Wednesday, May 29, 2013

4 Bible Heroes Who Were NOT Called

Am I allowed to be a missionary if God didn't "call" me?

I'm defining "God called me" as "God directly commanded me to go do this certain thing." Maybe through placing a thought in my head, with no obvious source. Maybe I have this feeling, like I'm supposed to go do this thing, and then it grows stronger.

I've also previously defined "called" in the following ways:

"out of nowhere, God orders you to do something dumb that you totally don't want to do, but then you HAVE TO because it's GOD."

"I always thought it meant I'm sitting quietly, praying, and suddenly, out of nowhere, I have this thought: 'GO TO CHINA!' And then I'd be like 'ahhhhh nooooooooo!' and begrudgingly re-organize my whole life to go to whatever stupid place God is FORCING ME to go to."

(If you have a different definition, write me a guest post!)

At any rate, "called" means God told you to do this thing. It does not mean that you look at the situation yourself and (possibly through prayer) think it through and come up with a good idea.

And some bible characters were "called" by God to do things. Abraham was called to move to another land. Mary was called to be the mother of Jesus. Samuel was called to be a prophet. Jonah was called to preach in Ninevah. Tons of examples. (Though I wonder if it was really God speaking in an audible voice or the writer just wrote it that way to simplify that part of the story.)

But I've found 4 bible heroes who did huge things THEY WERE TOTALLY NOT CALLED TO DO. Things they decided to do themselves. Things that, when you learn these stories in Sunday School, are definitely presented as wonderful actions done in service to God. But they were not called. Here they are:

4. Hannah (1 Samuel 1)

For a long time, Hannah really wanted to have children, and she was terribly upset about not being able to get pregnant. At one point, she desperately prayed that if God would give her a son, she would give him back to God. And then it happened. She became pregnant and had a baby boy named Samuel, and she took him to the temple and left him there so he could serve God for his whole life. (And Samuel was kind of a big deal. The first of the prophets.)

Image source.
She LEFT HER BABY at the temple. Okay, wow, that's a huge crazy thing to do. And she did it because she had promised God she would, if he answered her prayer. It was totally her idea. Not something God told her to do. Not something God "called" her to do. (And I suppose you can debate whether it was a good idea or not, whether it was good parenting or not, but the bible seems to portray it as good in the long run, because Samuel turned out to be really important.)

Somewhat related (okay it's actually kind of the opposite): I have heard Christians say, when talking about a family they know that has adopted foster kids, how great it is to be doing that, and "you really have to be called to it." That adopting foster kids is a big deal and a lot of work, and you mustn't do it unless God calls you. I think this is nonsense, and it really sounds like they're actually making excuses for why their family hasn't adopted any kids.

Like, I definitely do not believe that every Christian family with money is morally obligated to adopt some kids. No, definitely not. Why? Because not everybody has the skills/resources/passion to be good at that. That's a perfectly legitimate reason. "You really have to be called to it" is not.

3. David (when he fought Goliath) (1 Samuel 17)

Goliath, a member of the Philistine army that was fighting against Israel, challenged the Israelite army to send out their strongest soldier to fight him. Unfortunately, Goliath was huge and scary and nobody really wanted to fight him. So day after day, Goliath would yell his challenge at them.

At one point, David, who was young and wasn't actually in the army, happened to be there and heard what Goliath said. He also found out that the king had promised a reward for the person who killed Goliath. David decided to go do it. He reasoned that, as a shepherd, he had killed lions and bears to defend his sheep, so he was physically capable of killing Goliath. Also, Goliath had insulted God, so clearly God would want someone to go challenge him and kill him. So that's what happened- David fought Goliath and killed him.

Goliath also had amazing matrix-moves, didn't you know? Image source.
He was totally NOT "called" by God to do it. He looked at the situation and reasoned that somebody needed to go fight Goliath, and that God would support him because God didn't appreciate Goliath's insults either. God did not order him to do it, God did not call him to do it, but God was definitely with him and gave him success.

2. Esther (Esther 4)

So this bad guy, Haman, convinced the king to make a law saying that on a certain day, everyone could kill the Jews. The Jews were obviously not a fan of this law. The queen, Esther, happened to be Jewish, and after some fasting, praying, and convincing from her cousin Mordecai, decided to go talk to the king about it and save them all. This was a big deal because nobody was allowed to just go talk to the king- she risked her life by coming to see him uninvited. But it worked out- she talked to him and the Jewish people were saved.

God did not order her to talk to the king. God did not "call" her to talk to the king. Instead, she was in a position of power and decided to use it to save her people- even though it was a great risk to her own life. She assessed the situation and used whatever resources/influence she had, and it worked out.

1. Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1-2)

Nehemiah was an Israelite exile living in a foreign country, when he found out the sad news that Jerusalem's walls were ruined. (This is a big deal because it was kind of God's chosen city, a symbol of God's favor toward his people.) Immediately, he was horribly distressed about it, and wept and fasted and prayed. Then he decided to do something about it. Nehemiah was a servant of the king in that country, and he asked the king for permission and supplies to go rebuild the walls. The king totally helped him out with that, and Nehemiah went to Jerusalem, got everything organized, everybody did a ton of work and the walls were rebuilt. (And they thanked God for helping them do it all so successfully.)

God didn't order him to rebuild the walls. God didn't "call" him. He just heard about it and felt really strongly that something had to be done. So he prayed, trusted that God supported the project, and did it.

All four of these people did big things because they saw a problem, they prayed, and they came up with a way to address it- a way that they believed God would support because it was consistent with their view of God. Not because God told them to. They came up with these things on their own.

And that's what I'm doing now. I've been to China, I know that it's awesome and I love it and I don't want to not live there. And learning about other languages and cultures is totally consistent with God's character and his command to love others.

But other Christians keep telling me- sometimes explicitly and sometimes in subtle ways- that I mustn't go if that's my reason. Me discovering the world and determining that I would be happier in China isn't good enough. I can only go if God is MAKING me go.

So I've made my decision. Not because God told me to, but because God showed me this opportunity, and I want it. I'm going to China.


  1. It seems to me that what we want most is also what God wants for us, because God designs us for a purpose. It seems like a lot of the time, God would only need to "call" if we're not listening to the desires He already placed in our hearts.

  2. Yes! This is a really good way of putting it. :)