The Quest For Fulfillment
© Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1985-1996.
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Chapter 13: Fear
Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
‘You’re a real spiritual dynamo,’ said the devil.
‘Well thank you!’ I gushed, surprised to find the enemy in such a good mood. ‘A dynamo, eh?’
‘Yeah, I get a charge out of seeing you go around in circles!’
If I say so myself, my plans are executed brilliantly – by unseen assassins. Just when life seems all peaches and cream, I have to go on a low cholesterol diet.
‘It is always darkest just before the day dawneth.’ A book of quotations ascribes those words to Thomas Fuller, but it didn’t say what planet he lived on. You need only see a Warner Brothers cartoon to know it’s always darkest just before a large falling object flattens you.
The occasional disaster aside, things go almost perfectly. I almost marry. I almost get a better job. I almost catch my notes before they fall into the shredder. My car almost starts.
I tried my hand at rowing on a sea inlet in Kangaroo Island. I rowed furiously and got nowhere. I couldn’t figure it out. I later learnt that the tide is particularly strong in that area. (At another place my father had a similar rowing experience. He found pulling up the anchor helped considerably.) Years later I received a word from the Lord. I had been rowing against the tide, it said, but the tide would turn. Me? Rowing against the tide? Everything I do works like a charm – hangs around my neck and achieves nothing. My idea of a record year is being needled as I go around in circles. Murphy’s laws are parts of my autobiography that slipped out before I could copyright them. Why does my bread always fall butter-side down? Why are the lights always red? Oh, no! My pen’s run dry. (Really!)
Now, where was I? O yes – why does everything go wrong for me? Why do my hopes die with their legs in the air? Why would people rather read a soap wrapper than something I’ve written? I begin to wax eloquent and the wax sets. I try to witness and my mind goes blank. I try to sleep and my mind fills up. It’s a miracle. I know when the rapture will occur – ten minutes after I make the final payment on a prepaid funeral. Just call me the Aluminum Kid – foiled again. I have more problems than a chiropractor with a waiting-room full of giraffes. Another day another bother.
I wasn’t aware of doing anything wrong. In fact, I was told the tide would change, not that I would change. Why would God allow these frustrations?
All I know is that rowing against the tide builds muscles and stamina. Imagine how I’ll power through the waves when the tide turns.
George Muller seems to have suffered from tide problems, too. Though he enjoyed God’s miraculous provision daily for more than sixty years, the life of faith never grew easy for him. Even in his later years when he gained international fame, he still had to pray in every penny, often having to economize and wait virtually to the death knock before it arrived. The Lord so believed in Muller and so cared for his continued spiritual development that he kept the tests coming for sixty years until finally granting him a financially easier life when Muller entered his late eighties.
I started writing this book using the services of a typist. This was a wonderful answer to prayer. Not only was Lorraine willing to type without charge, she had a computer ideally suited to my needs. (The way I write – faster than a speeding eraser; more change than a thousand piggy banks; able to spell a single word in a hundred ways – a computer is essential.)
Weighed down by past failures, I had little faith to pay a typist big money for work that might end up with my dust-covered previous efforts. For the same reason, I was loath to buy my own equipment and I was convinced I’d type like a one-armed sloth with arthritis.
Suddenly, Lorraine was unable to complete the work. Another ministry attempt bites the dust. No! Surely the Lord provided her! What’s going on?
The typing already done enabled others to view samples of my work. Their response nerved me to buy a computer and learn new ways to lose data. My writing soared. Never again would I want to be dependent upon a typist, no matter how willing, available and skilled. What seemed an inexplicable obstacle has propelled me into a new realm of efficiency.
Edison invented the light bulb not by trial and triumph, but by trial and error (over 1600 errors, I’m told). During his life, he didn’t stop at mere failures. He made some spectacular blunders – like when he was meant to be selling newspapers and ended up setting a train on fire. (I must look into this: Edison and I might be related.)
Mistakes are rarely the black ogre they seem. We’ve seen how failure can be a valuable asset, cleansing us of ugly pride; correcting and directing us; barricading enticing avenues that meander away from heaven’s best, or purging us of reckless independence and pushing us deeper into the heart of God.
