No one likes pain. But some kind of discomfort is part of God’s purpose for His servants. The apostle Paul’s life teaches us five things we need to accept about being a chosen vessel.
Revelation 12:7-9,17, Isaiah 14:12-15, Ezekiel 28:11-17
The Bible is a mysterious book. We catch a glimpse of this mystery unfolding in Revelation 12:7, “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels…”
Where did this war come from?
The Bible answers this question in Ezekiel 28:11-17, and offers a similar explanation in Isaiah 14:12-15. In summary, we see that God created Lucifer perfect until iniquity was found in him (Ezekiel 28:15). When his heart was lifted up because of his beauty (v 17), his ambition grew to the point of desiring to be like God (Isaiah 14:14) culminating in a war against God (Revelation 12:7). As a result, Lucifer (Satan) and his angels were cast down to the earth (v 9).
What does a war have to do with being a chosen vessel?
Having been cast to the earth, the Devil continues to fight, but his opposition is not leveled at God directly. He now directs his warfare against God’s people (v 17). He is the head of an army of fallen angels, whose ultimate mission is to hinder the work and will of God on earth.
This is the context in which your calling is embedded – the Devil is at war and has a host that he commands, but God also has an army and He is enlisting soldiers. He is seeking labourers. There is a call for warriors!
Everything about being a chosen vessel is wrapped up in this truth (besides the fact that we were created for God’s pleasure, Revelation 4:11). There is a war between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. Nothing about being a chosen vessel is in a vacuum- it’s all related to this one cause.
You will never walk in your purpose as you should without acknowledging the reality of this war. Without keeping the cause in mind, every chosen vessel of God is susceptible to complacency.
So here comes God seeking vessels to use and what does He do? He meets us in our mess! What kind of a holy, Supreme Being comes to unclean people seeking to draft them into His holy army with a holy cause?!
Well, without meaning to sound disrespectful to God, I have to say it: God actually doesn’t have any choice! You see, I can’t tell God that I’m too sinful for Him to use, then direct Him to yonder hills to find someone else over there who is more worthy.
If He goes to yonder hills, He’s still going to find someone else’s mess!
We all start off in sin and God knows it. (Please note I said start off!)
Never use your situation to tell God He can’t use you.
The apostle Paul is a clear example of this predicament because he was once a mess! In Acts 7:58, we see him consenting to the unjust stoning of Stephen. In Acts 9:1, we see him turning up the heat on Christians with threatenings and slaughter. In Acts 9:13, we see the disciple Ananias hesitant to encounter Paul even after his conversion, because he had heard of the evil he had done to the saints at Jerusalem. In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul calls himself a chief of sinners. (Did I mention he was a mess?)
But where did the Lord meet him? Right on the road to Damascus with a letter in hand against the Lord! Wow! What an unabashed call! God was not afraid to step into the pathway of a sinner and pull him off it. Jesus introduced Himself to Paul while he was an enemy of the faith, and called him to be an ambassador of that same faith.
That’s the nature of the call: God takes us out of the kingdom of darkness, drafts us into His kingdom of light, then uses us to fight against that kingdom out of which He took us. Awesome!
But even after getting saved, God’s call will still come to us when we are not ready!
I was told that I was going to marry a minister when I was around 16 years old. Though this was legally the age of consent, the idea of getting married was incredulous to me. I had never had a boyfriend up to that point and I was just about to enter University.
I had my whole life ahead of me and I had it all planned out. I can assure you that marriage was not in that plan! In fact, when my Women’s President looked at me that fateful night and told me that the Lord wanted me to marry a pastor, my exact words were: Miss, me not even waa married much less fi go married Paasta! (Jamaican Creole). Translation: Miss, I don’t even want to get married let alone to marry a Pastor!
But look at me now–married to a minister, with children!
Don’t let the state in which God calls you prevent you from graciously accepting it, humbly saying yes, and obediently yielding to the process that will prepare you for it. (Oh yes! There will be a process!)
Acts 9:16, 2 Corinthians 11:23-27
Paul is also an example of suffering. In Acts 9:15-16, the disciple Ananias receives a word for the new Brother Paul–it includes a sobering prophecy of things he must suffer for Jesus. We find a synopsis of this prophecy’s fulfilment in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. Stripes, prisons, beatings and perils galore were among the apostle’s afflictions.
