As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. – Mark 2:14
The church I have pastored since 1993 recently celebrated 30 years of existence. This church started in my living room, progressed to a storefront, then a building, and today we are well established with a radio station and various ministries. We are not a mega church, but we are a blessed and vibrant church where the Holy Spirit is moving. I know that because we are a loving church and where the Holy Spirit is, there is love (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22-25).
Personally, I have been in ministry for around 43 years. It’s been so long and such a deep part of my life, that I can’t remember when I wasn’t in ministry. But in preparing for our church celebration I began to look at some of my old personal journals and what I thought throughout the years. In one entry I found a devotional for a pastor’s zone meeting I did, and it caused me to consider again this calling on my life. I’d like to share my impressions with you.
The call of God comes in many ways and for many things. When we think of the call of God we often limit it to being called to be a pastor or to ministry of some sort. But the call of God is much more inclusive than that. God calls us to Himself in salvation. He calls us to discipleship. He calls us to obey Him in our various facets of life. He calls us to godliness. He calls us to work. He calls us to a vocation in life. He may call us to get a certain education as preparation for what he calls us to in life. He can call us to singleness or He can call us to wed. He calls us to be good spouses, good parents, good children, good grandparents, and good grandchildren. He calls us to be his ambassadors of reconciliation in whatever form His calling takes in our lives.
One popular online Christian source says the following about the call of God:
The Bible often mentions people being called by God for a specific ministry or service. Paul was called by God: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:1). The Old Testament priests were called by God to their special work (Hebrews 5:4; cf. Exodus 28:1). To be called by God is to be chosen by God for certain purposes. When a person is aware of that call and surrenders to it, he or she starts living out God’s purpose for him or her (see Jeremiah 1:4–5; Isaiah 49:1; Galatians 1:15). 
“To be called by God is to be chosen by God for certain purposes.” I like that. God’s call can take the form of a command. “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). This is the broader call that God gives to every person. But there is a call from God that can be very specific too. God calls us “by name.” “But now, thus says the LORD who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1). God called Moses “by name” (Exodus 33:17). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, said, “To him the door keeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Jesus knows and calls His sheep “by name.”
Jesus goes on to describe such calling as going before those He calls:
- John 10:4–5 (NKJV) – 4 And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
Jesus, “goes before them; and the sheep follow him.” This calling entails a going before or His leading the way, and a following Him from us.
Jesus is the “good shepherd,” He is good because He has given His life on the cross for our redemption, and this sets an example for us of what calling involves:
- John 10:14–18 (NKJV) – 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. – 17 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
Jesus laid down His life voluntarily. So too, when we answer the call, we do so voluntarily, of our own free will, by faith. The calling is from God, but the response requires a decision on our part to either accept or reject it.
Whether God’s call is broad or narrow, general or particular, for salvation or vocation, it requires a willful decision on our part to either accept or reject it. The calling involves a “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” like that voiced by Joshua (Joshua 24:15). God doesn’t force His will on people. Some claim an “irresistible grace,” and its true, God can be pretty persuasive, (ask Jonah about that.) But the calling is a call rooted in love. God calls us in love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Generally and broadly, God calls everyone to salvation through faith in Jesus. God loves “the world,” and so He calls all to repent and be saved through faith in His Son Jesus. That is love, true, Biblical, agape love. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved us, even when were dead  in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5). Thank and glorify who by His grace calls us to salvation through the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Jesus’ calling on the Apostles was, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). Broad or narrow, God’s call is in love. And if love is involved, so is freedom to accept or reject what is being offered. Love by nature, to be truly love, requires freedom to choose to accept or reject it.
What will you do with God’s call on your life, accept it or reject it? For those who accept God’s broad call to be saved from their sins, and then a more particular call to a specific vocation or mission in life, may God continue to bless and sustain you. God’s calling is magnificent and blessed. We praise God for His call!
God loves us so He calls us, that is true. But we need to be realistic about God’s calling. God’s call can also involve difficulties and hardships. God’s calling is not all ice cream and red rose petals. There are some thorns too. Because this calling comes to us in a fallen world where there are broken lives and things out of quilter, there are unexpected valleys included along with the mountain top callings of God.
So, I have a further question to consider for this study. This is for those who have answered God’s call in faith but are now wavering a bit or perplexed in some way. Maybe you have come up against a brick wall or an unexpected difficulty that has caused you to question your call, broad-narrow, general-particular, salvation-vocation, or both. To you I ask, “What did you expect when you answered the call of God?”
