The summer after my senior year of college, I served on a team in Thailand seeking to reach students at Khon Kaen University with the gospel. It was estimated that less than 0.3% of the roughly 35,000 students on campus had trusted in Christ. Over those two months, I built relationships with men bearing names like Palm, Panda, and Shrimp (all true), and I grew to love them deeply. My new friends took me to their local temple and I watched them bow down before gods of stone … and my heart broke.
One entry in my journal that summer captured the state of my heart: “Lord, this should not be! How many times did I reject you? And most of these people have never even heard of you! Lord, I beg you, send laborers into the harvest! Lord, whatever you call me to do and wherever you call me to go, I want my life to count so that the unreached might know you, Jesus.”
The Million-Dollar Question
For years following that summer, my wife and I prayed and prepared to spend our lives on the mission field—first thinking the Lord was calling us to Thailand, then to England, and finally to Australia. But again and again, the Holy Spirit redirected us through his Word, through our prayers, and through the counsel of others.
Fifteen years after that summer, I remain in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most “reached” places in the world. So, here’s the million-dollar question: did God answer my prayer in Thailand or not? Has my life counted for the sake of the unreached, or did I forfeit my opportunity to have an impact somewhere along the way?
I’ve met with many people over the years who, like me, had dreams in college to serve overseas but remain stateside. Their “next steps” of faith and obedience led them not to the nations, but to take jobs, put down roots in their communities and churches, and in many cases get married and start families. Even as they walked by faith, many of them grew discouraged and began to wonder whether their lives still had kingdom significance.
The answer is an unequivocable yes.
Every believer is called to participate in the joyful work of fulfilling the Great Commission.
But most of us will be called to the joy of glorifying God with what seems like a radically ordinary life.
It’s likely that very few of us (relatively speaking) will be called to be full-time missionaries, and that’s a good thing. Just as few of us are called to be artists or engineers or nurses or neuroscientists, few of us will be called to spend our lives overseas. What each of us is called to do is to steward our time, skills, and opportunities to make disciples, wherever God calls us to be.
The Lord who knits us together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:13), who determines where and how long we will live (Acts 17:26), and who gives us each a particular set of skills and opportunities (Exodus 35:30-35) intends for each of us to play a particular role in laboring for his kingdom on earth, and our roles are not meant to look the same. He has a sovereign and specific calling for each person.
Instead of lamenting where God didn’t send us, let’s ask him to show us why he sovereignly and specifically planted us where he did, allowing this truth to guide our prayers and our actions, which, as he answers, will open our eyes anew to see the fantastic kingdom opportunities he’s already set before us.
Recalibrating Our Understanding
Here are four ways a deeper understanding of God’s sovereign and specific calling recalibrates our understanding of our roles in God’s kingdom purposes.
First, trusting in God’s sovereign and specific calling reminds us that the God who set the boundaries of your dwelling place has ordered the steps of your classmates, family members, and friends, because God desires for you to be his ambassador to them. The new girl in your apartment didn’t move in simply because she got a new job, nor did you begin sharing a workspace with your co-worker simply at the whim of your manager. God placed you in your neighborhood and at your job—whatever and wherever that might be—in part, so that you would make disciples.
Second, trusting in God’s sovereign and specific calling opens our eyes to the internationals and refugees living in our cities. God may not have sent you to the nations, but he has undeniably brought the nations to you. The United States has the third largest number of unreached people groups in the world! Do you want your life to impact the unreached? Go knock on your neighbor’s door.
To that end, pray alongside members of your church and your family for the Lord to open opportunities with the internationals around you. Intentionally carve out time to build relationships, invite them into your homes, and share the good news of Jesus with them as you share your lives with them.
Third, trusting in God’s sovereign and specific calling does not prevent us whatsoever from being used to send laborers into the harvest; it simply refocuses the “where.” Make no mistake: the Lord intends to use you to build globally-minded disciple-makers in your church and home, so that more of his people would pray, send, give, and go for the sake of the nations.
Finally, trusting in God’s sovereign and specific calling helps us remember that while each of us has a role to play, God doesn’t actually need any of us. The Great Commission isn’t a wish: it’s a promise ensured by the unstoppable power of Christ himself. The Great Commission will be fulfilled, the lion will lay down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6), the earth will be filled the knowledge of the Lord (Habakkuk 2:14), men and women from every tribe, people, and language will shout praise and glory to the Lamb (Revelation 7:9–10), and God Himself will wipe every tear from every eye (Revelation 21:4).
When that glorious day comes, no glory will belong to any pastor, deacon, or missionary, but to Christ alone. Each of us will cast down our golden crowns before him, crying, “Holy, holy, holy!” As we long for that day, the day that will more than make up for any missed opportunities or sorrows, let us dedicate ourselves to the task of making disciples, wherever God has placed us.