The Quest For Fulfillment
© Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1985-1996.
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Chapter 11: Conquest
Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
It’s becoming obvious that though roadblocks to fulfillment may
originate outside us, our reaction to them is often crucial. Sometimes
there may be nothing we can do. Usually, however, the ball sails
over the net and suddenly all eyes are on us.
The Enemy almost robbed the world of Charles Wesley’s magnificent hymns. Peek over his shoulder as he writes his diary entry for May 23, 1738, immediately after his conversion.
‘I began a hymn . . . , but was persuaded to break it off for fear of pride. Mr. Bray coming in, encouraged me to proceed in spite of Satan. I prayed to Christ to stand by me and I finished the hymn. Upon showing it to Mr. Bray the devil threw in a fiery dart, suggesting that it was wrong and that I had displeased God. My heart sank within me until I discovered that it was the device of the enemy to keep back glory from God . . . ’
The Dark Chameleon shines with a dazzling veneer of piety. How can we unmask him?
Note the value of Mr. Bray’s counsel. While the Swindler is focusing his powers of delusion upon a key individual, there will always be other Christians temporarily left in peace. (You can’t stall all the people all the time.) Seek mature Christian advice before assuming your labors don’t have heaven’s blessing.
Pride-avoidance can produce some weird creatures. I’ve convinced myself I’m a spineless yellow-bellied chicken-mouse. That should keep me humble. But something happened recently to change all that.
A woman was praying for the home-fellowship I attend when she saw ‘mighty man of velour’ written above me. I don’t care whether you think that was of God; when she shared her experience with me it put steel in my wishbone. That boost has given me an inkling of why God speared those very words into Gideon’s head. (Judges 6:12) I’d have worried about Gideon staggering around with a size 20 head. A healthy self-image must be more important to God than I thought. Those ego-inflating words coincided with Gideon’s divine call. I believe faith in those words played a critical role in his future ministry.
We consider it saintly to engage in ego-bashing, especially when it’s our own ego, but is the result saintly? What if we started acting like the witless witness we tell ourselves we are? What if our Lord was serious when he said that as a person thinks in his heart so he is? (Proverbs 23:7) I’ve dismissed gibbering about a positive self-image as so much worldliness, viewed self-praise as sin, and largely disbelieved even God’s affirmations about me. The result has been an ailing ego so craving attention that I’ve become dangerously vulnerable to the opinion of others.
Mutilating one’s ego in an attempt to conquer pride is as unspiritual as mutilating one’s body to secure divine favor. Nothing is authentically Christian unless at its core is faith in the work and revelation of the Lord Jesus. A key weapon for slaying ego-related hindrances to ministry is faith in a two-edged sword from heaven. On one edge is written, ‘I can of myself do nothing’ (John 5:30) and on the other, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. (Philippians 4:13) Wield that sword in faith and I can’t conceive of an ego-related problem that could resist you.
Another well-loved hymn was nearly lost. Just in time, the only surviving manuscript was discovered in a rubbish bin. This was not the slip of a careless cleaner. It was a deliberate act. Someone had almost succeeded in defrauding God and countless people of a blessing.
After investigation, the offender finally confessed. It was the writer himself! John Henry Newman had judged his beautiful work as worthy only of destruction. One wonders how much such distorted judgment is the work of the Evil One.
‘The devil is trying to make me think my talent is no good,’ Andraé Crouch confessed to Oral Roberts. He had just finished performing for Oral Roberts’ television program. If such a famous singer can be afflicted by these feelings, few of us can hope to avoid them.
Surprisingly, this fact constitutes a first line of defense. The Enemy gains an advantage if he can isolate us, convincing us our trial is unique. Scripture affirms that every type of temptation is normal. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
To prove how common it is to be blitzed by temptations to underrate ourselves, study the following enthralling, though drastically shortened list. Skim over it, if your need is superficial. If you are as dry as me, however, you will imbibe each instance, savoring every hope-giving drop.
* In 1933, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote that nothing but failure lay ahead of him. (His biggest failure was his prophecy.)
* He had no voice at all, said his teacher. Nevertheless, Enrico Caruso became the greatest opera singer of his day.
* Beethoven’s music teacher declared him ‘hopeless’ at composing.
* ‘Balding, skinny, can dance a little,’ they said of Fred Astaire at his first audition.