Early in Mark’s gospel account Jesus’ call to Levi is very straightforward. It states:
- Mark 2:14 – As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.
When Jesus calls, it’s always best to follow. But I wonder if after following Jesus a while whether Levi questioned the wisdom or nature of this calling. Levi, believed by many to be the same as Matthew, was inspired to record a gospel account. In that gospel we find the words:
- Matthew 4:11 – Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
- Matthew 10:22 – And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
- Matthew 10:34 – “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.
- Matthew 11:28–30 – Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
- Matthew 16:24–26 – 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
- Matthew 24:21 – For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.
- Matthew 26:41 – Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is”
I could have quoted many other inspired words of Matthew, but the point is, when one answers the call of Christ, there are spiritual adversaries like the devil, there are persecutions, the hatred of many against you, heavy burdens, tribulations, and a cross and our flesh that are included in the journey. That’s the reality of God’s calling.
Looking back at Gods’ call on our life, whatever it was that we did expect, it doesn’t take long to discover we also share the common ground that what we expected was likely obsolete, short sighted, naive, and delusional. Does God want us to have expectations, or does He simply want us to follow? The answer to that is something God teaches us with the calling.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor whose calling from God led him to martyrdom at the hands of the Gestapo of the Nazi’s Third Reich. His execution occurred at the end of World War II. It was as though Satan had one last bit of evil to accomplish in killing such a prophetic voice. I don’t agree with everything Bonhoeffer believed, but I do admire his faith and courage in times of great adversity and evil.
At one point in his life Dietrich Bonhoeffer travelled to America, to New York in particular, and in a Pentecostal church learned about the Spirit filled life. Life in the Spirit deepened his understanding of the calling of God. In his book The Cost of Discipleship he famously and profoundly wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” When you answer the call of God, you need to be ready to die. Are you ready to die? Are you ready to pick up your cross and follow Jesus? (cf. Matthew 16:24-26).
Also in that book he writes the following about Mark 2:14 and the calling of God:
And what does the text inform us about the content of discipleship? FOLLOW ME, RUN ALONG BEHIND ME! THAT IS ALL. To follow in His steps is something which is VOID OF ALL CONTENT. It gives us no intelligible program for a way of life, no goal or ideal to strive after. It is not a cause which human calculation might deem worthy of our devotion, . . . What happens? At the call, Levi leaves all that he has – but not because he thinks he might be doing something worthwhile, but simply for the sake of the call. Otherwise he cannot follow in the steps of Jesus. This act on Levi’s part has not the slightest value in itself, it is quite devoid of significance and unworthy of consideration. The disciple simply burns his boats and goes ahead. He is called out and has to forsake his old life in order that he may “exist” in the strictest sense of the word.
The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable (it is, in fact, quite incalculable) into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous (that is, into one which is necessary and calculable), out of the realm of the finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality). Again it is no universal law. Rather it is the exact opposite of all legality. IT IS NOTHING ELSE THAN BONDAGE TO JESUS CHRIST ALONE, completely breaking through every program, every ideal, every set of laws. No other significance is possible since Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance, He alone matters. 
These words greatly impacted me when I was first learning what the calling of Jesus was all about. Over the years, the Lord has impressed certain scriptures on my life that have helped me fulfill God’s call on my life. I’d like to share some of these verses with you in the remainder of this study.
There were many verses the Lord used to lead me over the years. Here are the most prominent ones I remember. As a young growing Christian the verses God spoke most to me with were:
- Philippians 1:21 – For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
- Colossians 3:17 – And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
- Colossians 3:23-24 – And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.
These verses taught me that everything in life is about Jesus; knowing Him and making Him known; serving Him. And if I was doing what I did for Jesus, since He gave His all for me, I should do no less for Him. To serve Jesus means to do your best for Jesus in everything no matter how big or small. Jesus gave His all and His best for us, how could we give anything less? Are you giving your all for Jesus? Is what you are doing for Jesus the best you can do? Joel Osteen speaks of Your Best Life Now, but for the Christian, answering the call of God, it’s not about my best life now, it’s about giving my best effort to Jesus in whatever I do now.
The call of Christ is a sanctifying process. Sanctification is a deep continual work of God in our heart to purify us from anything and everything that hinders us from knowing Him and making Him known. Sanctification is about learning what it means to love like Jesus as we live out His call. Two verses that God has used regarding this work in me are:
- 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 – Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.
