Discerning God's Will

In 1996 as a student at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Josh Howell was preparing for a career as a Civil Engineer. But God had other plans for him.

Josh had been a Christian since eighth grade when he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. And in high school he had even thought about a vocation of full time ministry, perhaps as a small church pastor in a rural setting. But when he entered college, he began taking courses that would prepare him for civil engineering. And his vision for becoming a minister faded.

Gifted Student Leader

At the university Josh excelled in his studies, but he also was a gifted leader in the InterVarsity chapter on campus. Today he remembers his first year of college as the beginning of a spiritual journey, a remarkable adventure of faith, during which he began learning how to trust God for guidance in every area of life.

As a freshman, a significant confirmation of God’s calling came through Josh’s experience in an InterVarsity small group Bible study. He loved studying the Bible with his classmates, and he showed an aptitude for discerning spiritual applications within the biblical text.

As he proceeded through his sophomore and junior years, Josh found more reasons to believe that God was surely calling him to a vocation of ministry. Within the InterVarsity chapter, he was now regularly leading Bible studies, participating in missions projects, and leading other students as a member of the Executive Leadership Team.

The summer before his senior year, Josh participated in a Baptist Men’s Missions project to South Africa. Seeing the needs of people in a different culture deepened his hunger to help them and minister to their lives.

And though he went again on a two-week mission to South Africa in 1997, the plan for a conventional career and lifestyle lingered in his mind. So it seemed a good sign that his senior year he received a job offer as a civil engineer. Still, about his vocation, he was conflicted. He desired to discern God’s will.

Hearing God’s Call

Then one day he sense God’s presence in a special way and the Holy Spirit’s quiet voice speaking in his heart. Josh recalls to this day the words from Jesus. “You can keep running from me, but I will always love you. But you will never be content until you follow me.”

The deep conviction entered Josh’s heart that he was God’s servant, called to follow Jesus. Josh rededicated his heart, talents, and future to God’s use forever.

Soon thereafter, ministry opportunities and ministry fruitfulness seemed to blossom around him. “Bible studies were a joy, and I was seeing people’s lives change,” said Josh.

InterVarsity staff recognized his giftedness and invited him to consider working as an InterVarsity staff member. With each ministry event, Josh was seeing God’s blessing and guidance.

He now believed that God was calling him to take that courageous step toward full time ministry by not accepting the civil engineering job and instead beginning the process of becoming an InterVarsity staff member. He was encouraged in his decision by receiving the understanding and blessing of his parents about this choice.

Assigned to Texas

His first assignment was to plant new InterVarsity chapters in Texas. And this first job required him to trust God’s will, for Josh had never before lived so far away from his close-knit family in North Carolina.

Another challenge was raising financial support for his ministry. For years he struggled financially, but he remained faithful to God’s calling. And with each passing year, Josh learned more about God’s guidance and how to discern God’s will.

He prayed much and always. He yielded his heart to God. And then he acted, knowing that God loved him. Time and time again, Josh sensed God saying, “It has to be enough for you to follow me. Trust me. I love you.”

And as Josh continued to say, “Yes, Lord. Your will be done in my life.” He found that the funds he needed to sustain his ministry on campus grew. And new joys and blessings entered his life.

Blessed by family

In 2001, Josh met Ellen, and they married. Today they have two young children, Jack and June. Josh says that his family is a source of God’s blessing, joy, and strength.

Today Josh works as the Area Director of InterVarsity’s Red River region in Texas. He is responsible for guiding the planting of new campus chapters in the Houston area. These days he is seeing God open many doors for advancing the kingdom as students expand InterVarsity’s ministry on campus.

Through his strong family ties not only in Houston but those of his extended family in North Carolina, Josh has learned that God speaks to us through loved ones and that God’s will is as joyous as playing outdoor games with his children and planning romantic vacations with his wife.

Josh hopes one day to write a book about all that he is learning about ministry to benefit others and to show people that God loves us always, even during those times when it’s difficult to discern his will for our future.