And just when Paul had gone through such intense suffering for Jesus’ sake, He prepared a thorn just for him too! (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul had a dear price to pay for serving His new master.
Affliction is part of the calling
We love to hear that we are called for great things in God. We relish the thought of being used by God. We even admire those who we see the Lord using and enjoy being fed by what God pours out through them. All of that is good, but we also like to hide from the idea that affliction is a part of the calling.
The glory of seeing our brethren ministering in God’s will can blind us to what they have been through, and go through even daily for it! Paul had an advantage over some of us, though, because at least God told him he would suffer!
When God showed Joseph his destiny, we see no evidence in Scripture that God told him about the suffering that awaited him in the process (Genesis 37:5-11, 18-28; 39:20). Truth be told, many of us fall into Joseph’s category–God shows us the glory but never mentions the pain.
Here’s a heads up: pain is coming with your calling! And if you are already in pain, I’m here to tell you it’s normal!
My husband was never and has to date not, been accepted by my birth family. There are no words to fully describe the internal warfare I bore because of that. I struggled between choosing to go where I knew God was leading me, versus wanting to please my parents and trying not to feel rejected by them.
Why did that have to happen? Why couldn’t the two worlds have just seamlessly joined together? After all, my parents are Christians so why did there have to be a choice between Christian parents and God’s will?
I concluded that it was either the Devil who spoke to me about a husband so I could end up confused, or, I was mad. I don’t ever want anyone to feel like you’re losing your mind. It’s a horrible feeling. But that’s what I went through in the will of God. I no longer feel that way about being mad, thankfully. But at the time of writing, I still can feel the strain and awkwardness of juggling relationship with birth family over here, and walking in love with someone who is still not acknowledged or honoured by them on the other side.
Suffering isn’t so strange!
If we look back or look around us, we have seen, and some of us have even experienced, suffering in non-Christian circles. People have suffered for the sake of getting a University degree for example. When I was a university student, my low financial status meant that I would buy a cheap pack of biscuits, sip some water from the water coolers, and call that lunch! Then I would go pass the rest of my ‘lunch time’ in the lecture hall waiting for my next class to start.
Many other students had similar experiences in university, and most of them weren’t even Christians. They weren’t doing it for God, but they suffered! In fact, the world is riddled with examples of persons who are even suffering because they have rejected Christ.
So let’s not be wimps when it comes on to suffering. We only need to gird up our minds with the expectation that there will be a cost to being called.
I’ll also hasten to mention a revelation Paul received from God when he had that thorn in his flesh: when we are weak, then are we strong for God’s grace is sufficient! (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Never try to opt out of the price that you have to pay for pleasing God. Like Paul, let us rather glory in our infirmities that the power of Christ may rest on us.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5, Psalm 23:4
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, the same Paul who went through stoning and imprisonments offers a surprising testimony. He is able to testify of a reality that the world does not understand- the possibility of peace in the storm; weeping with hope; comfort in suffering.
The suffering of the world is a common suffering. It is depressing, hopeless, empty, lonely, and cold. The suffering of a chosen vessel of God is a peculiar suffering because it is set apart for the peculiar people. (1 Peter 2:9)
The suffering of the world is comfortless; the suffering that comes with obedience to the call, purpose and will of God comes with consolation.
And this is the consolation: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for God is with me! (Psalm 23:4) Hallelujah! I am not alone!
The fellowship of His suffering
There is an intimacy with God that is reserved for only those who suffer. It is a special hug. It is an embrace so tender, and is hidden from and inaccessible to those who have never been tried.
Paul had been there. He was deliberate when he used the term ‘fellowship’ with regard to Christ’s suffering in Philippians 3:10. He also wrote in Romans 8:17, to remind us that when we suffer with Christ we will also be glorified together. Note that we suffer with. There is a togetherness with Christ, a fellowship with Him, that brings sweet consolation in our afflictions.
When I suffer in the will of God, I get front row seats to a revelation of His comforting capacity that other humans (and even some Christians) don’t get. I am blessed to be afflicted because I get with it an equivalent level of consolation. The suffering is real, the pain too, but God gives grace to go through. He gives comfort that keeps us in peace.