We cooperate with God in this sanctification, but truly the heavy lifting is on Him. Sanctification is something I am still learning, experiencing. My steadfast hope is that God will do it. Because he is faithful, I believe He will do it.
One of the most profound realizations in my calling was that it was a work of the Holy Spirit. Eventually the Lord moved me on from a denomination and did it through a single message by Chuck Smith, founding pastor of Calvary Chapel. The title of the message that so impacted me was How the Work of God is Done – Zechariah 4:6. That message changed my life. It was based on Zechariah’s words:
- Zechariah 4:6 – So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’Says the LORD of hosts.”
When I listened to that message it resonated with me and what the LORD had been teaching me. In response I began to investigate and read everything I could from Pastor Chuck. I was hungry for more. On January 2nd, 1992, I received my release from the Lord from the denomination and an open door to other opportunities. It came as I was reading Pastor Chuck’s book The Last Days The Middle East and The Book of Revelation. You might not expect a book by that title to have a word on calling, but it was in that book that I read the following:
One thing we all have to learn is God’s timing is perfect. . .. Do yourself a favor —try to stay in step with Him. Don’t run ahead, tempting Him by doing things He hasn’t told you to do; and don’t straggle behind disobediently.
Have you ever wondered why one ministry succeeds and another fails? Both are staffed by competent people. Both follow the same pattern of development. But one collapses after only a few months, and the other operates for years. Why? In most cases, those involved with the ministry that succeeded spent time seeking God and attempting to follow His timing, whereas the others just took a giant step in the dark and expected Him to bless after the fact.
“God what’s wrong?” They pray as they see their efforts crumbling. “We’re doing this for You. Why aren’t You blessing us?”
“I never told you to start that ministry,” God says. “You didn’t listen to Me, and your timing was not My timing.” 
These words drove me to my knees. I went to those closest to me and asked their intercession as well. As I proceeded with caution, I began prayerfully pondering what was the most important thing in life and ministry.
The first thing God did was make ministry simple for me. Ministry is not complicated. Oh, we make it complicated. But truly, what I discovered was, ministry is TEACHING AND LIVING OUT THE WORD OF GOD. I based that on the following passages:
- Acts 6:2-4 – Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
- 2 Timothy 2:15 – Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
God calls us to be messengers. The message He gives us to pass on to others is in His word. The problem with much of the church today is that those “called” to be messengers too often intrude on God’s word inserting their own words. Through Jeremiah the LORD rebuked the “prophets” who “steal My words every one from his neighbor” (Jeremiah 23:30). These false prophets were prophetic narcissists. They stole words from God’s true prophets and twisted them to mean what they wanted them to mean. They plagiarized and promoted themselves instead of humbly representing God. They proved to be a big part of the downfall of God’s people. Unfortunately, we see much of the same in our day, and the consequences are proving to be just as dark in our day. Pastor are you plagiarizing, promoting yourself, robbing God, or are you humbly getting your messages from heartfelt prayer times in the presence of God? Are you answering God’s call, or the call of this world, of fame, and self-glory? “Do you not know that Friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:4).
As I worked through my calling the Lord began to confront me about my own motivations. “Are you seeking people to attend your church to hear you, or to hear from Me? Are you just trying to build an audience for your teaching and preaching, or do you truly love My sheep?” Such questions challenged me to go deeper. What the Lord taught me was that the love of God should be the driving force and objective inner motivation for every instance of ministry. That needed to be true for me. That needed to be true for all involved in any part of ministry and God’s calling. The verses God used to drive this home to me were:
- 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 – For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
I soon discovered such love was beyond me personally. I needed help. Not by might, nor my power, but by the Holy Spirit:
- Romans 5:5 – Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:5 became a life verse for me and for the ministry and church the Lord has called me to pastor.
As I grew in ministry and the ministry grew, I learned that the measure of success is NOT numbers but faithfulness:
- 1 Corinthians 4:2 – Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.
Seeking BIG churches with BIG crowds of people will warp you. If you are driven by BIGGNESS and the crowds don’t turn up, you will be greatly discouraged in your calling. What I learned and what we all need to learn about God’s calling on our lives is, it’s not about “me,” it’s about “Thee,” about Jesus. Truly:
- 1 Corinthians 3:7 – So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.
I am nothing. You are nothing. Jesus is everything. That is the message of God’s call.
As I continued in ministry I learned a lot about grace from Pastor Chuck Smith:
- 1 Corinthians 15:10 – But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
God doesn’t reduce you to nothing and leave you in a heap of nothingness. He breaks you down to build you up and in the process you learn it is, “by the grace of God I am what I am.” That must happen for you to fulfill your call and for God to get all the glory.
