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What Does a Call Look Like?

I’ve been talking to several people over the past couple of week about that term “calling.” Just what does a “call” look like?

In baseball, they have the “call to the bullpen” where the old pitcher comes out and a new pitcher comes in to take over the rest of the game.

Then there is another way to use the word:

“My name is Zebediah, but you can call me Zeb.”

In that case, the person wants you to call them by a certain title or nickname.

Then you have the doctor version of it. “I am on call.”

And there are multiple other uses of the word…

“’Should I call the men from up on the hill?’ he called out.”

But what about in Christianity? Let’s look at a couple verses and determine what this word actually means and if it is even biblical to say “I have a calling to go into the ministry.”

Ephesians 4:1-3 – I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Romans 11:29 – For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

2 Peter 1:10 – Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

1 Corinthians 1:26-27 – For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

That is a lot to digest!

Let’s unpack each of these verses and throw in some of the church history as well.

To begin, the general call in the Bible is to a live with Christ. That is the first and foremost call in the Bible.

Romans 1:5-6 – through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ

Belonging to and in Christ is a much deeper calling than anything else in there. When one starts to discern a calling from a Christian standpoint, we need to make sure they have first a restored relationship with God and with His people.

This means that the primary call of the Christian is to respond to and act upon the call to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.

This means that whatever work we choose must be integrated with the participation with Christ Himself. We could be a plumber, but as a plumber, we can work for the Kingdom by repairing relationships, showing justice, acting with mercy and grace and other components of the kingdom.

Next, God has given us a call to work. God created us to work. It started all the way back in the Garden of Eden. In Exodus, we are told that we are to work for 6 days and then rest. So you could say that it goes beyond calling, we are created to work. In the very beginning the call to basically be a farmer was the highest calling there was other than unity with God (until Eve came along that is).

Next, we are called to, well, life. Our work is not merely the job from which we get a paycheck. We raise families, have a spouse, and have friends.

Eve came along and Adam was then so smitten with her that he gave his time and attention to her as well as working his job in the Garden. This means we should balance our paid work and personal work with our families and friends.

So, to this point, we know that we are called to belong to Christ. We are created to work. And we are called to have a full life, filled with family and friends.

Knowing what kind of work you do is probably not that high on God’s list of things that are of critical importance.

But let’s look at whether God calls us to particular work.

We do know it does happen. God has called several people in the Bible to specific work. He called prophets. He called Noah to build an ark. He called Moses and Aaron to their roles. Many of the political leaders we see in the Bible, God elevated them to their roles. Even though the word “call” is not used here, there is no mistaking that God called those people to their roles.

I have read several commentaries that said that God called very few people in the Bible. And, I guess He didn’t call a lot of people numerically. But if you take that as a percentage of the people mentioned in the Bible, it is actually pretty high. And if you include the people we don’t get to “meet,” then that is a very high number. We don’t see all the people who went on to plant churches  in the New Testament or all of the Israelites whose sole job it was to protect the Ark of the Covenant.

But were many of these calls a direct “voice from heaven” moment or were they more subtle, such as being attuned to the heart of God through Scripture and meditation? There are several ways to discern where God wants to place you as far as a career goes.

First, we need to look at the needs of the world. We are told in Scripture that we should support ourselves and our families.

1 Timothy 5:8 – But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Titus 3:14 – Let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.

We also are expected to meet the needs of those who are not part of our family.

Proverbs 14:21 – Happy are those who are kind to the poor.

Proverbs 11:25 – A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.

Or what about working to be productive in society? That is Scriptural as well.

Jeremiah 29:5-7 – Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Next, God gives us each talents and gifts. We should use those gifts not only for the edification of the body of believers, but for the society as a whole.

Isaiah 28:24-26 – Do those who plow for sowing plow continually? Do they continually open and harrow their ground? When they have leveled its surface, do they not scatter dill, sow cummin, and plant wheat in rows and barley in its proper place, and spelt as the border? For they are well instructed; their God teaches them.

1 Corinthians 12:7-10 – To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

This is where knowing what you are good at and what spiritual gifts the Lord has given is important. This happens by talking to those closest to you, realizing your talents and spiritual gifts tests.

For example, I know that God has given me the ability to take large tasks and get them accomplished. I have managerial skills and leadership ability. I also have the ability to preach and to teach. That is what has helped me to confirm my calling into ministry. But similar skill set could be used to be a training manager for a company or a military commander.

Finally, what has God given you as your desires? Your fulfillment of purpose is vitally important to God.

Psalm 37:4 – Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Matthew 5:6 – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

John 16:24 – Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

Because of sin, however, our desires can get all screwed up. Doing what makes us happiest will not always bring the greatest fulfillment. God is looking out for our fulfillment of purpose, not mere happiness that comes and goes with the circumstances.