* ‘What will they send me next!’ said Edmund Hillary’s gym instructor of the puny school boy now known as the man who conquered Mount Everest.
* Said Professor Erasmus Wilson of Oxford University, ‘I think I may say without contradiction that when the Paris Exhibition closes, electric light will close with it, and no more will be heard of it.’
* An invitation was extended to witness one of humanity’s most historic moments – the Wright brothers’ first flight in their heavier-than-air machine. Five people turned up.
* Walt Disney was fired for ‘lacking ideas’.
* H. B. Warner of Warner Brothers fame scoffed at the notion of ‘talkies.’ No one would want to hear movie actors talk.
* Television, too, was once written off. It would never appeal to the average American family, pronounced the New York Times.
* ‘Sit down, young man, and respect the opinions of your seniors,’ chided the man of God. The seasoned pastor was just one of an army of saints opposed to this young upstart’s radical ideas. ‘If the Lord wants to convert the heathen, he can do it without your help.’ But William Carey (1761-1834) didn’t ‘sit down’. Instead, he spearheaded the modern missionary movement.
* For years, Hudson Taylor tried to glean knowledge about China – a difficult task in his era. Then up jumped a chance to be advised by a missionary with experience in that very country.
‘Why, you will never do for China!’ exclaimed the missionary. He glared at the blue-eyed youth, certain that the Chinese would find his features grotesquely alien. ‘They would run from you in terror! You could never get them to listen to you,’ he told the founder of the China Inland Mission.
* It is Kenneth Pike’s genius as a linguist that earned him acclaim as ‘one of the great missionaries of the twentieth century’. He has been ranked with ‘the most brilliant and highly honored linguists of the twentieth century, recognized the world over in secular as well as Christian circles’. Inadequacy at language learning was cited as a major reason for his rejection as a missionary candidate. Humiliated, he continued writing to different mission boards until at last one did not reject him, and even they reportedly exclaimed, ‘Lord, couldn’t you have sent us something better than this?’
* Mentally backward Max Raffler loved to paint. Over the years, as his paintings piled ever higher, his sisters would burn them to make room for more. Finally, when an old man, his artistic ability was recognized. The well-meaning sisters had destroyed paintings that would have sold for tens of millions of dollars. (Quick! Where are my finger paintings?)
* It was the dead of night. A shadow slunk down the street. It was Charles with the dickens of a problem. He was off to mail his manuscript, huddling his guilty secret, petrified lest friends find out and ridicule him. The manuscript was rejected. More rejections pierced him before he won the hearts of millions with such classics as Oliver Twist.
* ‘All his discourses are redolent of bad taste, are vulgar and theatrical . . . ’ said a newspaper. Another paper described his preaching as ‘that of a vulgar colloquial, varied by rant . . . All the most solemn mysteries of our holy religion are by him rudely, roughly and impiously handled . . . ’ They were referring to C. H. Spurgeon, the man routinely hailed as the prince of preachers. Moreover, they were writing after he had already attained immense popularity.
* As Billy Graham preached, a missionary’s daughter battled an almost uncontrollable urge to run out of the meeting. It was his future wife, and it wasn’t conviction that made her squirm. It was her response to what she considered appalling preaching.
* To these could be added a gaggle of other instances, too humorous to mention.
If only we could laugh in the midst of our trial. Coping with rejection and apparent failure is a serious matter. The tragic death of John Kennedy Poole screams this truth at anyone lucky enough to need an explanation. No publisher would touch Poole’s book. In a vain attempt to kill the pain, he suicided. Posthumously, his book was published. It won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
But don’t knock the knockers. In its early stages, virtually every great achievement has seemed pathetically insignificant.
The pressures to undervalue your contribution may be even greater than Poole faced. Spiritual work, not secular writing, is the focus of Satan’s rage. Through Jesus, however, your power over oppression is greater still.
‘Continually mocked by the Scorner.
‘It was neglected,
‘Despised and rejected,
‘Yet became the head of the corner.’
What do you mean you’ve ‘found better poems in alphabet soup’? Soup-slurper! (The only thing separating me from Keats is ability.)
Many of us have stifled our calling by heeding some misguided critic who implied we were not good enough.
Few things in life are certain. For Christians, not even death is guaranteed. (2 Kings 2:1,11; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Hebrews 11:5) But criticism is.
