The concept of a call is one of the most profound of all difficult ideas.
The Bible is full of calls to men and women who, when summoned to service, went out
and made a difference in their generation.
Such calls had several commonalities.
First, in one way or another, they all originated out of the Godhead.
God the Father called Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Amos, and many others.
Jesus called twelve men to be with Him, and then sent them out to disciple the nations.
The Holy Spirit called Saul and Barnabas and others to apostolic service.
No one in the Bible anointed himself or herself.
Second, biblical calls were quite unpredictable.
Gideon, for example, responded to his call, "How can I save Israel?
My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family."
Why David? Why Jeremiah? Why Simon Peter?
And, of all people, why Saul of Tarsus who states, "I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man?"
Third, biblical calls usually focus on mind-boggling, seemingly impossible objectives.
Build a boat, Noah; lead a nation out of Egypt; Moses, Elijah, face down a wicked king;
Paul, preach to the Gentilesl.
But God's call was so compelling that it gave courage to the one called.
Finally, each biblical call was unique.
No call was like any other.
The circumstances, the nature, the expectations of the call were all customized.
When God wanted a word said or a people led, He mandated a person to make it happen in an unprecedented way.
Calls were not classified ads so that anyone could volunteer.
Persons, sometimes strange persons, were selected while others, seemingly more worthy and capable, were not.
There was only one Esther, one Elijah, one Jonah, and one John the Baptist.
God still calls people today.
When one is called by God, financial security, location, notoriety, applause, and power become
increasingly less important.
Obedience becomes the primary issue.
God's call binds us to surrender ourselves to the will of God.
A call from God is so evident to the one who is called.
There is a moment of certainty that God has put His hand upon you, and you know it.
And then, you are motivated to a greater commitment, and to a joy that's inexpressible.
When Eric Liddell, in Chariots of Fire, said to his sister, "When I run, I feel God's pleasure,"
he put his finger on a hard-to-explain dimension of a call from God.
When one lives obediently in the center of God's call, one feels God's pleasure, and one knows inexpressible joy.
But we need to be clear about this.
Men and women have obeyed God's call and become martyrs.
Others have undertaken unspeakably difficult and discouraging tasks and barely survived.
Some have lived obscure lives in far off corners of the world and have finished the course
never feeling that they accomplished anything of measurable value.
There have been others, of course, whose lives have sparkled with spectacular results-- who in their preaching,
their writing, their organization-building, their ability to envision and empower people have left
their mark on church history.
What did they all have in common?
They felt God's pleasure; they experienced inexpressible joy.
What has enabled these God-called people to keep going through all the difficulties?
It was the indelible memory of a moment when they became very sure that God had spoken
and that they were under divine appointment.
They would not run; they would not back down; they would not quit.
Many can never tell you why they heard the call.
They are the first to admit that they are the chief of sinners, such as Paul admitted.
They know that they are insufficient for the task, and some have occasionally desired, like Jonah, to run.
But the call of God has prevailed.
They can relate to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's words, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."
Those who are call of God have a greater responsibility, as James put it. Because of that divine call,
we are charged as Paul charged Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman
who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth."
The Bible is our textbook!
It is God's unchanging Word of truth -- and we are called to preach it -- and people need to hear it.
Preparing each sermon is one of the most important things that you will do in your ministry.
Your greatest opportunity is to feed people the Word of God.
The sermon is probably the only spiritual nourishment many of them will receive.
So, as Paul told another young pastor, named Timothy, "I give you this charge; preach the Word;
be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience
and careful instruction." (2 Timothy 4: 2-3)
A preacher must learn the fine art of patience.
Notice, how patient Jesus was with all those about Him.
Remember, how patient He is with us.
Jesus accepted people where they were and led them to where He wanted them to be.
Jesus knew that the four letter word, "wait," will solve more problems than the four letter word, "push."
I know of a pastor who tried to lead his church into a building program.
Everyone was ready to push the program forward, except one wealthy man.
With a little "push" the program would have gone forward, but one valuable man would have been lost
in the process.
So the pastor proposed that the church should wait.
He was wise enough to know that if one person openly opposed the building, there would be more
who were silently opposed.
Several months later, the same man came to the pastor, and said that he was wrong in opposing
the building program.
He was ready to proceed immediately and was willing to serve as chairman of the committee to raise
the money for it.
"Wait" had won the victory, where "push" would have been only a partial victory marred by a divided fellowship.
Too many pastors stay up to their necks in hot water.
Dr. J. B. Gambrell said of such pastors, "Some men, if they lived in Ireland, where there are no snakes,
would have snakes shipped in to them just for the sake of killing them."
Dr. Gambrel also gave wise counsel when he said, "We should learn the fine art of plowing around stumps.
They will soon rot out, if left alone."
The greatest virtue, which God's called men must cultivate, is humility.
The exalted nature of our calling and the value placed on it by others make us susceptible to the sin of pride.