Does this mean that being “called” into the ministry is a higher calling? Around the Middle Ages, becoming a monk or a nun was considered a higher calling. Even to this day, we still see that played out. I have been fairly consistent in believing that while I welcome the benefits that the government affords those in ministry, they further create a divide into calling versus higher calling, and that is a mentality that needs to stop.

But fact of the matter remains, God does call people into vocational ministry.

Exodus 28:1 – Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests — Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.

Mark 1:16-17 – As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Acts 13:2,5 – While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” ….When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them.

Regardless, Christians are called, yes called, to conduct themselves to the full-time service of Christ.

Colossians 3:23 – Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters.

But, Fred, what about 1 Timothy calling out those who are elder or pastor as it actually being a higher calling?

1 Timothy 5:17-18 – Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves to be paid.”

This should be translated more in line with pay rather than about comparing their work with other peoples’ work. The true comparison in this passage is about pastors who rule well versus those who don’t instead of pastors versus the rest of the world.

Whew….That was a lot. But I believe this will give some insight, mostly to myself, about the word calling and what it is to the Christian.

Wait

Creator of earth & heaven, why am I filled with question

Defeated in my spirit. One empty man, desiring Your plan

Proverbs 21:5 – The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.

Ministry is such a fickle calling. The majority of Christians, in America at least, desire to have their ears tickled rather than salt poured on their wounds. We have trained ourselves to think that God’s blessings come only when we get what we want.

Now the inside of me is empty, the ones I have trusted have left me

But still I’m not forsaken, led by the hand of the Son of Man

Proverbs 16:3 – Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

Your kingdom is so much bigger than what we make it out to be. Your kingdom is the present perfect tense! It is and it is yet to come. You have directed my path every step of the way ever since I called out to You.

My life has not been an easy one. Yep, it was, for 38 years. I grew up in a pretty stable family. Before I came along, though, I know both my mom and my dad, before meeting each other, had tough lives. It is one of the big things that I respect about them.

But for 38 years, I was fairly insulated from pain.

The past 12 years have been hard. And I am not saying that lightly. I mean it feels like someone has placed a shackle around my feet, attached a large boulder to it and told me to go climb Mt. Everest.

In 2011 I not only committed my work to the Lord, but I committed to work FOR the Lord. So plans were put in place to make that happen.

2011 is when the calling and my life truly intersected.

And so I will wait

And though my heart aches

Nothing can cause me to ever turn away

There is so much pain in this world that my heart wants to break

Proverbs 24:27 – Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.

I prepared my work and got everything ready. By 2016 I started building the house that You asked me to build, preparing to go into vocational ministry.

You called me, Lord. You called me to intersect with those whose lives were without purpose, like mine was for 38 years. You called me to reach into the mire of peoples’ lives and show them that You are their one and only way to salvation.

2018 you blessed that day in early December. The house was now built.

But until You choose to deliver me, I choose to wait

Proverbs 24:3-4 – By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

Lately, that house has been rocked. Figurative earthquakes have shaken the foundations. Figurative floods have destroyed some of the beautiful treasures inside the house. As the figurative house ages, I am learning that the equipment needs to be upgraded. I still need to place weed killer down so the crabgrass doesn’t break up through the driveway. I need to maintain the house you helped me build.

So that is my prayer today.

How can I maintain the house You helped me build?

What does that look like?

Last night I stood outside my house and simply looked at it. How do I know what needs to be replaced, upgraded, and repaired?

Short answer is that I typically stumble across it. Yes, there are reminders that I have in my phone to replace filters and I know that during the summer I will need to cut the grass weekly. But I won’t know the shower cartridge has a problem until there is a leak. And I won’t know a light is bad until it burns out.

The same can be said for this spiritual house I am in. There are things that I do daily to maintain the house. I read Your Word. I spend time in prayer. I study to show myself approved by You.

But there are areas that I won’t know are wearing out until they break.

Proverbs 27:23 – Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds

But hopefully, through study of the Word and prayer, I can learn to see the conditions of the house before too much begins to fail.

God, I Need a Sign

A lament.

God, I believe.

Those words sometimes feel so rote and trite. Working at a church you would think that I have that sentence down cold. That it pours from my heart without even thinking. It skips totally past my brain because it comes from a life filled with belief.

Help my unbelief

Those words, as I become more and more entrenched in the world of ministry, seem to fill my voice over and over again. But I do believe! I wouldn’t be talking to you, God, if I didn’t believe in you. But sometimes, I just wonder if you have the power to bring about what you say in Romans 8:28.

Do you really work for the good of those who love you? Of those who are called according to YOUR purpose? I’ve been called by that purpose. I expected the world to try to destroy that belief, but when it comes from the church, when it comes from broken promises and false pretenses, when it not only affects yourself but causes your bride to cry and hurt….is that what the calling is about?!?

Is it about the people of God hurting you more than the world can or will?

