Calling and Assignment

This post is an excerpt from a book on John the Baptist being published in 2020.

We have a lot of confusion in the area of calling vs. assignment. We often use the word “calling” to refer to our ministry assignments or our vocation, but these are temporary tasks God has assigned to us. He cares about them and faithfulness in our assignments is important, but they are not our primary calling. Our calling is to become like Jesus and embrace our priestly identity. Our vocation or assignment may change, but our calling does not. The Lord may fulfill our ultimate calling while we engage in any number of vocations or assignments.

This confusion can cause those in occupational ministry to find identity and purpose in what they do instead of who they are. It has also led many not in occupational ministry to feel their life is not as spiritual as a full-time minister or to also find their identity in their occupation.

Unlike John, we tend to be more obsessed with our ministry assignments than we are our priestly calling.

We treat our assignments as our inheritance and reward but they are not. Our assignments are simply ways we express our love for God and partner with Him. When God appointed the Levitical priests He did not give them an inheritance or reward in the land. Nor did He make their unique ministry assignment in the tabernacle their reward. In fact, the priests were limited to only twenty years of ministry in the tabernacle. The priests had one reward – God Himself:

20 And the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel. (Numbers 18:20 ESV)

The priests were a reminder that God did not liberate Isræl from Egypt primarily so Isræl could escape oppression. He liberated Isræl so Isræl would be His treasured possession:[1]

5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine. (Exodus 19:5 ESV)

6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV)

20 But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. (Deuteronomy 4:20 ESV)

The Levitical priests were a witness to the entire nation that they were called to be a priestly people whose inheritance was found in God Himself.[19] Like the Levites we are called to be priests and our reward is not found in our assignments or possessions in this age. God is our reward and the church is meant to be a people in the earth who live with God as their reward.

The question is: do we truly value God as our reward or are we constantly searching for and enamored with lessor rewards? Is He enough for you?

When Isræl disobeyed, God came to Moses and told him He would still give Isræl the promised land, but His presence would not go with Moses and the people. Moses was given the fulfillment of his promise but without the presence of God and Moses said “no.” Moses preferred living in the wilderness without his promise to receiving the inheritance but losing the presence of the Lord. We often pursue the pleasure of our own God-given promises, but Moses knew there is a much greater realm of pleasure: the knowledge of God.

If God offered us our inheritance and the the fulfillment of His promises to us but it came with a reduced manifestation of His presence would we take the reward or refuse it for the sake of His presence?

Moses left the comfort of the palace in Egypt and preferred the pleasure of knowing Jesus more than the pleasures of Egypt:

24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:24–26 ESV)

Moses not only rejected the pleasures of Egypt, Moses also considered the riches of Jesus a greater treasure than his God-ordained inheritance in the promised land. When God sends a messenger like Moses, He sends them with a message: God is enough. He is a greater treasure than all other treasures. To carry that message with authority, it must be formed in the way we live. Moses was tested on this issue. John the Baptist was tested on this issue. God is going to produce a mature church who lives the same way. This is likely why the New Testament says much more about suffering than success in this age.

Do we pursue the a priestly life with zeal or do we find public assignments more exciting than a hidden life of ministry to God?

John was the most powerful preacher in his generation—and one of the most powerful messengers in history—and he lived his life in a small place. If you wanted to hear John, you had to go out to the wilderness to see him. John made it difficult for people to get to him because he had a priestly life in the wilderness he did not want to surrender.

What is more beautiful to you—your assignment or God Himself?

If God offered you an increase in access to His beauty through hiddenness or a public stage which would you take? We all immediately say “intimacy” but our actions seem to indicate otherwise so we need to deeply ponder this question before the Lord. Are we more gripped with by opportunities to become students of the beauty of God or opportunities for ministry?

Paul was a brilliant man. His intellect was towering and he could have used it in any way he wanted. He could have left behind profound books of theology and philosophy instead of a few small letters. He could have become one of the leading thinkers of his day. Instead he took the full force of his intellect and limited it to one captivating subject:

2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV)

Paul did not focus the strength of his intellect on ambition, strategic thinking, or ministry objectives. Paul did all those things but he focused on just one thing: Jesus and Him crucified. The beauty of God is fully revealed in the person of Jesus and uniquely revealed in the cross, so Paul was expressing a commitment to limit himself to the beauty of God. It must be said that the pursuit of the knowledge of Jesus includes more than study and meditation—it includes engaging in the biblical life of the church where we discover aspects of Jesus’ beauty among His people.

How many of us have consciously decided to prioritize our meditation, thinking, and pursuits on Jesus and His beauty?

A messenger who is fixated on their assignment limits their usefulness to God, and there are times God will even prevent a person’s success for their own good. A person who sets their mind and imagination on the pursuit of the beauty of God will be incredibly useful to God whether they are publicly known in this age or not.

When we make assignments and success our destiny, we become vulnerable to idolatry and we begin to use other people and other things to obtain the success we want. Tragically, this is rampant in the church and it produces a very subtle form of idolatry that is similar to Isræl’s idolatry in the wilderness. Isræl did not create a “new” god, they formed a god (idol) according to their own desires and named it YHWH. They even worshipped this god according to their own desire. We do the same—we set up our own “god” and name it “Jesus”.

Do we treasure and enjoy the priestly life or are we like the priests in Malachi’s book? Do we seek communion and deep relationship with YHWH through His Spirit or do we do what is necessary to obtain some blessing and benefits and escape the judgment of hell? Do we desire God’s presence and long for His Word in our thoughts, imaginations, and emotions or do we use God and His sanctuary periodically to secure the things we truly desire?

Are we transactional with God like the priests? If God challenged the priest to stop the offerings would God challenge us to shut down our church meetings? If God gave a warning to the priesthood formed by the Mosaic Covenant, what would He say to the priesthood formed by the gift of His own Spirit? Are we priests like John the Baptist? Or are we more like the priests Malachi rebuked? 

[1] Deuteronomy 4:20; 14:2, 21; 26:18; 32:8-9; 1 Kings 8:53; Psalm 135:4; Isaiah 41:8; 43:1; 18 Jeremiah 10:16; Malachi 3:17. 

[2] Exodus 19:6. 

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