This is the first of a series of blog posts from Nelson Roberts. Nelson is a member at Brookstone Church and has recently sensed a calling into full-time vocational ministry. We are encouraged by how God is at work in his life and see clear evidence of this calling. Be encouraged that God has a calling on everyone's life. First He calls us into relationship with Jesus, and beyond that He calls us to a specific purpose in life. All vocations whether it be full-time ministry, working in the business world, or stay at home mom's, are valuable and loaded with purpose in God's design. May these blog posts be an encouragement to you as you read. - Pastor Scott
My name is Nelson Roberts and I have a problem. I have a calling. It’s pulling me somewhere but I do not yet know where. I know Who is calling me, but I am not sure how to pursue. I hear whispers of purpose and desires deep in my soul begin to awaken and resound within me. God what are you doing? What are you calling me to?
I was recently asked if I would like to share with our church body what my wife and I have been pursuing and praying about for the past year. I was advised that sharing my journey was the next step and as I believe there is power in our testimony, I agreed to share.
This series of posts was born out of preparing for that short presentation. Now we, Lauren and I, ask you to pray for us as we step into this new season of God’s calling and we also beseech you to search your own heart and mind and the Scriptures as you seek the Lord. It is my prayer and, I believe it is my calling, to stir you up and call you to action. God has a perfect plan for all of us. What is He calling you to?
I’ve played an active role in the leadership of several ministries since I attended the University of North Carolina in Asheville. I believe God drew me here through school and kept me here through marriage, an accidental career, and starting a family. As the seasons of life have progressed I’ve always found myself being drawn back into the service of God and others through different ministries. The idea of serving full-time as a pastor—as a calling—has been consistent.
My dad has always been willing to jump in and do what needs to done even if it isn’t his job. Nine times out of ten he knows whose job it is and does it for them while saying nothing. I have often wondered if his example has predisposed me to jump in and get involved. Even so, I am a reluctant leader. I am not always sure about what I’m doing. I just know that something must be done.
I was raised in a small town north of Charlotte. I attended a Methodist church in my youth and occasionally my grandmother’s very tiny Baptist church. I was involved in the choir and youth group. I took my turn as an acolyte and always participated in the Christmas play. I was taught the great stories of the Bible in Sunday school. But, there was a disconnect somewhere. Knowing the gospel and hearing the amazing accounts of the Bible are not the same as having a relationship with God.
I believe my disconnectedness was a shared problem. My church community wanted to be intentional but didn’t know what that meant. I was always cared for and loved at church, but I believe practical biblical teaching was missing as well as a shared desire to seek the kingdom.
I have always felt God’s presence in my life, but I thought I was vying for His affection and trying to please Him with my actions. I thought I could earn His love and respect. I didn’t know that I could rest in the completed work of Christ on the Cross and that His love is a grace-filled gift that can’t be earned. I still struggle with this to this day. I find myself going through the motions and then realize my heart is in the wrong place.
In middle school I went through confirmation class: a Methodist history class, baptism, and membership class all rolled into one. At the end of the class I was baptized before my friends and family. It was routine for everyone else. But, what was going on for me was much deeper and spiritual then I could fathom at the time. I remember praying and acknowledging what God had done for me, something I could not do for myself. I remember giving God my life and telling Him I would follow Him. My friends and family had laid their hands on me as I was being baptized and as I was praying I felt like I was on fire! I know this feeling now to be the Holy Spirit, but back then it was completely foreign to me. After the prayer was over we sat back down in our pew and finished the service. God’s presence had intensified for me but I wasn’t sure what it meant.
As most high school boys do I made some poor choices. I didn’t drink or party but, I viewed my virginity as a curse. I pursued my sinful desires and lost my virginity at 18. I continued to try to please God with my actions, while also pursuing my sin. I was trying to serve two masters. I knew I was not right with God and I would “repent”, but I didn’t change. I repeated that pattern into my college years and my bad example led my sister down a similar path. I am not responsible for the actions of others but I am responsible for my example and the way I portray Christ. When I saw the result of my sin reflected in the actions of my dearly beloved sister I was crushed. But I didn’t change. However, God’s Holy Spirit was stirring within me.
In college I found a community of believers that could see my struggle. They took me in and I began to learn and grow in my faith. I was still, however, pursuing the desires of my flesh in secret. I was living a lie. My lifestyle was pretty ugly but things were about to get much worse.
