When I was sixteen years old I visited Japan on a short term missionary trip. I had been interested in the country at some level for a long time, and though that interest may have started in a rather juvenile fashion, it was still the seed that God used to draw me to that country for His namesake.
My sister had gone on a short term trip to Russia and other nearby countries with an organization called Word of Life one or two years prior to my trip to Japan. As a result, Word of Life sent her updates on what current trips that they were doing over the summer each year. One day after coming home from a friend’s house I found a pile of stuff in my room. Now, piles of things in my room were not terribly uncommon, but this was one that I hadn’t put there. My father would from time to time get into cleaning moods and would throw everything that belonged to you that you’d left downstairs into your room; that’s where this pile came from. So I started sifting through the things that I’d discarded downstairs and found one of these pamphlets from Word of Life with my sister’s name on it. After stumbling upon the one thing in that pile that my dad had erroneously thrown into my room, I stood up in a moment of hardy, teenage pride and thought, “This doesn’t even belong to me! I’ll throw it in Molly’s room! She shouldn’t leave her things lying all over the house after all!” So I walked down the hall to Molly’s room and tossed the pamphlet away.
After walking back to my own room I sat down among the piles of clothes, toys and trash that my father hadn’t placed there and another thought struck me. But instead of a self-important one puffing me up with undue pride it was a quiet, simple thought.
“What if there is a trip to Japan?”
I stood up and walked back to my sister’s room, and back to that pamphlet, resolving to the God who dwells within me that if there were a trip to Japan I would go. I picked up the pamphlet that sat in the middle of my sister’s otherwise empty floor and slid my finger through the tape that held it shut. With a soft snap it opened revealing to me the one word that I knew would be there.
So here I am today, sixteen years later, preparing to go again, this time as a full time missionary with my wife and daughter and dog. Over those years leading up to this point I’ve sometimes questioned myself, and been questioned by others, as to whether this calling is really from God or if it is just me fulfilling my own interests. This is a fair question and one that I think some, if not all, Christians who feel called to a particular place or people or thing need to work through and answer for themselves. After sixteen years of work and commitment to get to this point I don’t ask myself that question anymore, but it is still asked of me from time to time. Oswald Chambers in “My Utmost For His Highest” answers the question this way:
“The call of God is the expression of God’s nature, not ours. God providentially weaves the threads of His call through our lives, and only we can distinguish them…The call of God is not a reflection of my nature; my personal desires and temperament are of no consideration. As long as I dwell on my own qualities and traits and think about what I am suited for, I will never hear the call of God. But when God brings me into the right relationship with Himself, I will be in the same condition Isaiah was…The majority of us cannot hear anything but ourselves. And we cannot hear anything God says. But to be brought to the place where we can hear the call of God is to be profoundly changed.”
It was on that first trip to Japan that God brought me to a place where I could hear that call. In my case it was a place both geographical as well as spiritual. He revealed to me the people behind the TV shows, comics and video games that I had been interested in for years before that point. He revealed to me how the temperament and talents he had given me and the events of my life, and even the lives of others, had led me to that point. It was not a result of my sitting down one afternoon to plan out how and where to use myself in the most effective manner; God had already done that and He used that trip to prepare me to hear it. It is for that reason that I am able to look back on my life and see His hand in its workings.
But this is not just true of me. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that God has created each of us to be new in Jesus Christ so that we can do the good works he planned for us long ago. Again, that’s not just for some of us like Oswald Chambers or Isaiah. That is you and me. Each and every one of us who are in Christ have had a portion of God’s work designed specifically for us to accomplish. Is there something in your life that is hindering you from hearing God’s call? Have you recognized the simple thoughts that He has given you to draw your attention to that call whatever it may be?
Too often we think that this is some dramatic moment like it was for Isaiah who saw God in His glory and heard the call audibly spoken to him. We think of Philip who was told by an angel of the Lord to go south along a certain road where he met an Ethiopian eunuch. He heard the eunuch reading from the book of Isaiah and asked whether the man understood what he was reading. Philip was then invited by the Ethiopian man to explain the scripture to him and was able to baptize him. For Philip, of course, this was what would be a dramatic event for any of us, but what about the eunuch? For him it was a series of mundane decisions that brought him to that particular place and time. But God Himself was the author of those decisions and more that guided that man to his meeting with Philip. It was His hand that wove though out the course of that man’s life to that very spot and that very scripture at that very time. For the eunuch though, as it is often for you and me, it was a simple choice here and there along the way that God used to speak that calling into our lives.
I don’t know what God’s call for your life is. I don’t know whether He wants you to go to Japan or to Harrisburg. But what I do know is that He has prepared a calling specifically for you. Is your life quiet enough to hear it in its simplicity?