How God Calls Every Person

By Steve DeNeff

A call is a summons from God to get involved in something he is doing. Sometimes this means we do it professionally for the rest of our lives, like a minister or missionary, but more often it does not. At its core, the call is only a conversation God is having with us about something he is doing. Let’s take a look at these three layers to the call.

The call to salvation

The first call is to salvation, the call to follow Jesus. The book of Isaiah has many such calls: “Come, all you who are thirsty; come to the waters . . . that you may live” (55:1, 3). When we hear the call to salvation, we hear it as something more than just the words of a preacher. The words become personal. There is someone behind them. And the action it requires is repentance.

Repentance is not as quick or as easy as some make it sound. It’s not an apology or admission of guilt. It’s not a promise to try harder, though we must certainly try something after we repent. Repentance is a change in the direction and course of our lives. By changing direction, we change our values. We are no longer preoccupied with the same interests. We change our way of life— the way we act, the way we treat people, the decisions we make. It takes time to work out the meaning of repentance in your life.

Recently, a man I’ll call Rob was walking in front of our church when suddenly he felt compelled to go in “just to see what was happening.” A few minutes later, he was sitting in the morning service, wondering how the preacher knew so much about him. He said he thought someone had called the church and told us he was coming! At the end of the sermon, Rob came to the front and just stood there. “I need to find God,” he said, “because I’ve lost him.” In the last six weeks, the whole course of his life has changed. He has a long way to go, but already he’s begun talking about his experience at work. He’s recruited his entire family to come with him each Sunday. He’s enlisted in small groups and says he is anxious to “do something for God” with the rest of his life.

That’s the way a call to salvation works. Have you had one? Do you remember feeling like God was setting you up? It probably didn’t happen all at once—but there was still that moment when you first realized this was headed somewhere. For a lot of us, that’s the most defining moment in our lives. How did God find me? It’s that first call—the call to salvation— and we talk about it all the time . . . until we get the second.

The call to simplicity

The second call is to simplicity. Simplicity doesn’t mean easy; it means a “singleness of purpose.” The call to simplicity is a call to a single focus. Once we’ve received a call to salvation, the direction and the course of our lives change, but things get harder and more complex, not easier. We want to follow Christ, but we have to work. We have a family. We have friends and social obligations.

The disciples are an example of this. They were in their father’s boat “casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen” (Matt. 4:18).

We change our way of life – the way we act, the way we treat people, the decisions we make.

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, which sounds a lot like the call to salvation, but in the next phrase, it becomes clear that Jesus meant something more: I will send you out to fish for people” (4:19). Immediately, they left their nets and followed him.

The call of Jesus to these disciples was not simply a call to follow him, but a call to “fish for people.” It was the call to simplify their lives around a single purpose. He was not asking them to change their occupation. In fact, they didn’t. He was calling them to change their preoccupation. Too often we confuse Jesus’ call to come and follow him with the call to be saved. We put the emphasis on the initial moment when the disciple chooses to accept Christ. But after the call to follow, there is always the call to enlist. The action required is to reorient our lives around a single focus. Some people can do this and remain in their same career. Even when we keep our jobs, we do them for different reasons or, more accurately, for one reason. We “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17 NRSV).

Have you heard a call to simplicity? If so, then you know how relentless it can be. But you also know that it has produced the most beautiful character in you. It has made you what you are. It’s all you can talk about . . . so far! But brace yourself. You might have another call coming in.

The call to a mission

When we are called to a mission, we are summoned to one particular cause and assigned a specific task. It may seem like an extension of our call to simplicity, but there are important differences. For starters, the call to a mission may require us to change our career. It can mean a move. It can mean gaining more education, earning less money, working alone, or living in a place we’re not fond of. It is a jealous and guarded friendship with God, under his anointing, while we accomplish a certain task, and then it is over. This is one of the tell-tale signs: there is a beginning and an end. People who have this call speak of being under orders or of carrying a mantle that others do not have to carry. There will come a time when the mantle is lifted and placed onto someone else—usually someone younger—but for now they must do it.

Cheryl Beckett was a nursing student at Indiana Wesleyan University who graduated with a degree in biology. Cheryl felt God calling her into humanitarian work with the poorest people of Afghanistan. For six years, she served in hospitals and clinics that treated people with eye diseases.

I want to die to myself,” she wrote in her journal. “What does that look like? How do I make that tangible?” Cheryl was answering the call to a mission. On August 5, 2010, she was killed, along with nine others, when a band of terrorists attacked their vehicle while returning from serving in a clinic.

If God has put a fire inside you then leave what comfort you have for whatever he has called you to do.

“Cheryl paid the ultimate price,” said her father, Charles, “but in truth, she paid that price every day. She lived out God’s Word. She adorned herself with his truth . . . She shared Christ to those who were hurting and suffering. Make no mistake about it . . . There are a host of Afghan people today who know about Jesus because, like Nicodemus, in the cover of darkness they came and they asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ And she told them about Jesus.”

Sometimes we think of the call as a place to realize our dreams—and sometimes it is—but there are times when it can cost us our very lives.

If God has put a fire inside you—if he’s asked you to join him in some cause—then leave what comfort you have for whatever he has called you to do. Don’t negotiate. Don’t think about how inadequate you are. And don’t think that it is too late.

Those who are happiest are those who have taken the greatest risks. They stepped out into a place that was uncharted and unsafe. They didn’t know how it would end. They only knew what they were supposed to do next. So whatever God has told you to do, say yes.

[Excerpted from Faultlines: Challenges that Transform Your Soul by Steve DeNeff. Wesleyan Publishing House, 2014.]