Resisting God’s Call

When God calls a person to a specific task or ministry, resistance is often the first response of the called. Jeremiah claimed that he was too young. Gideon feared he was too weak. Isaiah considered himself too sinful, “a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5 ESV). This resistance to God’s call comes from two sources. The first is a belief that we know better than God what will be required, and a need to explain to the Almighty why we are not qualified.

Moses had a loving family and a quiet life as a shepherd when God’s call came to him in “mid-career,” as we might say. From a burning bush came God’s vocational call that Moses should go confront Pharoah and demand the immediate release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. It’s not unusual for God to ask things of His children that seem beyond our competency. But it turns out that the old trite saying is true: “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.”

In Moses, we might recognize some of the excuses that we ourselves have used for resisting God’s call when it has become clear. “‘Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’” (Exodus 3:13 ESV) One common excuse for resisting God’s call is that I don’t have all the answers. This was my greatest fear when the Lord first called me to study for ordained ministry. I was afraid of not being able to answer every question that my future flock(s) would pose. In Moses’ case, his years as a shepherd had not prepared him to stand up to the wisdom and might of a powerful political leader like Pharoah.

However, what Moses failed to recognize was that he was not the most important factor in God’s plan. When we wrongly perceive that God’s plan hinges on our abilities, we will fear failure. We will fear embarrassment and the judgment of others. But the Lord God is not impeded by such anxiety. When Moses asks, “What should I tell them?” God replies, “I AM WHO I AM. Say to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:13-14 ESV).

Moses had to learn that his call had nothing to do with his own ability and everything to do with God’s sovereignty! As a pastor, when I consider the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel and teaching God’s Word, I often feel unworthy and incompetent. But when I do these things in the awareness that the I AM of the Scriptures is speaking through me, I can be confident that His Word does what it says and accomplishes every purpose for which He sends it.

The second excuse that many of us have in common with Moses is the fear that people won’t accept me. Moses had a past. Having fled Egypt as an outlaw and a murderer, he could be perceived as not only having broken God’s commandment, but as abandoning his own people.  His profound sense of inadequacy led Moses to object, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” (Exodus 4:1 ESV).

Fear clouds our perspective and makes us dwell on the worst possible outcomes. Fear keeps the focus on the self rather than on the Lord. It magnifies our weakness and underestimates God’s power. Thus, God gave Moses two practical demonstrations of His power, first by turning Moses’ staff into a snake, and then back again into a staff; and second, by making Moses’ hand wither, and then restoring it again. Through these signs, the Lord bolstered Moses’ confidence that God Himself would do the work. Similarly, when God chooses you for a particular task or ministry, He will provide all that is necessary and show you the next step you are to take.

Moses, still unconvinced about God’s plan, offers a final critique: his speech impediment would obviously make him ineligible to serve, since confronting Pharoah would require public speaking. The excuse here is that my deficiencies are insurmountable. But God has a different perspective. “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (Exodus 4:11-12 ESV).

In the light of God’s design for our lives, even disabilities are overcome and transformed. By now, Moses was running out of excuses, so in one last effort to avoid his assignment, he blurts out, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”  But God didn’t let Moses off the hook. Instead, he called Moses’ brother Aaron to be his helper and spokesperson. The Lord doesn’t need anything “special” from you or me. He definitely doesn’t need our advice. But it’s easy to get so caught up in our excuses that we miss the entire point of God’s call. The Lord wants to accomplish something significant through you by doing something significant in you. Often part of God’s purpose in calling a disciple into a particular assignment or ministry is to grow their faith, so that they learn to trust His provision and depend on His promises.

Lastly, I mentioned that resistance to God’s call comes from two sources. The first is a belief that we know better than God what the call will require. And the second source of resistance is the Evil One, of whom Jesus said, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). Whenever a person gets clarity regarding God’s call and is trusting God’s promise of abundance, the Enemy will show up to create doubt and raise objections. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”  (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

Therefore, when it comes to God’s call at any phase of your life, resistance is good and necessary. But as the apostle James exhorts believers, the one to be resisted is the devil, so that he might flee from you. To resist means to withstand, strive against, or oppose in some manner. Most often, this means trusting in the promises of God, as Jesus did when the tempter met him in the desert to challenge both his identity and calling from the Father.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). It is in this submitting and resisting that objections are overcome, and you are free to pursue God’s call on your life without hesitation.

The Rev. Jeff Morlock is Director of Vocational Discernment at the North American Lutheran Seminary.

