God Doesn’t Call the Equipped but Equips the CalledGeorge Shamblin
In that little Pensacola chapel, the audience seated before me was as dialed in as any group I can ever recall. The occasion was a funeral, every parent’s worst nightmare turned into reality—a 19-year-old son killed by a drunk driver, which happened to be his best friend. In my 25 years as a pastor, I’ve never witnessed anything like it before or since.
When the deceased’s father first reached out by phone, I could barely understand what he said. All I could gather between the sobbing and wailing out was that his family wanted me to perform the service. I shared how sorry I was for their unimaginable grief, but I was happy to help in any way possible. Seminary gave me a lot, but preaching a young man’s untimely, tragic funeral was never taught or learned in class. I had to remind myself, Jesus never calls the equipped but equips the called. It was just one of those moments in life I had to answer a call, despite my every limitation.
Yes, the family needed a pastor. They desperately needed to be comforted and consoled. But above all, they needed the spiritual food and drink freely offered to those hungering and thirsting for righteousness. They needed Jesus Christ Himself; The Bread of Heaven and The Water of Life. Really what they needed most was no different than what all of us need most in our respective mini or not so mini-crises; like the Greeks who approached Philip begging, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21), we too must cry out “We must see Jesus. We must see His word.”
As family and friends gathered in the Chapel’s foyer, I could overhear much of their whispered, muddled conversations. From what I could gather, they were a generation raised on superlatives. Words like moderate, average, and normal appeared taboo and got replaced with catchwords such as fervent, extreme, radical, and hard-core.
I also got tipped off: this was an unchurched crowd, so I needed to keep it simple. That was easy because it’s what all 40 authors of the Bible did. But more than keeping it simple, I had to dig deep into the fervent, extreme, radical, and hard-core nature of the Gospel. Modern wisdom would have instructed, “they are unchurched, they are hurting. Don’t offend anyone. Tone it down.” There was absolutely no way! The last thing this group needed was a run-of-the-mill message filled with a whole lot of nothingness. I was not about to patronize anyone with the increasingly popular “isms” like those found below:
They didn’t need to hear, “just be a good person, and everything will be fine”—which is moralism.
They didn’t need to be led astray with “we are all going to heaven, just by different routes,”—which is universalism.
They didn’t need someone to tell them, “just believe, and it will all work out,”—which is easy-believism.
Instead, they needed to hear the word of God as it is. They needed to listen to the truth as it is in Jesus. They needed to hear that they too would face the grave one day and must be ready to account for the hope in them or the lack thereof. They needed to see the blood, sweat, and tears of the Cross of Christ. They needed to know where God was amidst their pain and suffering. I had to assure them that God was in the same place then, as He was some 2000+ years ago when His own Son was on the cross exclaiming, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He was seated on His throne, ruling the world for our good and His glory.
Once the service concluded with “ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, and to dust, you shall return,” I felt like what marathoners must experience after breaking the tape at a finish line-utter depletion but with an indescribable sense of fulfillment. I’m not sure of a time when I’ve preached with equal passion or zeal.
Frequently when I preach today and feel just as ill-equipped, I remember that little Chapel in Pensacola. I’ll never forget those puppy-like stares of perplexity at the radical nature of the Gospel, perhaps heard the very first time. There was no subsequent outbreak of fruit or revival that I knew of. Which, of course, is far beyond the pale of the servant and wholly the matter of the Master. However, I recall giving everything I had and giving the family and friends of the deceased God’s word with zero dilution and zero window dressing whatsoever. I must stop and rest right there, going no farther.
If you are a believer and reading this, the obstacles confronting you may differ, but the calling God places on your life is the same as mine. So, in a way, I hope this blog finds you feeling ill-prepared, weak, and insecure about the hurdles or hindrances currently facing you. I honestly believe God looks most favorably on us the more self-aware we are of our shortcomings. Remember, He doesn’t call the equipped but equips the called.