The Call | Part Two
by Dr. William F. Harrell
*This post was taken from Dr. Harrell’s website and is used by permission
A man who is truly “called” of God to preach has no choice about what he is going to do in life. God didn’t ask his permission to place a divine call upon him. For a reason only God knows, He selected that person to preach the Gospel and He didn’t consult with him. Suddenly, without expectation, God speaks to the selected person and tells him that his life’s work is already cut out for him. He is to preach the Gospel. Someone asked me once if it were an audible command when God called me to which I said: “No, it’s louder than any audible command.” It is internal and eternal in nature. It is profound in its effect. Life is suddenly different. One’s focus is changed. They may fight the call for a period of time but, if God really called them, they will never get away from it until they do as He said to do. The man who is truly called of God has no choice as to what he will do in life if he wants to live long and be happy. The lawyer, doctor and “Indian chief” all made a career choice. The Man of God did not have that kind of choice. God selected him for whatever reason He had, called him and that’s that. “Professional” preachers might be good people. They might be very talented in speaking and leadership, but a genuine call is essential to effectiveness.
I also think that the event of being called is something that is undeniable. It is so profound; so soul shaping; so life changing that one will never forget it. In fact, they will more than likely remember exactly where they were and precisely what was said to them. I remember the moment God told me what I would do with my life. It was in a church service at Northside Baptist Church in Tifton, GA. I was sitting with two of my friends when suddenly our “church shenanigans” went away. It was like I was suddenly in a different zone. I was seated about three rows from the back on the right side of the sanctuary. Suddenly, God spoke to me in a way that I have never forgotten. He said: “Bill, you are going to be a preacher.” That awareness hung heavily on me for the rest of the service and for many days. A few days later I told my mother that I felt that God was calling me to be a preacher. She encouraged me to pray and be open to what God was telling me. My problem was that I did not want to be a preacher. I was afraid of where He might want me to go or want me to do. What if He wanted me to go to Africa or to the Amazon area of South America? I didn’t want to go to China or India. The thought of doing funerals scared me to death. How would I do weddings and such? At that point, I was not willing to trust God as to what He would do with me. This all happened when I was fourteen years old and I resisted the call upon my life until I was thirty-one. I will not go into how God dealt with me and pressured me over those years but needless to say, the pressure increased dramatically over the years until I finally said, “OK, I will go do as you asked, but I ask that you take this relentless, internal, spiritual pressure off of me.”
I was in the middle of a butterbean patch picking those delicious little treats when I finally gave up. We were “picking our own” at a farm which allowed one to do that. The price was cheaper. Well, I had worn out the knees of a pair of jeans that Summer in that butterbean patch. It gave me plenty of time to think and meditate as I walked along on my knees picking the beans. It became a time of worship for me. I hated picking butterbeans but I grew to love the patch. It was like an outdoor sanctuary where I met God every day. The only relief I found from the inward spiritual pressure I was under was when I was talking with God in that butterbean patch. The day I finally gave up and made the commitment to follow His direction for my life was a moment of absolute relief. I went home with the butterbeans and some corn I had picked that day and my wife, Carolyn and I were shucking the corn on our patio in the late afternoon. I finally got up the courage to tell her the news about what I must do with my life. I said: “Carolyn, God has told me that I should be a preacher. He has been on me for seventeen years and I feel that I have to do it.” She caught me completely by surprise when she didn’t ask any questions but simply said, “Bill, if God has told you to do that then I expect we had best be about doing it.” We sold our new home in which we had lived for only seven months and sold one of our cars. We gave away some furniture and loaded everything on a sixteen foot U-Haul van and took off to seminary. Talking about shifting gears!! But, God prepared the way and He has honored my many years in serving Him.
The problem today is that many men going into the ministry have no such experience. They graduated from high school and went to a Bible college. Then, they went on to seminary. It has been an assumed career path for them and for so many the call is what is lacking. Some of them were called by their Grandmother when she said: “This is little Tommy, my grandson. He is my little preacher boy.” And, that was imprinted upon them in such a way that it launched a career path without the divine having a thing to do with it. So, a life is lived without the power to do what the person thinks should happen. The by product is a life of frustration and failure or nominal success at the best. I just believe that if God calls a man to preach, He gives him the ability to do what He wants him to do. He imparts to that person an ability beyond themselves to do things which are beyond mere human accomplishment.
Of course, this is not a blanket statement. There are many who can attest to a divine call upon their lives and remember it vividly. But, we now have too many “professional” preachers who exhibit a limited ability to function in the spiritual realm with any degree of accomplishment. Our seminaries have been competing with each other for years in seeing which one can turn out the most graduates. They are driven by several factors which demand success determined by numbers. The Seminary Funding Formula for the SBC has a lot to do with it. The more Full-Time Equivalent students, the more money flows from the Cooperative Program. It is a matter of money and numbers. That and the desire to be the biggest and most noted, has resulted in our schools turning out a large number of people who are professional religious leaders but who lack the understanding of a divine call. The desire might be there but the power is not. One does not have to observe a person very long before they are able to discern a lack of power for the job they are striving to accomplish. This all has nothing to do with the size of the work into which they have been placed by the Lord. He has men who are mentally, emotionally and spiritually suited to serve the Lord in the small place. He has others who will be noted as great preachers. He has those he has equipped to excel in a large place. We tend to mark a man’s success based on his notoriety or place of service. But God does not do that. Our quest is to be faithful each day. Do the best we can under any and all circumstances and let God be in charge of where we serve and how well known we are. Man can do a lot to promote himself, but that does not mean that God was in charge of it. Our quest is to be where God wants us to be, serving Him and being faithful day by day and allowing Him to place us where He knows we are now prepared to serve Him the best. Ladder climbers are exhibiting that they don’t trust God with their lives or ministry and that they can handle it better than He can. Many young men have asked me how does one stay at a church thirty-one and one-half years. I tell them that the secret is to tend to every day as a unit. Faithfully follow God every day and don’t worry about tomorrow. Also, one should not leave a church until they are just as certain that God told them to leave as they were certain that He told them to go to there. If God makes it that clear and it is as profound an experience as the call was to go to a church, then you have no choice but to consider the fact that He might be trying to use you in a different setting for a different purpose. Getting upset and disillusioned in some way and sending out one’s resume’s is getting ahead of God. Wait until you hear a definite word from Him about your place of service.
The Call will take one through all sorts of difficulties. Serving God is living on a battlefield where our personal abilities driven by human desires will lead to defeat. But, God’s enabling and guidance will lead to victory. There will be many times when things are tough and if a man can look back and vividly recall the moment that God called him to the work at hand, he will be able to make it through to the end. The sense of that Divine Call will give him strength and assurance that no other thing can give him.
I want to urge everyone who feels the impulse to enter the ministry and especially to preach the Gospel to make sure that the undergirding factor in that decision is the reality of “The Call.”