should pray, asking the Lord what it is He particularly wants of us.” In addition, God’s people, circumstances, and the Holy Spirit speaking through a person’s character, convictions and passions may also spark “a sense of mission with us, and the desire to respond.” (www.salvationarmy.org.nz).
In a recently published article in Horizons magazine entitled “Does God Still Call People to Officership?” Major Beverly Ivany writes: “The need is not just to fill appointments or even to reach a certain quota for cadets entering [training] college. It’s the need for qualified, deeply spiritual, passionate men and women who feel they are called by God to a life-long commitment to serve him in a covenant relationship.”
Like the U.S. Marines, Ivany seems to be pitching for a few good men and women to answer the specific call to Salvation Army officership. Check out the no-nonsense “job posting” that accompanied her article (below). One officer friend of mine found it offensive, but I thought there was truth in it. If after reading it, officership seems appealing, start praying about it. Talk with your corps officer, your DYS, and others who know you well. If you can honestly rule out officership, then be sure to serve in the way God leads; that is where you will find your fulfillment in life.
The Body of Christ—finding your fit
It will come as no surprise that the Army needs committed Sunday school teachers, community activists, musicians, volunteers, and employees in every field. It is fair to say that if everyone associated with The Salvation Army became an officer, the work would quickly come to a grinding halt! Thus, it’s not a matter of first and second class callings; it’s finding your fit and giving yourself whole-heartedly over to whatever God has called you to do. The body has many parts; all are necessary.
Are you called to be a teacher, a pastor, an administrator, an evangelist, or an encourager? If your calling is to one of these, then the Bible says do that thing. If, however, all of the above sound good and you love The Salvation Army, you just might be a candidate for officership. If saving souls, growing saints, and serving suffering humanity seems worth doing, look for further signs. If you feel the leading of the spirit, and find confirmation in God’s word, events, and the people around you, if you have skills and spiritual gifts that lend themselves to ministry and have a passion for the mission of The Salvation Army—these may very well add up to an officer’s calling.
In the pursuit of discovering and cultivating your God-given interests and passions, keep praying. Be proactive in asking God to open or close the doors as he chooses. The Army also now offers new options for service on mission teams, as Lieutenants or A/Captains. Those willing to do their part in exploring the options can count on him to do his part in providing direction.
Hearing and answering God’s call to join the priesthood of all believers is life-saving. Hearing and answering God’s call to his plan and purpose for our lives is life-giving. As the Preparers of the Way take their first appointments, the Lord will continue to call individuals to Salvation Army officership, as well as to many other avenues of service. To discover the path we are meant to follow is to understand the meaning of Isaiah 30:21, “This is the way; walk in it.”
To answer God’s call, wherever it may lead, is to sign on for the adventure of a lifetime—guaranteed!
TITLE: Salvation Army Officer
QUALIFICATIONS: Positive attitude, thick-skinned, patient, self-sacrificing, self-sufficient, wise, discerning, good listener, loving, passion for youth ministry, works well with seniors, gentle, determined, creative, flexible, good facilitator, innovative, organized, strong administration skills, friendly, comfortable working with the public, compassionate, empathetic, good communication skills for teaching and preaching, adapts well to change, takes and gives directives well, leadership skills, team player, humble.
HOURS: Available at all times (day or night).
WORKING CONDITIONS: Varied. Must be flexible and adapt to new situations with a spirit of joy. Must be willing to relocate and “roll up the sleeves” at all times.
TYPE OF WORK: Varied. Includes administration, working with people, preaching, public relations and one-to-one counseling. Always open to the Spirit’s leading.
FUNDAMENTALS: Passion for the mission; vision for the future; total commitment; Spirit-filled; called by God.