Though spineless people-pleasers try hard, no one totally avoids criticism. Being right doesn’t help. Neither does loving everyone, or being perfect. The world crucified the only One with these qualities. Everything he did upset someone. He was criticized even by friends, family and religious leaders. (E.g., Matthew 16:22; Mark 3:21; 6:2-4; John 7:1-5; Matthew 12:24) Twenty centuries later, with the advantage of hindsight, he is still slandered.
Our highest ideal is to be like Jesus – like the One accused of being in league with Satan. If you know the pain of being misunderstood, spare a thought for the early Christians. They renounced Roman, Greek and Egyptian gods, called each other brother and sister, and partook of their Lord’s body in communion. As a result they were thought guilty of atheism, incest and cannibalism.
John Bunyan, of Pilgrim’s Progress fame, was variously accused of being a witch, a Jesuit, a highwayman, having a mistress, and having whores and several illegitimate children.
Whitefield and Wesley, acclaimed leaders of a revival that blazed through Britain and America, were bludgeoned by allegations with the graciousness of a meat-axe. Whitefield’s first sermon was said to have driven fifteen of his hearers insane. Bishop Lavington published a blistering attack upon the Methodists, accusing Whitefield of horrendous sins. It so confused the author of Whitefield’s obituary that he penned two portraits. One was of a saint and the other of a rogue. The revival leaders were blasted from every side. Wesley’s wife broke into her husband’s cabinet and stole correspondence which she doctored to make it seem he had been unfaithful to her. It poisoned many. Toplady, writer of Rock of Ages, believed her. Even on his death-bed he summoned strength to affirm he still despised Wesley.
Hudson Taylor, outrageously in love, wrote a letter proposing marriage to a teenage girl in China. Unknown to him, Maria’s feelings were almost as hot. Excitedly, she took the letter to Miss Aldersey, a remarkable and dedicated missionary who deeply cared for her. ‘Mr. Taylor!’ exclaimed Miss Aldersey, ‘That unconnected nobody!’ She pressured shy, inexperienced Maria to rebuff the proposal. Fearing she may not have done enough to destroy the relationship, Miss Aldersey sought out Hudson’s friends to tell them he was ‘fanatical, undependable, diseased in mind and body . . . totally worthless’. She even threatened with a lawsuit that ‘uneducated’ ‘unordained’ and ‘uncouth’ excuse for a missionary, while his darling Maria was kept under virtual house arrest, charged with being a maniac, indecent, weak-minded and obstinate. Later, with his China Inland Mission in its vulnerable infancy, the entire work was threatened by the unremitting onslaught of a missionary who thought it his godly duty to oppose the work. Not only did newspapers in Shanghai ruthlessly attack him, Hudson was blamed even in England’s parliament for political strife in China.
Equally grave examples could be drawn for the lives of countless thousands of God’s storm troopers.
So let’s not waste our lives trying to hide from criticism. If even cowardly yes-men cannot avoid it, the righteous don’t stand a chance. In fact, Jesus said ‘Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.’ (Luke 6:26) Ministry that impresses heaven and ministry that impresses earth are popularity polls apart.
Anyone highly respected by sections of the Christian church – Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, Richard Wurmbrand, Mother Teresa, Ian Paisley, Johnny Cash, Rodney Howard-Brown, to name a few – will invariably be scorned by other sections of the church. Few of us could read the above names without feeling negatively towards one or more. Born again Christians disagree wildly about which of the above are even Christians.
Great men and women of God, however, do not crumble under criticism. It may wound them, but they push on with what they believe is God’s calling. Spurning the way of least resistance and its pseudo peace, they choose what I call the peace de resistance.
No one who always surrenders to criticism will achieve anything significant for God. There is no type of music, for example, which appeals to every Christian. Suppose ninety-nine percent of people find your ministry atrocious. If your band played at an anti-nuclear rally, they wouldn’t know whether to ban the bomb or bomb the band. What should you do? Assuming they are reacting to your style, and not spurning spiritual truth, it would seem desirable to serenade the one percent when the others were out of earshot. That should make the unappreciative less inclined to consider a lynching. However, we established in chapter 5 that heaven does not measure a ministry by the number of people influenced.
If you appeal only to a minority, it could well be a minority that is not being reached by other means. If so, the church would be poorer without your specialized ministry. Heaven’s approval outlasts earth’s applause.
