Called by name

Do you long for a word from our Good Shepherd?

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Do you expect to hear the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd? John 10 records Jesus’ words: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (vv. 3-4). Based on these words, followers of Jesus ought to hear and decipher the voice of Jesus.

One summer day in 2016, my wife and I made a routine drive to a neighboring city to grocery shop. As we approached its outskirts, I looked over my left shoulder and said, “West Salem needs greater gospel impact.”

While unexpected, this statement rolled off my tongue from a relatively new knowledge of the area. I was entering my 17th year of youth ministry at my medium-sized home church in a town of 15,000 people. A number of strong, healthy churches served my community, but when I considered West Salem, I could only think of three, though West Salem contained far more people than our town. God stirred my heart that day. The Good Shepherd began to speak.

I need the reminder that God speaks; perhaps you do as well. While I do not doubt his ability to speak, I get wrapped up with the peripheral things of life and forget to listen for the voice of my Good Shepherd, a voice I should know and expect to hear.

Called by name 

Two months later, an older gentleman from church who was familiar with the churches in West Salem called with unsolicited and pointed words, “Kingwood Bible Church will soon need a senior pastor, and you are the man.”

I recall thinking, “Where is Kingwood Bible Church, and who are you to tell me how God wants me to serve?” I intended to put this nonsensical command aside as my own plans differed radically.

Reread John 10:3b and note that it says, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” Our Good Shepherd knows each sheep by name. Matt Carter and Josh Wredberg make a wonderful observation in Christ-Centered Exposition on John: “He calls his sheep by name because his sheep aren’t alone.” Believers of Jesus find togetherness with other followers, and yet Jesus uniquely knows each individual. I’m grateful my Good Shepherd knows me. He fashioned me and understands the best way to call me.

My personality appreciates time to mentally adjust to new ideas, and in the process of a potential major transition, Jesus allowed for the needed time. Approximately four months following those pointed words by the older gentleman, I found myself irritated that I could not stop thinking about Kingwood Bible Church. It seemed the harder I tried to erase his words, the louder I heard them.

Finally, I picked up the phone and called the gentleman back. “Do you know if Kingwood still needs a senior pastor?” I asked. He responded in the affirmative and at the end of our conversation, I asserted that I would reach out to Kingwood. However, Jesus moved in my spirit following that phone conversation, indicating that I needed to wait until mid-February to contact Kingwood, about two months later.

How fascinating that sheep know the voice of their shepherd. Do you ever feel as though you don’t know the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd? I wish I more adeptly recognized his voice. Occasionally followers of Jesus receive a “burning bush moment” with clear words and immediate instructions. Other times it comes quietly, and the course of time affirms his voice. Most often, I believe, Jesus’ voice works this way so that as clarity comes, the voice of our Good Shepherd is confirmed.

Confirmation of a call 

In my case, I needed clarity. My wife and I received a copy of Mark Batterson’s Draw the Circle: The 40-day Prayer Challenge. This book became another piece of Jesus using his voice to call. We began reading the book separately, but when we realized this, we began to read it together. During those 40 days we kept a journal, and I am utterly amazed at how God directed people and conversations, all bringing further affirmation to the initial voice I heard months earlier.

Acting in obedience, I waited until mid-February to reach out to Kingwood. Valentine’s Day 2017, I woke up and sensed from the Lord permission to knock on Kingwood’s door. My wife and I drove that familiar highway and literally knocked on the locked door. After a church volunteer let us inside, we introduced ourselves and asked if Kingwood was still looking for a pastor.

I now realize why Jesus told me to wait until mid-February. Kingwood believed they had secured a pastor from Washington. The week before I knocked on the door, that candidate called and explained that he didn’t know why, but God told him not to accept the position. Another story of a sheep listening to the voice of our Good Shepherd.

Following five interviews and a candidating weekend, my family relocated to West Salem, one year after I first initially heard the voice of my Good Shepherd.

Wait and listen

Does God always work in the way he moved my family to West Salem—slowly and over the course of time? Of course not. Sometimes he provides a “burning bush” and change or action takes place in far less than a year. Other times he seems to remain completely silent, and years after years pass by without hearing his clear voice.

If your story consists of waiting, keep waiting. Our Good Shepherd will speak, and when he speaks you will know his voice. Perhaps his lack of an answer is his answer. Or perhaps his lack of an answer right now keeps you pressing into him, ever ready to hear his voice when he speaks. Not hearing an immediate voice from our Good Shepherd tests our motives. Regardless of what Jesus wants to accomplish in the waiting, he will eventually speak and you will come to know his voice.

What in your life presents you with longing and desire to hear a word from our Good Shepherd? Hear this loud and clear: our Good Shepherd speaks. He hears us, knows us, cares for us, leads us—and speaks to us. As sheep, we follow Jesus our Good Shepherd, but we also may benefit from this reminder: we know his voice.

Do you need assurance that you correctly heard the voice of our Good Shepherd? If so, I applaud you for wanting to make certain the voice you heard really belongs to Jesus. If you are uncertain, wait. In due time, you will know whose voice speaks. This may take months, but as you seek the Lord, he will orchestrate all things so that in the end you will know with certainty, “This was the voice of my Good Shepherd.”


Nathan Ensz is lead pastor at Kingwood Bible Church, Salem, Ore. In 2022 he received his master’s degree in ministry, leadership and culture from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.


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