Out of control, however, the fire that warms can destroy. When failure piles on top of failure, the hideous shadow of a psychological barrier slithers across our mind. As failures mount ever higher, we all begin to quake. Yet Edison refused to be intimidated, though the dark mountain grew every day. With a mere three months of formal schooling and considered to have had a learning disability, Edison eventually became one of the most prolific inventors of all time. In his struggle to invent a method of storing electricity he is said to have had tens of thousands of failures. Attempt 50,000 – or thereabouts – worked.
We can cower in defeat like the mass of humanity, afraid of shadows, or we can become Edisons.
It’s been said Oral Roberts has been used of God in the miraculous healing of more people than anyone else in human history. Just one humiliating complication – it is also estimated he has prayed for more people who haven’t been healed than anyone else ever has.
Many people call C. H. Gabriel the king of hymn writers. His most famous work, ‘The Glory Song,’ translated into almost every major language, is estimated to have been printed over one hundred million times. He earned a reputation of being better than anyone in the world at putting the finishing touches on a hymn. Yet he claimed he experienced more failure than success.
‘The way to succeed,’ said Thomas J. Watson, ‘is to double your failure rate.’ Watson isn’t your average crack-pot. He founded IBM.
What often distinguishes successful people is the uncommon number of failures they suffer. The rest of us give up before experiencing our full quota.
If failures are rungs on the ladder to success, we reach the top not merely by seeing failures, but by mounting them.
One rejection from a publisher would send me reeling. How many blows could you sustain before forever abandoning the idea of becoming a writer? Ten? Fifteen? Fifty? Would-be novelist John Creasey received an unbroken succession of 743 rejections. I’d be throwing in the towel, the soap, the bath water, my rubber duck, my little red tugboat, everything I could lay my hands on. Few people would ever expose themselves to such devastating failure. That’s why so few enjoy the renown he finally achieved. While unsuccessful, he was forced to write deep into the night. He came late to his paid employment so often that he was fired from twenty-seven different jobs. Undaunted, he continued to perfect his writing, striving to be so good that his skill could no longer be ignored. Shy success crept near, then swept him to fame. Over sixty million of his books have been published.
The chilly winds of rejection can ruffle our feathers or carry us to new heights. Sag in doubt or stretch wings heavenward and soar: the choice is ours.
It is not arid persistence that success finds irresistible, but a dogged resolve to improve. Don’t huddle in self-pity. Harness rejection’s power. Let it spur you to a greater commitment, inspiring you to new levels of excellence.
We often let God down. It is even worse if Satan persuades us that the resulting failure is God’s fault, rather than our own. (Proverbs 19:3) But we must not let past fizzlers paralyze us. Acting outside of God’s time will hurt. It is ludicrous, however, to let such traumas darken our expectations of future service. Moving in God’s time and manner will be markedly different.
Experimental psychologists designed a dog enclosure, divided by a low barrier and wired to deliver electrical shocks to half the cage. Dogs quickly learned to cross the barrier and avoid the unpleasant shocks. New dogs, however, were given the shocks no matter what they did. The ‘mad scientists’ then changed the conditions so that these dogs, like the first ones, could easily avoid the shocks. Yet they never learned. Being subjected to a no-win situation had rendered the second group of dogs incapable of succeeding. Even in their home cages they seemed lethargic and dejected.
Psychologists call this phenomenon learned helplessness. The only way they could get the dogs to avoid the shocks was to physically drag them over the barrier.
Can I ever identify with those pathetic creatures! It’s as if for my whole life I’ve been victim of a sadistic conspiracy to crush me into a whimpering defeatist. Yet even if your experience has been more harrowing, there is one thing distinguishing us from those dogs. Though racked by failed ministry attempts, we can know when conditions for ministry have changed, because we’re in union with the God who knows. The sovereign Lord enjoys certain advantages in being omnipotent, one of which is the ability to communicate with even the deafest, densest (why are you looking at me?) of his children. (Compare John 10:4, Romans 8:14) We may still question whether it was God, but after entreating him we will receive enough confirmation to warrant giving it a go.
