From Fifty Year Ago: How to Ascertain the Will of God in Public Service for Him

We often hear the questions asked, “How am I to know what God has called me for?” and, “What shall guide me in the matter of where to go to serve the Lord in the gospel?”

We need to guard against imaginary calls to service; and on the other hand, there requires to be given the encouragement which the Apostle Paul gave to young Timothy. In the past year or two, many of our young brethren and sisters have been much exercised about serving the Lord in the foreign field, and a number have left for these distant lands. This is a noble desire and a good work. May God exercise still more of them! Since the ending of the war, many doors have been opened in both Europe and Asia, and encouraging reports have been received from those who labor in these countries. But let us beware of what might be termed “missionary fever”. How sad it is to get a big send-off, a nice sea voyage, a warm welcome at the other end, then a realization of a mistake made! The same applies to the Lord’s work at home. In the United States and Canada, the fields are white unto harvest, and the laborers are few. But some go forth, and alas, our brethren in the places where they have gone to peach, “shake the napkin well and fail to find the talent”.

Lessons can be learned from the lives of Jacob, David, Paul, Timothy and others in the Scriptures. In the case of Jacob, three things stand out; he had the desire in his heart to return to Bethel then circumstances in his business made it evident he had to make a change, and then he had also a direct word from God. Thus, we see the Desire, the Circumstances, and the Word. Many have the desire to give all their time to serve the Lord; who wouldn’t? But do the circumstances allow it? Has there been the call from God, “Arise and go up to Bethel”? One may have the first and the second, but the third may be lacking. There ought to be all three, in a measure.

In the case of David, he had first a private anointing by God; but he continued on quietly at home for a time. No one (apart from Samuel) saw in David, Israel’s future leader. We may have inward convictions long before others see in us what we rightly see in ourselves, but there will be abundant opportunity in the regular line of daily business, whatever that may be, to bring out and prepare for that which God is calling us to. David was tending his father’s sheep, and along came the lion and the bear, so opportunity arose in secret, and it still does. We never need to seek work for God. We are soon brought face to face with the opportunity, in the shop, store, office, home and on the street. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” In secret, go after the bear and the lion; then when you get the victory, say nothing about it. David did not “blow his horn”; he kept these things to himself till the right time came to speak. To tell everybody what we have been doing for the Lord tends to pride and self-exaltation. David’s opportunity for public service soon came; and he didn’t ask for it either. His father sent him without his asking to go up to the camp. And when God is in it, notice how everything is timed just right. All fits in properly when God is leading. Just when David had reached the camp, out came Goliath. The one who had quietly overcome the lion and the bear and who had that private anointing by God, now has his opportunity for public service before the eyes of men. And he doesn’t use Saul’s armor, either; a great lesson is to be learned in this. We fail to see any Goliaths slain with Saul’s armor, today. True, it makes a fair show in the flesh, but God’s victories are not obtained that way. David chose five smooth stones. He had to seek for these stones; laziness has no place in the Lord’s work. And they must be smooth, too; anything won’t do for God; we must give Him the best. God uses means, but not any kind of means. He uses clean men and clean methods; there must be no careless handling of Divine things.

So we find first the inward desire, the Divine anointing. Then we find the secret service, unseen and unapplauded. Then God gives opportunity for the outward demonstration of qualification and fitness for the work. There is the danger of running too soon; David did not do that. There is the danger of holding back when a good opportunity presents itself; neither did David do that. Then we find that, although David had been made Saul’s armor-bearer, he went back to feed his father’s sheep. He wasn’t too proud or too great to go back out of sight again. Who had a better right to stay and fill an important place than David had? It is not easy to step down, but “Before honor is humility”, and he who cannot take the low place is not fit for the Master’s use.

Then we have the case of Paul, who could say, “It pleased God… who called me by his grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen.” – his private anointing. “Neither went I up to Jerusalem, to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia… Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days… Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Silicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea” (Gal 1: 1 7-22). When the great number were saved at Antioch through the labors of the “men of Cyprus and Cyrene”, Barnabas was sent there by the church in Jerusalem. He saw the very opportunity for Saul of Tarsus, the chosen vessel, to preach the gospel to the Gentiles; and so he departed to Tarsus for to seek Saul. “And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:25-26). And so began that public service of a life spent in the service of the Lord. And so God still calls, fits, and sends forth His servants in His honorable and glorious work.