Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-21, 1 Samuel 4:1-22, Psalm 78:58-66, Acts 4:23-31
Calling is rarely simple. I know this from my own life, but I’ve observed it in the lives of others as well.
Several years ago, I sat down with women from several different seminaries to ask them why they were going into ministry. These interviews were part of my doctoral research in which I explored the experiences of women and personal calling. For most, their stories were complicated and full of self-doubt. Their calling didn’t necessarily make sense to them. It was a huge risk or a financial sacrifice. As a result, some had resisted the call, while others had rejected it outright. But for nearly all of them, their story of calling was neither simple nor clear.
Too often, we assume calling is straightforward. If it’s really from God, there shouldn’t be any confusion, right? And yet, most biblical stories of calling are complex. Samuel’s is no exception. Three times the Lord called Samuel, and three times Samuel failed to recognize God’s voice. It was the fourth time, and only after receiving wise counsel from Eli, that Samuel finally came to recognize and answer the voice of the Caller (1 Samuel 3:10).
This is tremendously comforting to all of us who are discerning a call. After all, Samuel heard the literal voice of God, and still he was confused! This tells me that uncertainty, fear, and doubt do not negate the validity of a calling. Instead, they are the norm. In Scripture, nearly every person called by God for a task initially felt afraid, unqualified, or unprepared for the task. Few are the stories of confident leaders who trusted God without pause.
So, how do we discern God’s calling when it’s unclear? In their commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, J.D. Greear and Heath Thomas highlight four key obstacles to discernment: inexperience, expectation, unwillingness, and sin. Samuel was inhibited by the first two; he didn’t know the voice of God, and he wasn’t expecting to hear it. For some of us, it’s our own sin that blinds us; we’re too committed to our own security and comfort.
No matter the obstacle, Samuel’s story points to one great help in our discernment: wise counsel. Without Eli, Samuel might’ve circled the house twenty times that night, hearing the call but never recognizing it. Thankfully, Eli explained what was happening. Not only did he recognize God’s voice and know His ways, but he also named Samuel’s calling and instructed him on how to respond.
The women I interviewed reported similar counsel from pastors, parents, mentors and friends—individuals who were able to help them name their gifts, pointed them to Scripture, and encouraged them to boldly trust God. This is a blueprint for us all: it’s always best to discern God’s leading in the context of Christian community.
The good news is, our God is a pursuer. Over and over again, He called out to Samuel, and He does the same with us. God repeatedly beckons us in big and small ways until we hear and respond to Him. And all the while, He sends us the help of His Church, His Word, and His Spirit as guides. He does all this because no one is more committed to our God-given calling than the One who issues the call.
Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, mom, and she holds a PhD on women and calling. She is a regular contributor to Propel, blogs at SheWorships.com, and her first book releases in October 2017.