All we then need is faith to mount the barrier.
Use steps. Start with a minor challenge. Slowly, methodically, climb higher. Even if your situation seems a case of all or nothing, prayer, creativity and persistence will usually carve a series of steps into a towering barrier.
Try spending fifteen or more minutes a day simply imagining yourself totally at ease, doing something you presently find just a little daunting. Over days or weeks, slowly advance – moving in your mind to the next stage only when you can picture the scene in detail without experiencing the slightest tension in your body. Research has convincingly demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach in breaking fear’s fangs. Add to this the prayer of faith and the power of knowing that Jesus is with you, and in a few weeks you will mount that barrier.
You’ll find this method far more dignified than having to be dragged over. I am not too keen about the whole of heaven looking on while I’m madly yelping, claws dug in, being yanked by the scruff of my neck to a place of joy and fulfillment that my foolishness imagines to be a den of terror.
There’s an alternative to volunteering or being forced. And it’s even worse. Geriatric specialist Dr. Peter Rowe reported in a British medical journal the case of a thirty-four-year-old lady who caught influenza. She was examined by a doctor who told her to stay in bed until he saw her again. He never returned. She never got up. Forty years later a doctor examined a plump, seventy-four-year-old, bed-ridden spinster. He found her in perfect health, still refusing to get up. It took seven more months of coaxing before she left the comfort and security of her quilt-covered prison. Then followed three ‘fairly active’ years until she met her Maker.
You may be a pew-warmer for a while, but don’t get too comfortable! I’d prefer the torment of endless striving. Better to chase a God-given dream through a minefield, than be as snug as a slug in the mud.
Though underemployment can be agonizing, the greatest horror is when the pain subsides. We begin to feel safe in our hole and imagine all sorts of horrors are poised to savage us should we step into the security of God’s will. Such fears are largely Satanic bluff, (take comfort from Philippians 4:6-7 and 2 Timothy 1:7) doomed never to materialize.
Nonetheless, heaven’s assignments aren’t always a piece of angel cake. There are times when the only thing more frightening than doing the will of God is not doing his will. We have as Leader and Supreme Example, One who suffered immensely. (John 15:20-21; Hebrews 12:2-4; 1 Peter 2:19-21)
When people came to Jesus desiring to serve him, you’d think he would have smothered them with praise. But he knew the human heart. His blunt response shocked would-be followers into a painful realization of the great cost involved. (Luke 14:25-33; Matthew 10:21-22) ‘Sell all you have and give it to the poor.’ (Luke 18:22) ‘Wild animals will have better shelter than you’ll have if you follow me.’ (Luke 9:57-8, loose paraphrase)
‘To serve me,’ he declared, ‘you must take up a cross.’ (Luke 9:23) Two thousand years later, it is easy to romanticize that brutal statement. Carrying one’s cross involves nothing less than anguish and devastating humiliation. It is suffering inflicted as a direct result of serving God; torment you could avoid by compromise. Jesus wasn’t looking for adherents; he was looking for martyrs. He wanted not admirers but imitators – volunteers who could shoulder a gibbet of pain. (Matthew 20:22-3) The person more concerned about his neck than the exaltation of God, is unworthy of ministry. (Luke 9:23-6)
Many are called, but few rise to the challenge. ‘Let me first establish my business.’ ‘Let me first raise my family.’ ‘Let me first . . . ’ Not surprisingly, few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14; Luke 9:59-62)
Those who shrink from hardship or danger shrivel up inside; dead, long before their hearts stop. Don’t throw your life away, enslaved by the allure of opulence; lazing while suffering humanity floods past your door. The easy path leads to destruction. (Matthew 7:13)
How would you like the incomparable thrill of being greeted by the strains of native voices singing ‘All hail the power of Jesus’ name’ on the very spot where twenty years before you had been driven off by a frenzy of spears aimed at your heart? Imagine savoring the ecstasy, the satisfaction, the triumph. That was George Grenfell’s reward for putting his life on the line; for boldly defying a hostile government; for suffering bereavement after bereavement until finally his young wife and four of his children were buried; for serving in a place so dangerous that three out of every four missionaries died before completing their first term.
