When we feel like we have received a ‘calling’ from God, what do we do if it seems impossible and all the doors are still closed?
Nicole Malloy was 8 years old when she had a strange dream of place she’d never seen or heard of before. It was a tiny town surrounded by water, and people there were washing their clothes by hand in a way she’d never seen before, and they were cooking their food over open fires. It was a beautiful place, and she longed to go there, but where was ‘there’? She’d grown up in church, so she told God about the beautiful place and how much she wanted to go there.
As she grew older, other concerns began to crowd into the young teenager’s life. Eventually, she decided to leave the church and live life the way she saw fit.
Years later, she returned with a baby, hoping to find the purpose that she’d lost somewhere in the traitorous waters of the world’s promises. She began reading the Bible again, and fiery joy was sparked in her heart for prayer.
Nicole also discovered a deep love of going to the missions meetings at her church and praying for missionaries and unreached people groups. She specifically began praying for a tribe called the Tau’t Batu in the Philippines who had no known believers among them. Despite her passion and what everyone said about being ‘called’ to the missions field, she couldn’t help but think, “I’m an unwed, single mom. No church is going to send me to the mission field.”
Even if someone would send her, she couldn’t leave her daughter behind; but how would a child accompany her across the world, possibly to somewhere unsafe? She felt heavy beneath the burden of a call she could see no way of fulfilling. Perhaps she had missed the chance to ever fulfill this calling. Even if that were the case, she continued to pray.
Hearing the Restless Cry
Near the beginning of the New Testament, there’s a landmark event to consider in this discussion of dreams and following God’s calling. The disciples had just seen Jesus rise from the dead, received the Holy Spirit and begun sharing the gospel widely in Jerusalem. The early church was well on its way, at least among the Jews. This by no means meant that God was unknown among the Gentiles, but there seemed to be very little room for them at the table. At least that was the case until the Apostle Peter and another man both received some strange visions.
“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, ‘Cornelius.’ And he stared at him in terror and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ And he said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter’” (Acts 10:1-5, ESV).
Cornelius did so, and meanwhile, Peter was receiving a vision from God about “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). The Spirit then directed him to follow Cornelius’s men, and he entered the house of a Gentile to share the gospel.
“While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God” (Acts 10:44-46).
In a sermon, Carter Conlon mused over this same passage, “There's incredible power in a hungry heart. If you have a hungry heart for the things of God, there is something that God can do through you that will astound you.” He noted, “The scripture said that Cornelius was a man who had a deep reverence for God…. He was a devout man, one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people and prayed to God always…. He was a seeker of God, and yet he didn't know God the way you and I do today. The fullness of salvation was not yet revealed to him, but he still had this inner hunger for God.”
Connecting this to modern day believers, Carter concluded, “There's a cry in your heart, as there had to be in the people of Israel at this time and as there was in the heart of Cornelius. It's ‘God, I want you to break me out of the boundaries that have restricted my life up to this point…. I want outside because, God, I feel somehow that you've created me for more than this.’”
How do we pursue that reckless, restless urge for more that beats within each one of our chests?
Is the Call Godly or Not?
In the pursuit of a dream, the question arises of “How does one build a ladder to the stars?” Impossible seeming obstacles inevitably arise. Examining them, we must ask ourselves if they mean that the dream was something we manufactured or if it was a genuine whisper of the Holy Spirit.
There are a few ways to discern whether our dreams are a genuine God-calling or not. Having talent, experience or passion in the area is usually good. Having others confirm the calling is usually another positive sign. Having spiritual leaders who are willing to oversee you as you pursue this calling is highly recommended.
The absolute best way to tell whether this is a divinely inspired desire or not, though, is to pray and surrender ourselves to God’s will.
“There are no limits to what God can do through a surrendered vessel,” Carter Conlon said and pointed to Jesus’ words in the gospel: “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).
Carter explained, “How much more will God give to us when our hearts are in a place where we're saying, ‘Lord, I want more of you than I have known. I want more of your presence in my life than I’ve been aware of up to this point…. I want to make a difference, Lord. I want you to use my life, God, to open a way of life to people who are living in death. Let me be light to those who are in darkness. My God, would you fill my lamp with oil, not only so I can see but also so others could begin to see a way into freedom and eternal life?”
In reflection on this type of mentality, Carter noted, “We've got to break out of the box of self-focus and say, ‘Lord, what would you have me to do? What is your plan for my life? Where do you want to take me, my God? What can be done through my heart that hungers for you?’”
As we lean into God’s plans, which may (and often do) veer wildly outside the boundaries of our own expectations, we draw closer to the heart of our Savior and often discover that one calling is simply the beginning of a much larger adventure.
When God Unveils His Plans
After years of prayer, Nicole Malloy felt like she’d been delivered a blow when her work announced that they were closing for repairs to be made on the building. She began the drive home and began praying for God to give her direction.
Her pastor called shortly after to invite her and her daughter on a short-term missions trip to the Philippines. It wasn’t in an area anywhere near the Tau’t Batu tribe she’d been praying for, but she figured that if God was opening this strange door into the same country, at least, she’d take it.
One of the pastors that she met on the trip was shocked when he heard what tribe she’d been praying for; he owned land near the Tau’t Batu tribe. Nicole was invited out to work and minister with their team. When she arrived with her daughter, she was stunned. It was the village from her dream when she’d been 8 years old.
The Tau’t Batu tribes people she’d been praying for were so shy of outsiders that Nicole began working with the nearby Palaw’an tribe who had just started receiving the gospel. She started training new Palaw’an believers so that they could eventually reach the far more secluded Tau’t Batu tribe. As she worked with these new ministers for the gospel, they told her about another tribe of people who lived even further up in the mountains and made their homes in the trees. They’d only been spotted once or twice in recent years, but everyone knew these reclusive people were out there.
The dream was widening beyond what Nicole had ever imagined.