In our 30-year anniversary celebration, I received a congratulatory word from Pastor Bill Gallatin one of the first and original Calvary Chapel pastors called and sent out. He was the one used by God to bring the Calvary Chapel movement to New York, the State where I live. Over the years I have become good friends with Bill and his two sons Scott and Jeff. They’ve been a great blessing and influence in my life. Bill has a biblically sound spiritual gift of prophecy. As part of his congratulations said the Lord had given him a scripture for me. That scripture was the following:
- Jeremiah 17:16 – As for me, I have not hurried away from being a shepherd who follows You, Nor have I desired the woeful day; You know what came out of my lips; It was right there before You.
Bill chuckled as he shared this verse with me commenting that serving 30 years in a church in New York State, a liberal State and one antichristian in so many ways, was truly a sign of God’s hand in my life. One of the truest evidences of a genuine calling form God is endurance. If God has called you to something, He will sustain you in that calling. So, I agree with those words from Jeremiah. And I give all glory to God that even here, in New York, God can fulfill His plans. It hasn’t always been easy, but looking back I can honestly say, God is faithful, and it was well worth it to endure with Him. It’s always worth it to follow and endure with the Lord in his calling. Keep pressing on!
So that’s a short, very short synopsis of the thinking of this founding pastor and one called by God. I hope it gives you some insight into the way the calling of God can and should be done scripturally. I must add that, while Jesus is central and the One essential of fulfilling one’s calling, God also provides helpers, co-laborers with the calling. God provided me with a loving, wise, strong, loyal, faithful, godly wife, mother, and grandma. My wife Dee has a wealth of wisdom many have been blessed by, including me! She is God’s gift to me and to the ministry. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22). That is the truth!
I have also been blessed by the LORD to have a Timothy like Pastor Jeff, who has had my back over the years and been a sounding board who gives honest input, and another set of eyes to oversee the flock of God. Pastor Jeff has a gift for service, he serves, serves, serves, and then serves some more. In the more recent history of our church God has been faithful to bring Pastor Dom to our church, a kindred heart and strong and brilliant man of God’s word. he will one day take the mantel to continue what God is doing at Calvary Chapel of Hope.
All of this is to say that we need help to fulfill our calling and the Lord provides Himself, as well as others to fulfill His call in our lives. A calling is not fulfilled alone. There are times of solitude when only you will understand the intricacies of the calling. There will be times of loneliness. But remember, Jesus will never leave you or forsake you. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen” (Matthew 28:20).
I’ve been blessed and helped by so many people throughout the years. We’ve been blessed by solid faithful Leaders and solid faithful servants in various areas of ministry. When we consider our calling, we should never think a church or whatever our calling entails, is about any one person, except Jesus. We are the body of Christ:
- 1 Corinthians 12:18-26 – But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
We need each other. As we all move closer to Jesus, we move closer to each other. Remember that. It’s not ever about one person, one of us. It’s about Jesus, about His body as a whole, serving Him and others, in His love by His word.
So, what did you expect when you answered God’s call on your life? If you’ve yet to ponder that question, I hope you have a better idea of what to expect, as well as a better idea of the resources and lessons God teaches along the way of His callings. That is the final lesson to be learned. The “calling” is not merely about getting from point “A” to point “B.” God is completely efficient in that the means to getting from point “A” to point “B” prepares you for your final destination. Indeed, you’ll never be “ready” for what God’s final call is, unless you learn the lessons He teaches along the way. That is the greatest truth about God’s calling and that is how the Lord brings glory to His name through us.
Does God want us to have expectations when we answer His call? We have learned it is best to simply follow Jesus, wherever He leads. May you heed and surrender to God’s call on your life. And may God be glorified as you fulfill His call. It’s not about us, it’s about Jesus. That’s what you should come to expect as God fulfills His call on your life. Amen.
 To be “dead” spiritually does not mean we are incapable of responding to God’s call to be saved, that would be to deny God’s image created in us (Genesis 1:26). To be “dead” is better understood In terms of the story of the prodigal where Jesus said of the father toward his prodigal son, “for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:24). The deadness of the prodigal was his separation from his father because of his sinful prodigal ways. The prophet Isaiah also states, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). Sin separates, Spiritual deadness is the separation that comes from sin.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (London: SCM Press, 1948/2001, p. 44 and 62
 Chuck Smith, The Last Days The Middle East and The Book of Revelation (pages 95-98).