by Syd Hielema

“The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” —Exodus 3:9-10

Here we see how God called Moses to an enormous task. Then, little more than a chapter later, and after a great deal of argument, we read in Exodus 4:13-17:

Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.”

An anonymous proverb says, “God doesn’t call the equipped; he equips the called.”

Almost twenty years ago I was teaching introductory theology at Dordt College in Iowa, and we had just spent an hour on the call of Moses in Exodus 3-4. I had pointed out that the Lord had spent 80 years preparing Moses for his call: for 40 years he lived in the foremost leadership training institute of the ancient world (Pharaoh’s palace), and then he spent another 40 years learning wilderness survival training (tending his father-in-law’s flocks in the desert), all the while having no idea that the Lord was preparing him for this call.

After that class, a freshman wrote in her journal, “I often wonder if God is calling me into ministry, but I feel so utterly inadequate that I convince myself it cannot be so.”

I remember writing back in the margin, “Feeling inadequate is usually the first step in discerning a call to ministry.”

She went on to graduate with a youth ministry degree and served wonderfully well for many years.

Her story illustrates, together with Moses’ story, how strange calling and equipping can be. The Lord has this funny way of weaving together our past experiences, our present situation, and the needs of his kingdom into a “calling/equipping quilt” that we would never have been able to see or fashion by our own abilities. Paul was convinced that his own equipping for ministry would have been best served if his “thorn in the flesh” were removed, but the Lord did not agree. He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

If we travel by our own lights, we are likely to misinterpret our calling or to be paralyzed by our sense of inadequacy. Perhaps if we take time to listen to each other’s call stories (which range from overall life direction to “I knew I was called to befriend that neighbor”), we can lean into the Lord’s unusual ways of leading and overcome our own fears.

In one of the best calling/equipping novels ever written (in my opinion, at least), Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow, the elderly title character offers this reflection on his walk with the Lord:

Now I have had most of the life I am going to have, and I can see what it has been. I can remember those early years when it seemed to me I was cut completely adrift, and times when, looking back at earlier times, it seemed I had been wandering in the dark woods of error. But now it looks to me as though I was following a path that was laid out for me, unbroken, and maybe even as straight as possible, from one end to the other, and I have this feeling, which never leaves me anymore, that I have been led.

Imagine congregations in which God’s children would offer similar testimonies of his leading and guiding through the twists, turns, and complications of living for him.