Hear me crying in pain while in the belly of the beast

I wonder if this is what you meant by receiving extra judgment. Or I wonder if this is what you meant when you called the Pharisees a brood of vipers. The manmade laws that kept people from serving you and loving without abandon.

I want to love you without fear!

I want you to be the sole purpose for my existence.

I want to see you so famous that I can say with boldness and confidence that I believe!

But I am stuck. Between falling for a false promise and a kingdom that is so much greater than any single moment in time.

The belly of the beast

Imagine Jonah! Out of fear he ran from you! I am sure that at various points in my life I have run from you. But now has not been one of them. You called me into the fight and I heeded the call.

But when Jonah embraced his call, he immediately got swallowed up by the beast. Sure, call it a whale or a fish. It was something much bigger than him. And Jonah got swallowed up by that which is bigger.

I’ve been swallowed up by my calling.

I know the reasons why you hide yourself away, but I can’t think of any of those right now

The church has taken the power away from the Holy Spirit. We are guilty of a grievous crime! We give all the power to your followers and don’t even know how to speak with you anymore.

We are the brood of vipers!

We spend all our time looking only at what is on the surface that if we started to look too deeply we would find the mirror that you placed there showing us what our faults and hang-ups are.

But imagine the freedom that comes from looking into the eyes of God!

Think about what we have now and what you desire us to have.

So, God, I need a sign. I need to know you are still in my corner

It is a dangerous place to get paid to motivate others to you. The only way we can see success is numerically. But you are so much more than numbers! You are Spirit! You are love. You are peace. You are patience. You are kindness. You are self-control.

There are no quantifiable measures of those.

Paul would be voted out of our churches. He spoke the truth. He was gruff. He was not the nice church leader that we all expect in our churches these days.

But he was filled with the fruit of the Spirit.

Did he ever ask you for a sign?

When he opposed Peter, what happened there? I need to know the details, Lord.

I need that sign.

I’m not one for telling you what would be best for me

I’m not about to tempt you or put you to a stupid test.

I know you require faith

You said that blessed are those who believe who have never seen you

But just once….just this time….I need a confirmation

I need a miracle or wonder or voice or light

Or just give me something that I made up in my own head

Just once

Once.

Zechariah 11 Commentary

Zechariah 11:1 – Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars!

The question is whether this is showing us a past historical event (the Babylonian invasion) or a future prophecy. Based on the rest of this book, I would venture that this is a future prophecy that is predicting the Roman moves against Judea.

The area of the mountain passes between Lebanon and Israel are called the “doors of Lebanon.”

This chapter is setting up the events that will lead to God’s people rejecting the Messiah when He does come.


Zechariah 11:2 – Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen, for the glorious trees are ruined! Wail, oaks of Bashan, for the thick forest has been felled!
Lebanon’s strength was in her cedars. Throughout the Bible we see the strength of the “cedars of Lebanon.” They were a sought after commodity. This could be talking about an economic crash. If the strong cedars, which were a top trading commodity were ruined, how much more will the lesser commodities be ruined.

But I think this goes a beyond that in that the cedars show the strength of Lebanon. This is showing that strength being destroyed.

Zechariah 11:3 – The sound of the wail of the shepherds, for their glory is ruined! The sound of the roar of the lions, for the thicket of the Jordan is ruined!

This is a powerful verse that describes the leaders of God’s people being brought down. The wail of the shepherds means that the Jewish leaders will be ruined. Their glory will be ruined. Look at Mark 13:1, as the disciples are talking to Christ and they say that the stones and buildings are beautiful. Jesus tells His disciples that those stones will be destroyed.

Everyone will mourn because of the rejection of the Christ.

Zechariah 11:4 – Thus said the Lord my God: “Become shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter.

Zechariah moves into the explanation of how this destruction is to come about.

Different translations have different words for what the shepherd is to do to the flock. Some say to pasture them. Others say to feed them. Some say to take care of them. Others simply say to shepherd them.  Feeding, or caring for the sheep who are doomed to slaughter, is to provide them God’s Word. This means that they have no excuse of ignorance when the Messiah does come.

Acts 20:28 shows this specifically.

The more we go through this prophecy, the more we will see that Zechariah seems like he is acting this prophecy out. I don’t believe he is simply reciting it. I believe there are actions that go along with it.

Zechariah 11:5 – Those who buy them slaughter them and go unpunished, and those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the Lord, I have become rich,’ and their own shepherds have no pity on them.

Some translations of this verse say “hold themselves not guilty” instead of “go unpunished.” The adversaries of God’s people don’t feel guilt in the destruction of them. And God allowed this to happen.

As for “those who sell them,” God is talking about the rulers of Judah. Their selfishness basically sold their people to Rome. Look at verses such as John 11:48-50.

