My husband and I were making our preparations to return to Indonesia after our home assignment in the U.S. On the political scene, Al-Qaeda cells erupted daily in that majority-Muslim country. The strategies of these extremists became dining table discussions among our family and friends. They asked us again and again, “Aren’t you afraid to go back there?”
Each time, I answered, “No, because I am sure of my calling. I know that God wants me there.” And that certainty enabled me to persevere. Later, God redirected my calling and immediately the courage to remain in Indonesia left me.
But despite the assurance of God’s leading, many voices (including my own) told me I had left too early or abandoned my colleagues.
Which brings me to my pondering today. Where did I get the idea that God called me to cross-cultural work in the first place? Why did I believe that changing a ministry meant I did not persevere? What does perseverance look like anyway? What if I had calling and vocation all mixed up?
The Apostle Peter uses both these words in the first chapter of his second letter:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ .2 Peter 1:3–11 NIV
A quick search reveals that “perseverance” (hypomone in Greek) means steadfastness, constancy, endurance. The Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says this is the “characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings”.
Right away I see that Peter is not talking about staying on the job, but rather sticking with the faith.
Peter then tells me to endeavor and make certain of my calling. Another look at the Greek informs me that for this word (klesis), Peter is speaking about “the divine invitation to embrace the salvation of God”. Again, the context refers to my salvation, my eternal destiny, my right to partake in God’s divine nature, not my vocation.
I believe that God did lead me to a particular vocation when I served him overseas and again when I returned to the U.S. But now I see that Scripture does not use the word “calling” for this. Instead, God speaks to someone (Luke 1:26), chooses them (2 Cor 8:19), appoints them (Mark 3:14) or sets them apart (Acts 13:2).
When Peter says I can escape being unproductive, he isn’t talking about numbers or results or even the good deeds I do for God. He wants me to confirm that I have been saved and that I endure in the faith until I see God again.
Peter also exhorts me to be productive in my pursuit of knowing God more intimately, to remember that he has graciously forgiven my sins and to confirm daily that I have been chosen by God. This diligent pursuit will ensure that I will not fall away or stumble into sin.
In my ministry context, we use “calling” to refer to God’s leading into cross-cultural missions. And in doing so, I fear we have confused our calling to salvation with our choice of ministry. Then when a worker senses God redirecting them, we assume (or judge) that they have not persevered.
The Apostle Peter has challenged me to examine the subtle meaning of the words I use that I might not diminish the absolute generosity and grace of my true calling nor put undue guilt on another believer who changes his vocation or location.
Describe the klesis (calling) Peter exhorts you to persevere in?
Has your task of service changed sooner than you expected? How does 2 Peter 1:3-11 encourage you?
Thank you God for calling me to partake in your divine nature. Help me to endure and be diligent in pursuing an intimate knowledge of you so that I will not stumble into sin. Guide me into those particular tasks that you want me to do for your sake, but teach me not to equate what I do with the salvation you have graciously given me. Comfort my brothers and sisters who have been redirected in their vocations to feel your smile of acceptance.