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Called to the Ministry

If it had not been for the Lord’s gracious work of salvation in the lives of my parents and me, my life would be very different right now. I can imagine what life would be like. I would be living in Singapore along with most of my extended family, Indian on my father’s side and Chinese on my mother’s side. I would probably be a “free thinker,” as some call themselves there. That essentially means that I would be an agnostic, without any religion, dependent on my own reasoning and logic to figure out what is truth. I would probably be intrigued with the Hindu and Buddhist religions of my Indian and Chinese families, but I would probably view all religions of the world, Christianity included, as equally disillusioned about reality. I would be a humanist, dependent on myself, my reason, my opinions, and distrustful of any Christian teachings. I would be a god to myself. If God had not worked by grace in the hearts of my father and my mother, and then me, such, I imagine, would be my lost condition.

The Lord’s plan for my life, however, was very different. While both my unbelieving father and mother were attending high school in Singapore, the Lord used the witnessing of students in Arminian Bible Study groups to turn their hearts from paganism to Christ. Through the study of God’s word and the ministry of Reformed Christians in Singapore, both of them were converted to the Reformed faith. In his providence, the Lord drew them to himself, then drew them together in marriage. Two culturally different people were made one in the Lord. But the Lord was not finished. He then worked in my father’s heart the call to the ministry. Therefore Jai and Esther Mahtani moved to Grandville, Michigan where he studied at the Protestant Reformed Theological School for four years.

It was during those years in seminary that I was born—not in Singapore, but in Zeeland Community Hospital, not to pagan parents, but to believing parents with a father aspiring to the ministry as my example. Neither was I born alone, as my twin brother David was born a few minutes after me. Our family of four lived in Michigan for a short time until my father graduated from seminary, at which time we returned to Singapore where my father took a call to be the pastor of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church.

After that the Lord added to our family six more children. Three more sons were born in Singapore. My father then took a call to Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Houston, Texas, where another boy and two girls were added to our family. When that church disbanded, our family of ten moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where my father became the Eastern home missionary of our churches.

It was during these years in Pittsburgh that I began seriously to consider the call to the ministry. I have to say that it was mainly through negative circumstances that the Lord placed it upon my heart to pursue the ministry. Houston, Texas, which we grudgingly left behind, had been a bright, cheery, warm, flat country in which the Mahtani clan made many good memories. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was a cloudy, hilly, often cold, fast-paced city that did not help the spirits of our family. Not only did the change of location try us, but domestic mission work was tough, with very few successes. Life in the home was affected by this. Depression and rebellion co-existed. David and I, the oldest children of the family were given many difficult responsibilities at a young age. We all felt “Down in the Pitts” after the move, but God was using all this to shape us—to shape me.

During these years, there were also good times. Trinity Christian School, where I went for both middle and high school, was a Christian school with many Presbyterian and Reformed teachers providing me a solid education. I thrived at school and school-sponsored sporting events. I loved the people of the mission station in Pittsburgh. And after graduating, I attended Grove City College, about an hour north of Pittsburgh. There I majored in Christian Thought, a Theology major, for I was intent on pursuing the ministry from my first day of college on.

Notice how I wrote that last phrase. I was intent on pursuing the ministry, not intent on being a minister. In other words, through eight years of education from college through seminary, I did not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was going to be a minister. I had inclinations that God was calling me to the ministry. But I was not certain. I did know this: that God wanted me at least to pursue it. I knew that he wanted me to seek it, to take steps toward it. I remember one sleepless night, lying on my back in bed, the top of an old army bunk in the upper corner of our two-story house in Pittsburgh. I was at the end of my junior year in high school, and as so many juniors at that time, I began to feel the pressure of needing to figure out my calling in life. In a short year, I knew I would have to make a decision on a college major. As I lay there I earnestly prayed that God would show me what to pursue, but having done so, I still could not fall asleep. The thought kept going through my mind: “Is not the ministry the most God-glorifying occupation for you at least to pursue?[1] Should I not at least try to do that work?” And so I prayed: “Lord, I will pursue it, but show me clearly that the ministry is NOT for me if that is not thy will!” From that night onward, I decided that I would pursue this work. I would pursue it until the Lord shut the door.

The Lord never shut the door. He has only confirmed again and again that he wants me, weak as I am, to serve him in this way.

After I finished up college in three and a half year, I moved to Michigan and married my wife Keri, the second daughter of Rev. Carl Haak, before I began seminary. During my seminary years, God blessed us with three children, Levi, Shane, and Mayla; and since becoming a minister, he has added another boy named Ezra. For those who wonder if a wife and children hinder the work, I honestly testify that my family has only been a help and an encouragement.

The seminary years flew by. Through the ups and downs, successes and failures, God never shut the door. He kept growing me and shaping me and pointing me to the next step until he finally confirmed that I was to be a minister with the call from Cornerstone Protestant Reformed church.

From the end of my junior year in high school until the time I received that objective call, there were many ways that God made me surer of the call to the ministry. In fact, these confirmations are too numerous to remember and write in one article. But I will mention three ways the Lord significantly confirmed the call in my heart.

First, it was through the people in my life. God spoke and showed his will through my teachers, my parents, my twin brother David, my wife, her parents, my professors at seminary, Rev. James Slopsema—my mentor—and other beloved people in my life. And when I say that God showed his will through them, I do not mean that they only told me what a good job I was doing as I pursued the ministry. Some of them were brutally honest about my weaknesses. But as I listened to their counsel and wisdom, I heard the Lord speaking through them and telling me which steps to take and how to improve on my way to the ministry.

Second, God also confirmed the call by impressing upon me again and again how beautiful and powerful the true gospel as preached in our churches is. The more I studied and learned, the more he awed me with his word—precious doctrines of sovereign grace that mightily impact the hearts and lives of his people. He showed me what a privilege it would be to make it my full-time work to proclaim this good news.

Third, he also confirmed the call by pointing out weaknesses in the church. I know this might be offensive to some, but I write it anyway because I think it would be helpful to a young person considering the call. As I grew up in a minister’s home, as I interacted with the people in the church, I realized something very startling: God’s people are sinful! Though doctrinally strong, there are weaknesses in the church, yes, in our beloved Protestant Reformed churches. However, the knowledge of this did not make me bitter. On the contrary, the more I noticed these weaknesses, which mirror my own, the more I felt the call to the ministry. Yes, I confess that some of that was sinful pride on my part, as I thought that I myself could make a difference. But the main reason that weaknesses of the church confirmed the call to the ministry was that God gave me a love for his sinful people so that I sincerely desired, and I still desire to be used by him to minister to his needy people.

So if you are a young man considering the call to the ministry, I urge you to ask these questions. Yes, there are more questions to consider, but these three especially: 1. Is God calling you to the ministry through the wise and godly people in your life? 2. Do you love, and are you growing in love for the gospel that our churches promote? 3. Do you recognize weaknesses in the church, which rather than embitter you, make you desire to serve God’s beloved church all the more? If yes is your answer, then pursue the ministry until the Lord closes the door or confirms it with a call from his church.

 

[1] I do not mean to imply that the ministry is the most God-glorifying occupation. Any occupation can be equally glorifying to God when done faithfully in service of him. Here I simply give you a sample of my personal thoughts as I pondered the ministry as a young person.