And what is more, I get to share that same comfort I get from God with others who are going through their afflictions! I now have a compassion and deeper sense of understanding for any minister’s wife who is in my position. In fact, all the trials that I have been through in God’s will have tenderized me. My praying is different and my comments are different toward other servants of God. I now bear their burdens in prayer and travail.
Instead of quickly and harshly criticizing another of God’s chosen vessels, I find myself groaning when I hear of their fall to sin or of their struggle with various afflictions. I may not get to meet any of them, but I can share the comfort of God with them through intercession. What a privilege! What an honour! What an awesome blessing!
But to whom do I owe this empathising ability? I can only give as I am graciously given by the Holy Spirit. He is still with me and is still consoling, comforting and strengthening me.
1 Kings 17:1-9, Acts 19:13-16
Confidence as a chosen vessel is in the context of provision, and also in the context of authority.
Confidence of Provision
When you know that God is the One who called and sent you, there is a trust that God will provide. This is a trust you display in spite of what you see in front of you. There may even be times when it is our obedience to the will of God that takes us from a physical state of plenty: Paul declared that he had experienced hunger and thirst in 2 Corinthians 11:27. Elijah declared a famine in Israel and guess what? It affected him too! But God commanded ravens and a widow to feed him. (1 Kings 17:4,9).
Know this: you may not have the overflow you would like to have or even once had, and all because you have stepped out in obedience to the call of God on your life.
At the Lord’s direction, I had not worked outside the home since getting married, and my husband was a full time minister in a very small independent ministry.
Then, we became tenants for three years. We had to pay rent, utilities, and buy groceries for the whole family. It was sometimes a bit precarious, and we had some rough patches where our utilities were cut off for a while, but faithfully, God kept on providing. Our children were never forsaken.
When you move in the direction and will of God, rest assured there will be provision. You will be sustained!
Confidence of Authority
Another level to being confident is in facing the dragon and his angels mentioned in Revelation 12:17. It is a confidence in war.
The sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16) took something on themselves. God had not given it to them. So, when faced with a particularly stubborn demon, they were overcome. As we go forward in ministry, we must know that we did not choose ourselves. As Paul was busy going about his own affairs, even so many of us were minding our own business when God stepped in with His call.
You may sometimes see this in a negative light, but this is what gives you power to stand in the face of the enemy. You may sometimes feel like God imposed Himself on you and now has you suffering for it. But rejoice about it, because that is the source of your authority.
When we go out by ourselves, we go limited in power and authority because we bear witness of our limited selves. But when a chosen vessel steps out, he or she goes not in his or her name, but in the name of the One who came and interrupted that life for His purpose.
I didn’t ask for marriage. Many of you never asked for ministry. As chosen vessels we did not take this on ourselves; it was God who called, chose, processed and sent us. When we stand before principalities and powers or even the Devil himself, we have all authority to say, “Back up!”
Sceva’s sons couldn’t do this because they took something upon themselves that can only work when we are sent!
The power of ongoing submission
As being called by God brings authority over the Devil, so ongoing submission to God and His will help to maintain that authority.
Here’s an example. I know God wanted me to marry, and to marry a pastor, and to specifically marry my husband. That makes me confident to contend with the enemy for my marriage and family when the Devil tries to enter.
But I also have an ongoing responsibility to daily honour God in my marriage and family–loving, submitting to, supporting and reverencing my husband; loving my children and teaching them to fear God.
What do these activities have to do with waging war against the kingdom of darkness? EVERYTHING!
As chosen vessels of God, we can never take a break from surrendering to the call or the cost of the call. We should never assume that we have yielded once and for all. As new challenges arise, we can be confident of victory when we are continuing to position ourselves in the will of God.
I dare not give you the impression that this is easy. Daily submission (to both God and my husband) takes daily death to self. But when we face a principality in prayer, we can rejoice when we look back at the painful tests we have passed.
It isn’t confidence in self-righteousness. Rather, it is bearing a limp from a wounded hip, so we can have power with God (Genesis 3:24-31).
God’s perfect will is the best thing that could ever happen to someone–suffering included! It is therefore something to be surrendered to, rather than to be resisted.