The “quick” story is this: I have been to Cañas, Costa Rica on a mission trip 3 times. My grandparents are members of Denver United Methodist Church in Denver, NC. I went with a group from DUMC on 3 occasions. For the last almost-decade, DUMC has been building a physical church building for La Iglesia Metodista de Cañas. Amazing place. Amazing people. Horrible humidity. Phenomenal food. Terrible drivers.
I knew for a long time that being a pastor was something I would have liked. I like to talk to people. I really like to teach people things (I made some poppin’ PowerPoints when I was in school). And I love Jesus and everything about Him. It was a career I had kicked around, but never taken seriously. When you’re 10, youth pastorship looks like fun. Senior pastorship looks like something only smart people do. I just wanted to talk about Jesus. I didn’t care who to. But I didn’t really pick the profession, either. And, let’s be honest– I wasn’t really taking my faith serious enough at the time.
I actually got roped into going to Costa Rica because, honestly, I can’t tell people no. I was asked by some friends from DUMC, and like usual, I didn’t tell them no. One of my biggest weaknesses is making impulsive commitments. So, it got to be July of 2014, and I am traveling to humid, sweaty, unfamiliar, non-English-speaking Costa Rica with a team of people I don’t know (minus about 3 of them), doing something I don’t really want to be a part of. But as assuredly as the sun rises, the waves crash, and the Cleveland Browns lose football games, God took my doubt and showed me why He is the Almighty.
I absolutely loved it. I could go on for hours about it, but I won’t bore you with the details. In short, I saw what real faith looks like. I made lifelong relationships with Americans and ticos. The trip changed my worldview, my God-view, and my self-view. Incredible. Naturally, I decided to go back in 2015. I was on fire, and I loved the place and the people.
I had established an amazing relationship with the translator for the trips, Nidia Contreras. Nidia was, basically, my Costa Rican mom. For some reason, we clicked. We talked for hours about English, her daughter, my life in the States, God, theology, Costa Rica– you name it. And for some reason (but really all due to Jesus) we just developed the type of relationship that I have between my mother and I, or my sisters and I, etc. She became family. Immediately.
Nidia takes me aside and introduces me to God’s audible voice. Whoah, dude, is this some type of weird, snake-handling church stuff? No. It’s not. Nidia took me aside one day and said something to the effect of how she knew one day I would be a fantastic preacher. She told me that God had revealed to her that I would “change the world for Him with my thoughts.” The thing to note about this is the fact that Nidia has no clue that I want to be a pastor. No one on the trip does. Yet, somehow, it’s brought to my attention from something other than myself. Coincidence? The Bible doesn’t support coincidence
On one very hot and humid night at the church, we were attending their service and doing the church thing (sorry, iglesia thing). Pastor Miguel– who is roughly about 60-64 inches of muscle, holiness, style, and charisma– is preaching on the Kingdom of God. He jumps from several things Jesus says in the New Testament. I’m not going to lie: it’s so hot and stuff that I’m not paying attention, really. But let me tell you what grabs my attention.
By way of translator, here is what Miguel says, almost verbatim (for you don’t forget the moments when the Lord speaks):
“Cooper, I have something to tell you. God has just revealed this to me and I need to share (sidenote: he is doing this in front of the whole congregation literally during the service). The famous John Wesley once said to give him 100 men on fire for the Lord and he could change the world. And Cooper, if John Wesley were alive, you would be one of those men.”
Surreal, to say the least.
For one, to those of you reading this who do have a personal relationship with Jesus, it was one of those moments when God’s presence is evident. It’s a certain unexplainable perception you have that it is legitimately the Holy Spirit in action. I equate it to my salvation experience. For those of you who don’t have that relationship, all I can say is those words cut to my core. The words were not even Miguel’s.
It’s also super wild to have someone who barely knows you know exactly what is going on in your mind. I had been kicking around the idea of being a pastor, but I wanted a sign, just like most people. God said, “Okay. Then, here is your sign.” This is not the only time God spoke, either.
So what’s even the point in this story?
In John 15:16, Jesus is speaking to His disciples. He says this:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give to you.”
The point is that God calls those whom He desires to preach the Gospel. I have a unique perspective because I know, that I know, that I know that God has called me to ministry. It is one of the– if not the– strongest convictions I possess. It’s almost as strong as the conviction I feel to unconditionally always root against the Dallas Cowboys (lowkey that’s not a joke). Look at just some of the people God appoints to carry out His plan in the Old Testament– Moses, David, Isaiah, Samson, etc. These guys don’t go running after God, asking to be who they become. God calls them. Look at the disciples. Not a single one approaches Jesus with their resume, because the fact of the matter is that most of them don’t have one ‘fit’ for Jesus and certainly not for the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t. I’m impatient. I talk too much. I’m narrow-minded. I’ve done things I’m not supposed to. But God doesn’t call us because we are perfect. He calls us to chase perfect. And to those of us called to preach the Gospel, He calls us to chase perfect alongside others so that they can see the character of God. And ever since I received God’s obvious call for my life, my life has changed. I crave biblical knowledge. I notice a lot errors in my life. I am able to overcome a lot of typical temptation by the power of the Holy Spirit, whereas I battle other things that are detrimental to my pastoral development that feel unique to me at times (things like getting stumped on topics, or trying to keep negative thoughts about God’s hand on things out). I don’t say all this to highlight any type of holiness, rather, I say all this to highlight the fact that God changed my life. I have been looking toward one goal ever since. I haven’t been the same Cooper, and I will never be the same Cooper. End of story. How can I be?
