A Christian sister writes: “I attend a United Methodist Church. We have raised our children and are now empty nesters. I continue to feel God’s call to professional ministry. Why do I feel the call if it does not mean I am supposed to pursue it? I thank God for that call and hope to fulfill it as the Lord wishes. My gifts seem to always revolve around exhortation. My pastor is extremely busy as our church is growing dramatically and he doesn’t have time for any personal mentoring. Any practical suggestions?”
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I commend you for wanting to serve God with the gifts he has given to you. It is easy to forget, however, that “professional ministry” in the modern sense is rarely found in the New Testament if it is even there at all. The primary picture we see there is one of all God’s people, men and women alike, serving one another in God’s strength with the various gifts God gives to them all. If we take the Bible seriously, and I see that you do, let’s not overlook that very important insight. Please take time to read Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-14; Ephesians 4:10-16 and 1 Peter 4:11-12, then reflect on these apostolic teachings and to ask God to make their messages meaningful in your heart.
You have identified “exhortation” as a gift you have from God. That unusual word means to appeal to, urge, entreat, comfort, encourage or cheer. The Greek word for an “exhorter” gives our English word “Paraclete,” a term Jesus applied also to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17). Using our spiritual gifts is spiritual work and God is interested in helping us to do that well. Ask him each day to show you who among your contacts will benefit from some encouragement or cheering up, who can use a message of comfort, who needs a word of urging or entreaty to be all that God has made them to be. A great thing about spiritual gifts is that they are given to ordinary people, to be used to bless other regular people. They don’t require special training, licensing or anyone’s permission to be used. Spiritual gifts are given for use in the course of normal human life as we live it.
God taught me many years ago that just as he sovereignly gives spiritual gifts, he also sovereignly provides occasions for their use according to his own plan. I am still learning that lesson after more than four decades of preaching and teaching. We sometimes worry too much about having a particular venue for ministry, a special title or official recognition. The real question, as God once asked me, is this: “Have you been faithful with what you have been given?” God’s calling is important. For that very reason, it is also important to let God show us how he wants us to fulfill that calling. Watchman Nee, the 20th century Chinese apostle and martyr, said it well: “If there is anything a servant has the right to expect from a master it is to receive directions.” Like Jesus, wake each morning to serve God and he will show you the way (Isa. 50:4-10).