And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want." —Matthew 26:39 (NRSV)
I received my call to ministry when I was 18 years old. I had been kneeling at the side of my bed and in prayer saying to God I did not want to become any of the things I had desired to become in the past – doctor, lawyer, forensic detective – only what God wanted me to become. I recall having a vision of people needing to hear the gospel, and I deduced that God was calling me into ministry. However, at that time, because I was still a Roman Catholic, I felt that this calling meant that I would have to enter the priesthood. That was something I did not want to do because I desired to have a family. I acknowledged to God that I did not want to become a priest; however, in submission of my will to God’s, I said, “even though this is not what I want, I will become a priest because I know you will provide the enablement and fullfilment I desire.”
The time of my call was the first time I can remember God asking me to do/become something and despite not wanting to, I said yes. Since then, on numerous occasions, God’s call to me, from my perspective, was inconsistent with what I desired; nevertherless, at every turn, I responded, “if this is what you desire, even though it is not what I want, I will do it.”
Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane was confronted with the choice of pursuing his life’s purpose or self-presevation (see also Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). However, He surrendered to God’s will rather than giving in to His desires. In His plea and response, we have an illustration of what it means to deny self: “Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus momentarily shrank from the thought of the “cup” of the Cross, but almost instictively, recoiled at the idea of not obeying the Father. No doubt, this momentary hesitation was due to the wiles of the Tempter who had tried to get him to forsake his ministry with the promise of prestige, power, and possessions (Matthew 4:1-11). He also attempted to derail Jesus’s date with the cross by having Peter insist that Jesus should not pursue the Via Dolorosa. In response, Jesus knowing full well who instigated Peter’s words said, "Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don't come from God, but from human nature" (Matthew 16:21-23).
Satan had successfully gotten Adam and Eve to sin by doubting whether God indeed had their best interest at heart and by insuating that God is not trust worthy. Every time God calls on us, we have to determine whether we believe God is trust worthy, loves us beyond measure, and will always have our best interest at heart (that is, as God, not we, knows our best interest to be). When we answer the call of God on our lives we may not accumulate wealth, garner prestige, or exercise power, but we can always expect to be fulfilled. Whenever we live within God’s will, we shall always find life fulfilling.
When I was in seminary in North Carolina, I always had difficulty with the persons often held up as successes in ministry. It was always the pastor with several thousand members on their church roll. I have always contended that the successful minister is not necessarily the one who has a thriving ministry but rather the one who is faithful in his/her calling and works at it daily to the glory of God whether or not others acknowledge the value of his/her work.
On receiving God’s call, expressing our reservations, our doubts, and our fears to God is okay and even recommended. God knows our innermost thoughts and God also knows our heart. It has been my experience that although I was at first reticent to go God’s way, once I surrender to his will, my life has always been rich and fulfilling. Once I am living within God’s will, at every turn, God has provided the resources that I have needed. Since that first call of God on my life, I have learned to live in the light of the truth of Jesus’ words: “…be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things” (Matthew 6: 33, GNB). Whenever God Calls and we are able to discern God’s will, our only response should be one of trust and obedience in which we say, “Lord, not my will, but thine be done!”
—Rev. Dr. R. Osbert James, OBE
Minister and Moderator
Presbyterian Church in Grenada