You might be surprised to find that nowhere do the scriptures instruct us to set aside time to seek a special calling from God. Nor will you find examples of biblical characters so doing.
This realization is new to me. For it has been my practice to periodically set aside a half day for prayer and fasting as I come to a new season. I ask God to show me what to do or where to go, and then open up the Bible and wait for a “sense” of his direction. But not anymore. For, simply put, the idea is not biblical.
But isn’t this what we find Jesus doing in Mark 1:35-38? Isn’t this what the church is doing in Acts 13:2-3? So I thought, but then I read a little closer. Yes, Jesus woke up early to pray. And yes, he knew it was time to continue on to the next town when his disciples found him. But what makes us assume that Jesus woke up early in order to seek such direction? Eisegesis might lead me to this conclusion, but exegesis will not. As for Acts, the Spirit speaks to the church “while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting.” It was not while they were seeking direction, but while they were worshipping—that is, seeking God’s face. And those are not the same thing.
We would do well to take note of Paul’s custom in decision-making.
As the book of Acts then follows Paul and Barnabas after they are sent out, we would do well to take note of their custom in decision-making. They pass from city to city without mention of special direction from God and then return to Antioch. After returning, Paul simply proposes to Barnabas to go back and visit the churches they planted, again without special direction from God to do so. As he goes (without Barnabas), we then do read of the Spirit directing. First He “forbids” Paul from speaking the word in Asia. Then the Spirit does not allow them to go to Bithynia. Finally, Paul has a vision at night which he interprets to be God’s call to preach in Macedonia. (Acts 13:13, 14:24, 15:36, 16:6-10) Now observe the following: (1) Paul was free to make big decisions without special guidance from God. (2) The Spirit does not speak to Paul in response to him asking for a special calling, and in fact he never asks. (3) The Spirit never guides Paul in the same fashion.
Paul was free to make big decisions without special guidance from God.
But wait, are we not to go to God for wisdom?! Yes, but this is totally different. A special calling says, “Go there” or “Do that.” Wisdom says, “Here is how to think and live.” See for yourself in James. In 1:4 we discover that God calls us to steadfastness that we might be “lacking in nothing.” Immediately following in 1:5 we read that God will give us wisdom if we lack it. What’s the point? God does not mean for us to ask, “Should I go left or right?” when we meet life’s crossroads. For that would not remove any lack in my character as it is relevant only for the moment. Rather God invites us to ask, “Please teach me how to live,” in order to fill us with wisdom. (See also James 3:13-18 for James’ definition of wisdom.)
Please do not misunderstand. We must “acknowledge [God] in all [our] ways.” We must “present [our] bodies as living sacrifices.” We live understanding that we belong to God, but that does not mean that God directs us with “left” and “right” commands. Rather, we “discern by testing what is the will of God” as he “make[s] straight [our] paths.” (Prov 3:5-6, Rom 12:1-2. Note also that in Isaiah 30:21, God is confirming the way of holiness, not giving person-specific guidance.)
Perhaps a final passage to note on this subject is James 4:13-17. There James rebukes the person who arrogantly makes plans without thought to the Lord, or his own frailty. Notice James’ instruction to this person. He does not say, “Instead you ought to set aside time to pray and fast for direction.” Why? Because that was not the planner’s problem. The problem was that his heart did not realize that his plans will only be established “if the Lord wills.” And then comes perhaps the most insightful verse for our subject. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” Do you know the holiness which God calls us all to pursue? To not run after it is sin. Do you know of the Great Commission? To not participate in it is sin. Do you have a special, personal calling from God? To ignore it is also sin. (Like Jonah, for example.)
God knows where to find you and he knows how to talk.
For God does indeed give special callings! The point of this article is not to deny that. The point being made is that you need not seek one. For God knows where to find you and he knows how to talk! How absurd it would be to think that God has a special calling for your life, or special direction for you in this season, which he is eager to tell you, but cannot because you have not set aside a day to fast and pray in order to ask him!
You are free! Go to the ends of the earth, pour yourself out for a gospel ambition, give your life away to serve. Through it all God will teach you how to make decisions (wisdom) and he will guide you through his providence. “If the Lord wills,” he will establish your plan. If not, he will close the door. And he may at times speak a special calling into your life. But do not stay up late coveting a special calling that you feel you must have. Rather wake up early to seek God’s face, and stay up late to do his work.