THE CALL TO PREACH
I remember reading an interview with mega-church pastor and author, Andy Stanley, where he asked his Dad, mega-church pastor and author, Dr. Charles Stanley, about the call to preach. He said he asked his Dad if a preacher had to be called, or could he volunteer. Andy said he never felt a call to preach, but that he wanted to volunteer. I don't recall what the answer to his question was, and I am in no way questioning the ministry of Andy Stanley. I have been encouraged a great deal by his work in the ministry, and have learned from his teaching.
For me, it has never been a question of whether or not I was called to preach the gospel. The question has been instead, have I always answered the call to preach the gospel.
I first felt the calling of the Lord to preach when I was only fifteen years old. Just a kid, in ever sense of the word. I felt the stirring of the Holy Spirit at church camp that the Lord was calling me to deliver His Word. I remember thinking how foolish that the Lord would call a teenager to preach...but the stirring of the Spirit would not let go, until I let go.
But the call to preach was not the only call that I heard during those years. The world was calling too.
For several years I tried to answer both calls. I lived with one foot in the church, and one foot in the world. I held onto the Lord with my right hand, and embraced the things of the world with my left.
As you can imagine, this double-minded lifestyle is not one that can last very long. Something had to give. Sadly, what gave was my commitment to the Lord and the preaching of His Word.
Over the next several years, my life spiraled out of control. Eventually, I found my way back in a church service, and there the Holy Spirit really got a hold of my life. The Spirit had been working all the time, but I was resistant. I was the prodigal son, living life in the pig-pen, but not realizing just where I was. Until that fateful morning.
Soon, the calling returned, which should not have surprised me, because I was familiar with what the Word says about the gifts and calling of the Lord in Romans 11:29, "...God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable." In other words, no matter what I had done - God was not removing the call. Now, I may have done things that would make the results of the scall less effective - and that is a subject for another time, but God was still calling me.
This time, after some counseling from my pastor, I answered without reservation, and so began what is now a 31 year journey as a preacher of the Word of God. I have preached up and down the state of California in many churches and towns. I was a pastor of one church for five years, and am now in my eleventh year of my second pastorate.
But guess what...this past year, after all this time, I began to doubt the call of God upon my life. I have been going through a rough time, spiritually, emotionally and physically. I found myself questioning the Lord - and not in a legitimate sort of way - I found myself questioning His goodness, and I found myself angry at Him. I felt betrayed by people I loved, and most of all, I felt betrayed by God Himself.
Now the key word there, especially when it comes to God, is "felt" - just because I felt it - didn't make it true. In fact, just the opposite was true. After a wrestling match with the Lord, I pleaded with Him to just show Himself to me...to just show me, in the midst of this wreck that I called my life, I just wanted assurance that I really did hear the call - that I really was doing His will. I didn't want to do this any longer, especially if He was not in it.
What I love about what happened next, is that God didn't split the skies, or write on the wall, or send a prophet to my front door. He did what He often does....through His Word, He spoke to me in that still small voice, that those who know Him recognize.
I read these verses the very morning that I had my shouting match with the Lord. In 1 Timothy 4:7 I read the instruction that Paul gave Timothy, "...train yourself in godliness." And then in verse 14, Paul says, "Do not neglect the gift that is in you..."
That morning, I wept. I repented. I worshiped. I praised God. I realized that I had been focused not on the One that had given me such a gift and calling, but that I had been focused on the pain that I was in due to what I was dealing with in my life. Don't misunderstand me, the pain was real, the problems are real, the issues are real - and they are still here - but rather than trust in the Lord and continue to do what He had called me to do - my focus was on man.
I had neglected my training - and I had neglected the gift that God placed in me. The gift that He had given me.
That morning, while preaching the sermon (yes folks, this all happened on a Sunday morning) - I felt so alive. I knew that this is what God had called me to do. I was firm in my calling and firm in my answer to the Lord. Here am I Lord, use me, in whatever way You see fit.
I don't know what the future brings - I may not be a pastor next week, or next year. But this I know - God has called me to preach the gospel, and so I will....wherever the Lord gives me opportunity, I must preach the gospel. Like my brother Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, "...and woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!"
My prayer is simply that the Lord might use me, in whatever way He sees fit - that He might pour my life out as an offering to Him.
In His service,