Even if I spent hours producing something I liked, I used to worry others wouldn’t like it. But that was five minutes ago. Now, I’m learning to trust God.
Though bent by Adam’s crash and bashed by my own sin, God gave me my personality with its tastes, and for years I’ve been looking to him to mold me. So I believe that somewhere are people with cerebral plumbing like mine. They will appreciate my style and are most likely the ones God has called me to minister to. Should there be millions of them, I’ll be famous; if only a few, I’ll blend with the wallpaper. But it won’t affect God’s view of me. If popularity is a valid measure of success, our deserted Lord was a failure.
Take my poetry (not everyone can take it). I actually found someone who likes it (and they have pretty good poems at pre-school these days). Audience-wise, that’s all I need to validate my ministry. What would it matter if everyone regarded my admirer and me as literary nincompoops? I’d rather win an illiterate to Christ than be hailed a genius. The person who appreciates my poetry is just as precious to God, just as worthy a recipient of ministry, as all the critics.
‘Experts’ regularly berate the simplicity of Fanny Crosby’s hymns. It is said she had the literary skill to silence her critics but she deliberately simplified her songs to meet more powerfully the needs of the distressed, the infirm and the poorly educated.
That does not mean I can be lax. To limit oneself to a particular style can be very demanding but because Fanny considered it the most effective way to reach her target audience she strove for perfection within this framework.
Since my actions reflect on my Creator and Redeemer, living below my best tarnishes God’s glory. In Christ, however, my best is powerful. Within the framework God sets me, my best, nothing more and nothing less, is just what the Father ordered. Too bad if people think I’d be a greater blessing selling inflatable dart-boards. If God has commissioned me, that’s all that matters. And if my poems make Shakespeare turn in his grave, I’ll assume he needs the exercise. If it turns the experts off their food, I’ll be the envy of the weight loss industry.
You don’t like my humor either? It makes you want to what? Well, if it’s that bad, how come you’ve read so much? Oh. Well, how was I to know you would open the book at this very page? I was going to produce a book you couldn’t put down but I couldn’t figure out how to stop the superglue from setting until the critical moment.
It’s a gift. Some people turn heads, I turn stomachs. Stomachs are important, too. Being a stomach specialist (I could market myself as the kingdom’s gastroenterologist) need not automatically disqualify my writing. I could still be in business if all humanity despised my writings. I know of at least one person soundly converted by a song he loathed.
You needn’t concern yourself with such extremes, however. We are often so over-awed by God’s moral standards that we overlook other aspects of his nature. Our Lord is Creator as well as Savior, and the Maker of rainbows and nightingales didn’t suddenly lose his creative urge at the close of Day Six. God’s creativity is inexhaustible. And you were made for him. He longs to express his creativity through you. As an instrument and musician together make beautiful music, you and your Lord can unite to create exquisite beauty. What you can do together defies imagination. You make an awesome team.
I don’t like to brag, but I have a certain air about me – especially after eating garlic.
Those who share the fragrance of Christ with a putrid world may receive much flak from Christians. It is such a difficult task in the front line that many of us desert our posts and become self-appointed critics of those who remain at the front.
Methods that most effectively win new converts will seldom woo long-established Christians. Their needs and tastes are a world apart. So an effective evangelist will probably incur the displeasure of those Christians who want to be the center of attention.
When the critics start, determining who is right can be difficult. Christians with the greatest enthusiasm are often the least experienced. The ones best equipped for evangelism are sometimes those who have succumbed to pressure and abdicated their responsibility.
Your critics might know more than you do. Their advice could be from God. So it demands prayerful consideration.
When Rev. Oldschool gives us a hard time, it’s tempting to stray to greener pastors. We must be cautious. If we cannot find Christians as mature and experienced as our critics who fully support our actions, we are probably the ones who are wrong. (Proverbs 9:8-9; 10:17; 12:1; 13:18; 27:5)
Nevertheless, Scripture narrates the tragic consequences of a man of God who mindlessly followed what an old prophet claimed was divine guidance. (1 Kings 13:11-24) Though we should humbly respect our elders in the faith, we each have a personal responsibility to seek God on matters related to ministry and guidance.
If the Lord clearly indicates our critics’ opinion is not from him, we must reject it, though without rejecting the critics themselves or spurning their advice on other matters.
So love and respect your knockers, but don’t let them stunt a God-given ministry.
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