God even addresses those who sold His sheep to Rome and became rich. Look at Luke 16:14. The Pharisees missed the Messiah because they were lovers of money. The leaders have no pity on them.

Zechariah 11:6 – For I will no longer have pity on the inhabitants of this land, declares the Lord. Behold, I will cause each of them to fall into the hand of his neighbor, and each into the hand of his king, and they shall crush the land, and I will deliver none from their hand.”

God is removing is pity on His people, which means he is going to deliver them into the hands of the Romans. This is a little bit of a foreshadowing of things to come when the Roman rulers, such as Vespasian.

Zechariah 11:7 – So I became the shepherd of the flock doomed to be slaughtered by the sheep traders. And I took two staffs, one I named Favor, the other I named Union. And I tended the sheep.

A shepherd in ancient Israel would use two staves to lead their flock. One staff would be used to protect the sheep from danger while the other would be used to direct the flock. The names are Favor and Union (in some translations, “Beauty and Bands”). Beauty is God’s favor on His people while Bands is the reunification of Israel and Judah (see verse 14 later)

The flock doomed to be slaughtered are those whom Jesus came for (see Matthew 11:5). Some translations go so far as to say “the poor of the flock.”

Zechariah 11:8 – In one month I destroyed the three shepherds. But I became impatient with them, and they also detested me.

This is a pretty hard passage to understand. Who are the “three shepherds?” This is definitely in a prophetic voice, so I would have to think that there is something much more than shepherds being named aside the Good Shepherd.

I tend to like Dr. James Boice’s view that the three shepherds are most likely the roles of prophet, priest and king, which were taken away after the Roman conquest. These roles have never been restored as they are now fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

Zechariah 11:9 – So I said, “I will not be your shepherd. What is to die, let it die. What is to be destroyed, let it be destroyed. And let those who are left devour the flesh of one another.”

In chapter 7 we saw that God would not listen to His people. This was a pretty intense form of punishment. Now, God is telling them He will not be their shepherd.

They rejected the Good Shepherd and ended up in occupation and famine.

Zechariah 11:10 – And I took my staff Favor, and I broke it, annulling the covenant that I had made with all the peoples.

God is setting aside His providential care for His people. The covenant that He is speaking of here is from Deuteronomy 28:1-14. This paved the way for Rome to invade and conquer.

Zechariah 11:11 – So it was annulled on that day, and the sheep traders, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the Lord.

God’s people knew the covenant had been annulled. God has defended His people, but now they were about to become food for, as the Bible calls, the “wild beasts” of the Gentile world.

Zechariah 11:12 – Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.

Thirty pieces of silver is used a lot in Scripture. In the book of Exodus, it is the price given to a master whose slave was gored by oxen. A good slave was worth twice that amount. This meant that the final slap in the face would be that Jesus’ life was worth thirty pieces of silver, making Jesus worth no more than a common slave.

Zechariah 11:13 – Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter.

The thirty pieces of silver was thrown into the house of the Lord. This is a prophecy that was fulfilled when Judas, filled with the guilt of condemning Jesus, threw the silver on the floor of the temple and the priests used it to purchase a field from a potter.

Zechariah 11:14 – Then I broke my second staff Union, annulling the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

The breaking of the first staff in verse 10 symbolizes the rejection of God’s people by the Good Shepherd. The breaking of this staff is showing the breakup of Israel and Judah, most likely under Roman rule.

In reading Roman historian Josephus, he said that things got so bad after the Romans conquered that Jew fought against Jew as severely as the Romans had beaten them.

Zechariah 11:15 – Then the Lord said to me, “Take once more the equipment of a foolish shepherd.

It is at this point that Zechariah is to play the role of a “foolish shepherd.” This entire chapter is filled with dramatic moments that seemed to be acted out by Zechariah.

Zechariah 11:16 – For behold, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.

These last few verses show both the first century choices and the final choice of the Antichrist. This shepherd uses his staff to beat the sheep.

God is allowing this shepherd to rise up because of the rejection by His people for the Good Shepherd. If we look at some prophetic verses, we see that this is exactly what the Antichrist will do.

Check out both Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24:15-22.

Another interesting thing to note is that God is raising this leader up. Many times in history we hear about a country who believes that God has sent a leader to them. He may very well have done so, but just not in the manner in which the country believes. The leader that God may be raising up could be a leader that will be a foolish shepherd instead of one who points us to the Good Shepherd.

Zechariah 11:17 – “Woe to my worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! Let his arm be wholly withered, his right eye utterly blinded!”

This verse is filled with verses from all around Scripture. From Daniel 7-8 and 24 to 2 Thessalonians 2 to Revelation 19-20, we see that the worthless shepherd will have his arm and right eye taken away from him. The arm is seen as a symbol of power while the eye is a symbol of intelligence.

Revelation 13 tells us that the Antichrist will survive a severe hit.

Revelation 13:12-14 – It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.

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