My college girlfriend had reason to believe she may be pregnant. I was mortified. I spent several days not eating or sleeping, but praying. One night while brushing my teeth while staring in the mirror, I realized I could no longer recognize myself. I could only see my sin. It was too much for me to bear. I began to weep. I cried out to God for forgiveness of my sins and vowed to do what was right no matter the cost. But, would she want to keep the baby? Would I have to fight for my unborn child’s life? Could I marry her? Would she have me as her husband? I cried, “God, I need your help. I can’t do any of this without you.” I fell asleep that night while praying.
Early the next morning she came by to inform me that she was not pregnant. For a moment my heart sang, then my heart sank a little. I really was a changed man and now I needed to act. I felt free. I didn’t feel free to sin because I was forgiven and my circumstances had changed. I felt free to do what I knew was right and I knew God was with me in this and in every future struggle. I told my girlfriend about my spiritual battle and that there needed to be changes in our relationship. Within a week our relationship was over.
I struggled greatly but I was also growing tremendously. I turned my attention to my sister and I began to pursue her heart. Many friends joined me in the fight by praying for her. One of those who had built me up and had also prayed for my sister countless times ended up meeting her and discipling her —and then fell in love with her! One of my best friends in college is now my brother-in-law. They have three beautiful children, and my sister is a strong woman of God whom I deeply love and respect. God pursued me and lifted me up when I hit the bottom. He did the same for my sister. We are forever changed.
This is what made the difference in my life. God walked with me through the soul-crushing, barren lands of my heart. God brought mentors and friends to love and disciple me. For me, being shown Jesus’ love in this deeply moving and personal way, having someone cry for me when I could not cry, having someone plead for the power of the gospel in my life and showing me my deep need to embrace God’s love and acceptance has forever changed my life. My upbringing, my experiences with discipleship, and being involved at Brookstone for the past couple of years once again awakened these desires within me. So we decided to take some practical spiritual steps.
For the past year my wife, Lauren, and I have been praying for opportunities to serve individually and as a family. We have also been seeking the Lord about my pursuit of full-time ministry. I feel most alive when I am serving and teaching God’s people. It is also something that frightens me deeply. While I love seeing God move and change the lives of the people I love, it scares me to think about losing those I love who don’t know Christ. When I approached our senior pastor, Jim Dykes, and told him my story he gave me the following advice:
“I can hear you have the desire to pursue ministry. What we’re going to do now is ask God if this desire is proof of calling and, if so, we’re going to ask God to confirm it with Scripture.”
Thank God for sound biblical advice! I was so overwhelmed with possibilities and questions that I was paralyzed. I needed direction. But what if I had to wait years for God to confirm my calling? Believing that God has always known the exact Scripture that would speak to my heart and having faith that He would show me the Scripture I needed now in His timing, I relaxed and I did what I usually do.
I like to reflect on my sermon notes and read the Scriptures referenced in the sermon. On November 11, Pastor Jim referenced Hebrews 12:1-6. I always read the Scripture before and after to gain a better understanding and insight into the context of the verses referenced in the sermon. The first time I read the passage I admit that I was not struck by lightning, nor did trumpets resound and choirs of angels burst forth. Instead I felt like I had missed something. I reread the passage several times. I gravitated toward several verses and started to pray over those verses. Is this the verse confirming my calling? I began researching the exact meaning and context of the verses.
Several days later Louie Giglio and Passion were at Biltmore Church and we had purchased tickets to attend the event. It was pretty amazing, but I was distracted. I sat down during worship and began to read these verses again and this time it was different, I felt like I was on fire. Every synapse, nerve, and muscle fiber seemed to be ablaze. Once again I felt the Spirit at work. I cried. I prayed. I stood up and sang the worship songs louder than I ever had (my apologies to whoever was seated in front of me. I am not a gifted singer). I had my confirmation Scripture; my calling was confirmed.
I would like to share my Scripture with you. This is my verse confirming my calling, but you should know all Scripture is God breathed and good for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness! (2 Timothy 3:16) In other words, even though this Scripture speaks personally to me, it should be relevant to you, too. As Lauren and I walk through this calling I would like for you to pray for us, but I would also like you to join us in this journey. Hear these words!
Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
Ask yourself and pray over these questions:
Do you feel God is calling you? Is He calling you to a deeper faith? Is He calling you to repent and flee from a habitual sin that is destroying your life?
What are some practical steps you can take as a response to His call?
Do you know Scriptures that you can meditate on and pray through that are specific to your struggles? If not, find them!
Who can you tell? We can’t change ourselves. God alone changes hearts and directs paths. Find someone to help you in this time of deep discernment. Bear each other’s burdens and pursue Jesus!
Please continue to join me on this journey and stay tuned to this blog for the rest of this series. In the next post we will look at the context and history of these verses and begin to unwrap their meaning in a way that will be relevant to our daily struggles.
Please stay tuned for Part 2 of this series on calling.