I recently started a discipleship course on ‘God’s Calling’ with a group of believers who either have a particular calling in their lives, or who are seeking discernment and guidance on His calling. I’m struck by the many questions we all have. Has God called us for this? What is His will and how can we be sure that it is His will?
We can wait in anticipation for a sign…and we can still wait!
For some God’s calling may come through the words and actions of others as with the case of Deborah, the prophetess and judge. Her call came in a three stage process and it began with a crisis. The Lord sold the Israelites into the hands of the King of Canaan. Israel’s crises weren’t just military, they were spiritual as well. Before they arrived in Canaan, the Israelites had been commanded sternly and repeatedly not to worship the gods of the peoples whose territory they were about to invade, but the temptation was nearly impossible for them to resist. Then God, in anger, sent a hostile neighbour to attack and oppress the Israelites as punishment and when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, God raised up a judge – Deborah, who led the Israelite tribes, drove out the enemy, and restored peace.
When crises happen we often ask ‘What is the purpose in all of this? What is God doing? What is He trying to say to me through this painful journey? A crisis is not necessarily a bad thing as it can sharpen our awareness in listening to God’s voice. We live in a fallen, broken world where crises do happen, sometimes of our own making and sometimes their origin is shrouded in mystery. Crises ultimately can bring opportunities and a faith that endures and deepens.
Deborah’s second stage in hearing God’s voice involved the community. Little is known of her background but by the time we meet her, she is a judge, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, and leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah in the hill country of Ephraim and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. In Judges 4, (in prose) and in Judges 5 (in poetry), often called the Song of Deborah. People trusted Deborah and it would be recognized today that she had ‘leadership qualities’ – graciousness, vision, charisma and personal strength. People knew Deborah was the one to lead them and God’s call came to her through the voices of neighbours.
When Deborah finally acknowledges God’s call she moves straight into action. She summons Barak and through God’s commands tells him to take ten thousand men to Mount Tabor. Because Barak was frightened by the prospect of facing nine hundred chariots, he insists that Deborah accompanies him into battle. Deborah agrees but states ‘Because of the way you are going about this, the honour will not be yours for the Lord will hand Sisera (the commander of Jabin’s army) over to a woman’.
When listening to God’s call through others, we should recognize that even people with the best of intentions can give us bad advice. We need to search the Scriptures and use discernment ‘to test the spirits to see whether they are from God’ (1 John 4:1). However, there are areas of our lives where there is no specific scriptural guidance i.e. which vocation to choose; whether to marry and whom; which ministries to accept and how to share our faith in the workplace. Our Christian friends and community can help us to clarify and ask questions and to consider plans and actions providing an atmosphere of discernment which can help us hear God’s voice.
A few years ago, a Christian friend casually commented on how she thought I might consider becoming a Christian Counsellor and since then my calling is having a transforming effect on my life with the Lord walking with me. Those few words spoken to me by that friend articulated God’s call and we too can receive God’s word and speak it to others in those chance conversations that can change lives having a power beyond our wildest dreams.
In Deborah’s life, it’s amazing to think how those people streamed to the Palm of Deborah not knowing they would be the voice of God, their cry mobilizing Deborah into action, who then mobilized God’s people.
We can unveil the heart of God by speaking words of encouragement and challenge to those who cannot see their gifts and strengths for themselves and who in turn can decide to take up their calling for God’s Kingdom.