There are lots of people out there who feel alone in their search for God’s plan for their life. My good friend Thomas here at PC with me is in this stage, sort of. The one thing that has made God’s plan evident for my life is the consistent affirmation of it. I find myself growing in areas that are ‘preachery’ and becoming, well, intolerant. God is building a lot of desires in me that are very counter-cultural, and, at the same time, He is stifling typical worldly desires– drinking, cursing, being a Patriots fan, etc. I also, honestly, just gravitate to people who are pastors. I want to learn all of the ins and outs. People like Thomas are still searching for affirmation (though, he’s gotten a lot of it thus far and has decided the Lord is calling him, as well). But Thomas has found his affirmation after recklessly chasing the Lord down for an answer. A lot of people have absolutely no clue what is going to happen with their life. That is where I have such a blessed advantage. So here is my advice to you… whoah, did I ask for his advice?
For one, a lot of us harbor things because we fear God’s uncertainty. The cliché of “Let go and Let God” is 100% accurate– let things go. In Matthew 8 (and also Luke 9), Jesus is calling disciples. One of them is like, “Sure, but my father is close to death. I will need to take care of him; then, I’m all in.” Jesus very curtly tells him “leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Whoah, Jesus. Super harsh, dog. Wrong. Jesus is saying here that nothing on Earth is as important as following Him. And God provides– look at Abraham when God asks him to sacrifice Isaac, or Noah when God tells him to build this enormous boat. The guy’s father will be fine. But the guy can’t let go, so he can’t let God. When God calls you, and you somewhat recognize that– Go. He will take care of you. The ram got caught in the bush, and the rain came, so you will be just fine.
Secondly, some people are not called to something that is all “Billy Graham-ish.” We are not all asked by God to be a foreign missionary or a youth pastor. We must discern what is a desire versus what is an appointment. When God changes your life, you then become a missionary, or a witness. You don’t need to be in Honduras to do the Lord’s work. There is always the enormous potential that you are, in fact, sitting right in God’s hands. My mom and dad have never necessarily considered, “Oh, maybe God needs us in Uganda.” Ask anybody who works with/for them– they are exactly where they need to be. Look at the demon-possessed man in Mark 6. Jesus heals him, and of course the man wants to go with Jesus. I would, as well. But Jesus tells him, “No. Go home and tell everybody about this.” God calls some of us to go home. Quite often, God changes you in your context, for your context. Sometimes our zeal for something clouds our perception of God’s ultimate goal. Finding contentment in Christ is a virtue, and I don’t make any bones about it: it’s hard. Mission trips are amazing. Summer camp is awesome. My walk was molded by both of those things. But just because it was super fun and spiritually fulfilling doesn’t mean that’s your call. Search your heart. Test every desire (Romans 12:2). And pray, pray, pray!
Thirdly, some of us can’t hear God because He’s got zero-clue what our voice sounds like. You can’t have a relationship with God and not talk to Him– all facts. Prayer. Devotion. Studying. Reading. All of these things will elicit God’s voice. Guaranteed. All scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, we need not wait on His voice to magically appear out of nowhere– it’s literally written down in a very easy-to-find book. How do you find God? Go look for Him. How do you hear from God? Talk to Him. How do you know God? Build a relationship with Him. Quite often, our inclination as Christians is to wonder why it isn’t super evident to us what our life should be doing. Almost always, that’s a result of us not doing our part– chasing after the Lord. God’s timing– God’s seemingly peculiar timing– is the only timing that matters, big picture.
Of course, if you aren’t a Christian, you’ll not know God’s will for your life until you and He link up. I would be more than happy to let you know how to do that.
I don’t know what it’s like to wonder what God wants for my career long-term because He has revealed it to me. But all of us do know what it’s like to wonder if He is with us day-to-day. Everyone craves that one guiding light to take us forward. I even question the call, sometimes, because Satan gets at me. But God spoke to me. And God chose me. He called, and I answered.
So, the bottom line is this– when God calls, answer the phone. And if it seems He never calls back, make sure He has the right number. You feel me?
Chase after the Lord and watch the blessings fall.
And never, ever expect the Cleveland Browns to make the playoffs.