Every Samuel Needs an Eli

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question that youth have been asked since they graduated kindergarten. But in high school, the question becomes a much more pressing issue. In a culture obsessed with both success and control, students are encouraged at earlier and earlier ages to have their futures and career paths completely mapped out. And much of the decision making in this regard revolves around interests, skills, money, and the expectations of others. At the intersection of “What am I interested in, what am I good at, what will my loved ones approve of, and how much money can I make doing it?” is the decision to follow one career path over all the others.

What is too often excluded from this equation is the biblical reality of God’s call. We are called into being, called into relationship with the Lord and His Church, called to serve, and called into a yet unknown future by One who knows us better than we know ourselves, and who loves us beyond measure. For Christians, then, the primary question that needs to be answered is not, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” but rather, “What is God’s call on my life?”

Every kid in Sunday School has heard the story of young Samuel (I Samuel 3), to whom the Lord spoke in the middle of the night. Like many of us, Samuel struggled to recognize the voice of the Lord. In fact, it was Samuel’s older and wiser mentor, Eli, who helped Samuel recognize God’s voice and call on his life.

Although he failed to recognize God’s calling at first, Samuel was open to the Lord’s leading. After learning that it was God who was calling, he responded by saying, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” Are you listening for God’s call on your life? Are you open to His leading? You might hear God’s call during times of study or silent prayer. You may hear God’s call through the proclamation of His Word in a sermon or Bible study, through a petition in the Prayers of the Church, or through the lyrics of a hymn. Or even more likely, you may hear God’s call through family, friends, or church members who might say, “You would make a good pastor. Have you ever considered pursuing ordained ministry?”

One of Martin Luther’s gifts to the Church was his insistence that all callings are holy. Whether one is gifted and called by God to be a pastor, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, each calling is equally holy and necessary for human flourishing, and for the building up of the Lord’s people. So how does one “hear God’s call?”

The first step is to recognize the Holy Spirit’s movement in your life. The older and more experienced Eli recognized that the Spirit was speaking to Samuel, and he encouraged Samuel to reply, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Only then could Samuel recognize the Spirit’s leading and respond in obedience to the call.

The truth is that most of us need an “Eli” at one time or another in our lives. And most, if not all of us, are also called to be an Eli for others. Being an Eli simply means keeping our eyes open to recognize the gifts of others and staying present to them — listening, talking, praying, and sharing with them. Finding an answer to every question is not always as necessary as just being a companion as they search and discern.

Jesus had compassion on the crowds he encountered because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 9:36). Today there is a critical shortage of shepherds in God’s Church. Many congregations are without a called and trained pastor to preach His Word and administer the sacraments. How to explain this shortage? Has God gone silent? Is the Lord no longer speaking?

No. In fact, somewhere in our congregations right now is an infant who will be baptized this Sunday, who has a call to ordained ministry. Somewhere in our congregations right now is a fourth grader who has a call to ordained ministry, and who is also the absolute terror of Mrs. So-And-So’s Sunday School Class. Somewhere in our congregations right now is an eighth grader who has a call to ordained ministry. They are about to be confirmed, and they wish their parents would allow them to sleep in on Sundays, because “Church is boring.” Somewhere in our congregations right now is a high school sophomore who is preparing to attend the retreat that will change their life and confirm their call to ordained ministry. And somewhere in our congregations is a college student or career person who is running from God’s call to ordained ministry or has postponed it to pursue an alternative career path. I know this because each of these people was me at different points in my life.

Thankfully, the Lord strategically placed Eli’s in my life. My youth minister, Duane. My Sunday School teacher, Ruth. And my pastor, Reuben. Each of them, and many others, too, played the role of Eli in my life to help me recognize my spiritual gifts, to encourage my discernment of God’s call, to listen to my concerns, questions, and objections, and ultimately to walk with me to the “yes” that finally came when I filled out my seminary application.

Friends, there are many, many Samuel’s out there today who are called to serve and speak the Word of God, but instead of filling out a seminary application, they are pursuing a path that is more expedient or lucrative. They are pursuing a path that is more in line with the expectations of those around them.

So let me ask you to find your place in this biblical story. Are you a Samuel, knowing that there is a voice speaking to you and calling you to a purpose bigger than your own dreams and desires? Or are you an Eli, called to pay attention to the gifts of those with whom you worship? Called to encourage and walk with those who are or should be discerning God’s call to Word and Sacrament ministry? Either way, you are the answer to the crisis we face today in the Church of Jesus, where sheep without a shepherd are “harassed and helpless.” Every Samuel needs an Eli. And every Eli can recognize a Samuel with God’s help.

Pastor Jeff Morlock is Director of Vocational Discernment at the North American Lutheran Seminary. He may be reached at