Several years ago I was speaking with a student from Southeastern Seminary who was in the 2+2 degree program, in which the student completes half of the degree on campus and the other half on the mission field. He said, “I have completed my on-campus hours and am ready to study overseas. But, I have a problem: my wife isn’t willing to go.”
Discerning the Lord’s call is an important step for everyone seeking to walk with God. Questions about how we sort out this crisis of calling abound. More specifically for this conversation are the questions about how spouses discern a call together and what they do when they don’t seem to share the same calling.
Since all believers are commanded to make disciples of all nations, the questions we must ask are “To whom are we sent?” and “Where?” Not everyone will be called to pack their suitcases, sell all their possessions, and move across the ocean to reach the nations. But some will. When this happens, the cost must be considered for the benefit of the nations and for the sake of healthy marriages and families because healthy families are testimonies to the reality of the gospel in a broken world. If our marriages fail, we will be forced to leave the field, potentially leaving no witness behind.
“Healthy families are testimonies to the reality of the gospel in a broken world.”
Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 teach that husbands and wives submit to each other and pursue God’s plan for their lives. One spouse should not base his or her call solely on the experience or discernment of the other. Each must seek to discern God’s call. However, the Bible also depicts a husband and wife joined as one flesh. Although this union does not eliminate the individual responsibilities of each spouse to obey, when it comes to God’s call to missions there is no biblical basis for thinking that God will only speak to one spouse and neglect the other.
How to Discern God’s Call to the Nations
God uses several tools to awaken our hearts to this specific call. I recommend that couples work through these individually and then together.
God reveals himself through his Word. Study and meditate on his Word. The more we know him, the more we can discern his voice. Explore Scripture passages that address God’s plan for the nations. Discuss what God seems to be teaching each of you.
Spend significant time in prayer. Learn to be still and listen for God’s voice. In order to know his will, we must prioritize this discipline. Pray intentionally for the nations together. You can find daily prayer requests for specific areas of the world at imb.org/pray.
The Counsel of Mature Believers
God placed you in a community of believers. These men and women know your spiritual gifts, talents, training, and ministry experience. Seek counsel from them, and look to the body of Christ to affirm your call. Find a mature couple or two, talk with them about how you feel the Lord is leading, and ask for advice and prayer support.
A Willingness to Obey
We cannot put conditions on our obedience to anything God asks us to do (Luke 14:26–27, 33). Be honest with each other about your hesitation and reservations. Identify and confess any fears or idols that may hinder you from hearing from the Lord or obeying him. Pray for and support each other as you do.
“We cannot put conditions on our obedience to anything God asks us to do.”
Keep a Journal
Record all that God is teaching you through time spent in his Word, in prayer, and through circumstances and opportunities around you. Discuss what you’ve been journaling. Ask each other to help identify next steps as you respond to all the Lord is revealing.
Read books, blogs, etc. Listen to missionaries speak about their lives and ministries. Invite a missionary to coffee and ask them questions. In your journal, record insights and challenges from other missionaries that stand out to you and why. Share those with each other.
Go on a Short-Term Mission Trip
If you have yet to travel overseas, this could be a significant step. Make an effort to go on a short-term trip together. As you minister together, consider how this experience may be exposing God’s giftings and desires for you. Record everything from preparing for the trip to debriefing the trip once you return. Discuss your insights, challenges, and highlights.
Work Locally with Internationals or Refugees
Nothing magical happens when you get on a plane and go. If you are not sharing the gospel here, you won’t overseas either. Find out how your local church is ministering to internationals, and explore ways that your family can be involved. If your church does not have ongoing opportunities to do so, research other ministries or talk to your local Baptist association or state convention to find specific ways you can help meet the needs of internationals or refugees in your community.
The Rest of the Story
As for the student I mentioned above, I encouraged his wife to seek the Lord, to pray to know God’s direction. I challenged the husband to wait for the Lord to do only what he could do in his wife’s heart. For this particular couple, a disconnect in their callings meant delaying one semester so they could walk through discerning their call together before going overseas. Eventually, their callings lined up.
This outcome is not guaranteed, unfortunately. However, it is important to remember that the model for how husbands and wives relate to each other is illustrated by Christ and the church. Following this example requires love, service, respect, honor, and submission. As we consider our callings to missions, it would be unwise to make demands or manufacture a calling that is not of the Lord.
Remember, the same God who called you is powerful enough to call your spouse as well.
Lesley Hildreth is the director of women’s discipleship for The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina. Lesley and her family served for eight years with the IMB in western Europe and Central Asia.