A Successful Calling

August 30, 2023 | Matt Angell

And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’  And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them…. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 2:3-5, 7 

Deep down I have an expectation that if God calls me to something then ultimately it will be successful according to my definition of success. I would not say that my expectation is biblically grounded and I am slightly embarrassed to be admitting it now. However, I also do not think that I am the only one who holds this expectation. 

I am not naïve enough to think there will be no issues or obstacles that will arise along the way as I live out the calling. Yet I still think it will all work out in the end with a nice little bow tied on top. If it does not work out, then I question the calling. Surely, it could not have been God who led me this way. If it was him, he would have provided through the trials while teaching me a thing or two about perseverance or grace or trust, and then voila! Success! 

When I think back on all that God has called me into, almost none of it was successful in the way I would have planned. There have been people I thought would certainly put their faith in Jesus who did not. There were marriages that just had to not only stay together but also begin to thrive, yet they ended in divorce. There have been small groups that were supposed to bring a new level of community and a deeper understanding of scripture that fizzled out. There have been moves across the country and around the world that were meant to last forever, and four years later it was over. There is an internal wrestling match with this question, “what was the point?”  

One answer to this question is that God used all those experiences to change me. I should not minimize that and I am grateful. However, if I view all of my “unsuccessful” callings as just a means to change me then I can relegate all the people who I have known into bit players in the grand production of my life. Furthermore, if I only focus on me I miss how God may be glorified through the calling and perhaps the success that has occurred according to his design.  

God had a calling for Ezekiel. Ezekiel had been a part of the exiled people who had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians in 597 BC. God was sending Ezekiel to the rebellious people of Israel so that they may repent of their idolatry and turn back to the one true God. As you can see from Ezekiel chapter 2, God was not convinced that Israel would change her ways. For twenty years, Ezekiel brought God’s message to the people according to the calling that God had given him. During that time, Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and most of the God’s chosen people joined Ezekiel in exile. Talk about a lack of ministry success! 

Yet there was great success in Ezekiel’s calling. Sure they were still rebellious and in captivity when he died but there is so much more to the story. In chapter 2, verse 5, God tells Ezekiel that even if the people do not listen they will know “that a prophet has been among them.” To know that a prophet had been among them is to know that God was still with them and that he was still speaking. Ezekiel did proclaim God’s wrath on the people, but he also declared God’s intention to rescue the people and to restore them. It was this hope that inspired people such as Zerubbabel to lead a remnant back to Jerusalem thirty-five years later. It was these promises of a restored Israel and a new temple that drove Nehemiah and Haggai to rebuild the temple and the city walls. Ezekiel’s words still comfort us today as we see God’s faithfulness in the valley of dry bones (Eze. 37) or in his promise to remove a heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Eze. 36:26). Ezekiel’s ministry calling was successful as it accomplished what God had intended even if Ezekiel did not get to experience God’s redemptive work in returning Israel to the Promised Land.  

I received a text message this morning from a former student in Uganda. He wrote, “I have become a bible scholar of late.” When asked him how this came to be, he replied that he had joined the bible club at school. The bible club had a rocky beginning. When I started the club there was lower interest in it than I had hoped. It was a little disorganized and we ran into some conflict with sports teams and academic pressures. If you had asked me when it first started if it would be successful, I would have been skeptical. Almost two years later, one of the least likely students to join a bible club is now one of the most biblically saturated students in the school! I wish I could have been there to see it, but I’m still filled with gratitude that it happened despite my presence. The club is successful even if it did not happen in my timing and according my plans. 

Like Ezekiel, we have all been called. Not all are called into vocational ministry but all have been called to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. We can live out that calling in every aspect of our lives.  I hope that each of us will not allow our expectations and presuppositions about what a successful calling looks like to discourage us when God works his plan and not ours. We have to remember what a privilege it is to be included in God’s work of redemption. How he will use you to accomplish his will is often a mystery and sometimes we do not get to reap the harvest. Yet it is an honor to be called regardless of the results.