There is nothing more subtle and more vicious which will rob us of our influence and our effectiveness as pride.
Henry Fielding strikes to the heart of it with these words: "There is not in the universe a more ridiculous
nor a more contemptible animal then a proud clergyman."
How many of us would dare to preach this sermon: "Humility and How I Obtained It."
Here is the outline:
1. I am humble.
2. I am proud of my humility.
3. I am getting humbler all the time.
4. I deserve a great deal of credit for my humility, because I have so much of which to be proud.
5. I am humble even when I am bragging, for I am much better than I say that I am.
I don't believe that any of us would be so foolish to preach such a sermon, but it is even more foolish to live it.
You remember how the bickering and strife of Jesus' disciples wounded His heart as each sought
an advantage over the others.
The other apostles were indignant, not because of the request, but because they had been beatrn to it.
Jesus said, "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles (pagans) exercise dominion over them...but it
shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister
(deacon, servant); and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant (slave):
even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life
a ransom for many." (Matt. 20: 26-28)
Jesus called His disciples, and they came and followed Him.
The Lord surrounded Himself with those disciples who went preaching and teaching the Word of God,
and the world was shaken from that day until now.
It is God's calling, man's acceptance, God's Word and God's work.
This is the preacher's assignment.
"And he (Jesus) ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach."
This is a personal calling for a personal work with a personal yielding for you and me just as it was
for the twelve.
The noted Methodist preacher, Samuel Chadwick, said, "I would rather preach than do anything else in the world.
I would rather preach that eat my dinner or have a holiday.
I would rather pay to preach than be paid not to preach.
It has its price in agony and sweat and tears, and no calling has such joys and heartbreaks,
but it is a calling an angel might covet.
Is there any joy like that of the saving a soul?
Any thrill like that of opening blind eyes?
Any reward like the love of children to the second and third generation?
Any treasure like the grateful love of hearts healed and comforted?"
We have been called by God to be preachers of the good news as manifested in the life,
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is an extraordinary privilege.
But we will come to nothing as preachers if we think we doing God and the church a favor,
and if we come to the pulpit less than humbled and believing we're entitled to be there.
We, who are called to preach, must commit ourselves to lifelong learning, and be willing to live
in community with our church members and have a deep sense of who we are.
Lifelong learning is a commitment to excellence.
We must not be lax and trifling in our preaching, and the best way to do that is not to be lax
and trifling in our preparation.
Ongoing learning is essential, not just to the craft of preaching, but also to the preacher's life.
Even when we're not preparing a sermon, we still need to be in conversation with scripture
-- to study, meditate, memorize, recite and anguish over the sacred texts of God.
Preachers must also learn to live in community with their church and with other pastors.
Too many pastors operate with a "Lone Ranger" mentality, and live in isolation both
from the church they serve and their colleagues in ministry.
When this is true, their words will fall in deafening silence and be of no earthly good to anybody
when they are disconnected from the lives of the church they serve.
Preaching disconnected from pastoral care and visitation is a form of narcissism and idolatry.
It is what some call "drive-by" preaching.
They just show up on Sunday and preach.
Ephesians 4: 1 speaks of "vocation" or "calling," which applies to all Christians.
But in 2 Timothy 1:9 when Paul speaks of being "called... with an holy calling," he is speaking of
that additional call of a dedicated life set apart to the ministry of the gospel.
The God-called man must be a man of love.
God is love.
His servants must be loving.
Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you love..." and it must be applied
to the preacher par excellence.
If you were to put the word "preacher" in the place of the word "love" in First Corinthians 13,
then we would know what it is that God requires of a preacher.
It would read like this:
"The preacher is patient: the preacher is kind.
He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud.
He is not rude, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, and he keeps no record of wrongs.
The preacher does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth.
The preacher always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres."
That is an imposing definition of love!
It is not touchy-feely or warm'n' fuzzy.
It is accurate and powerful.
Loving is absolutely indispensable for leaders in the church.
This is not an option that we can pick up or discard.
Paul is saying that without love we are as a sounding gong.
Imagine the congregation gathering on a Sunday morning, and the climax is hearing a gong
being beaten for thirty minutes, and then the people go home.
That is listening to the loveless preacher, "The Rev. Clanging Cymbal."
In fact, without love we are nothing!
Nothing means nothing.
The pastor must be in love with his people.
He must be interested in them.
He must be approachable, and not defensive in his attitudes.
He must not resent people who disagree with him.
God beseeches sinners through a blameless man.
Would you drink the purest spring water if it were offered to you in a rusty cup?
This is the reason Paul describes a church leader by saying; "A bishop then must be blameless." (1 Timothy 3: 2)
Holy lives lead to a holy ministry.
Anointed lives lead to an anointed ministry.
A holy minister is a powerful weapon in the hands of God.
What our churches need today is not more machinery, and not new organizations, and not
more novel methods -- what our churches need are men whom the Holy Spirit can use -- dedicated
God-called men of prayer, men mighty in prayer.