‘Count the cost,’ ordered Jesus, using parable after parable to hammer the point. (Luke 14:28-33; Matthew 13:45-6) Will you pay the price and take the risks, or become a laughing stock, melting away when the heat is on?
The cost is exceeded only by the glory. So immense is the glory, in fact, that the cost fades, totally eclipsed by the reward. (2 Corinthians 4:17; Revelation 7:16,17)
Why should serving God involve humiliation, hardship, and toil? ‘Writing is the work of a slave!’ lamented C. H. Spurgeon – the man who wrote 135 books, edited 28 others and whose 3,500 sermons were published as 75 additional books. Why must missionaries waste years wrestling with a language that God could miraculously impart to them? Why does uplifting music demand hours of irksome practice? Why do church floors get dirty? Why . . . ? Because it frees us to express the depth of our devotion. Moreover, it’s the cost that produces the exhilaration, the fulfillment, the honor. Look at any field of endeavor: we admire heroic achievements; people who overcome the odds, who endure hardship and succeed where others would have slunk away. That’s the glory of Christ-likeness. There’s no honor in being swept along by a godless throng; no satisfaction in fleeing at the sight of a challenge; no glory in being dominated by fear or frozen by doubt. Limp-willed, lily-livered pretenders turn God’s stomach. (Revelation 3:16) We either walk through the curtain of fear or end up a broken shell of the person we could have been. To choose the soft life is to turn our back on our bleeding Savior and lose ourselves in Satanic deception. It’s those who sow in tears who reap in joy; (Psalm 126:6) those who endure who win the crown. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; James 1:12; Revelation 2:10; 3:11) Insipid, half-hearted ‘Christianity’ is sickening to God, the world and the devil.
That’s not for you. You belong in heaven’s hall of fame. You were born with the desire for it; born-again with the power for it. You were made for daring persistence, stunning triumphs, awe-inspiring excellence. While others wallow in the mud of mediocrity, sentenced to eternal obscurity by their half-heartedness, you’re changing the face of the planet, bringing honor to the One who redeemed you.
If you’re crazy, they say you ought to be committed. I reckon if you’re not committed, you’re crazy.
In a heart-stopping display of skill, Blondin pushed a wheel-barrow along a tight-rope over Niagara Falls. ‘Who believes I could carry someone across the falls?’ he asked. The crowd went wild. Of course he could. So he asked for a volunteer.
Ministry is like that. Anyone can slip into Christ’s embrace and be carried to startling conquests, but when the call comes, knees begin to quake. The weakest saint who dares follow Christ will excel; the strongest who stays behind will be crushed.
There are many different callings, but no one is called to be a spectator. There is a cost and a degree of involvement in being a spectator, but higher things are expected of you.
Spectators pay at the gate. They have read their subject until they’re self-declared experts. They clap and cheer. They view the victory celebrations. But there’s seldom sweat on their brow. They know nothing about bruises and aching muscles. They are foreigners to the thrill of personal achievement, the exhilaration of record-breaking performances, the satisfaction of a job well done. Their greatest accomplishment is to guzzle a drink in the midst of a jostling crowd without spilling it. They are potential champions pouring their lives away; non-achievers who love their bed more than success.
There’s a world of difference between these Walter Mittys and players on the bench. Players kept in reserve are red hot in a tepid world. They don’t flinch at pain. They have toughened their minds and hardened their bodies; drilled to spring into action the instant they are needed. They are champions in the making.
The last time I flirted with danger was when I decided against a double knot to tie my shoelace. I have a heart of gold – yellow to the core. Yet Christ died that I might rule. Yield to my old nature and I cower; yield to my Christ-bought nature and I conquer.
Fear will come. I can’t avoid it, but through Christ I need not bow to it. Victor or victim: it’s my decision.
The tragedy is that we are often enslaved by forces that are meant to be our slaves. Rather than being tyrannized by fear, we should rise up and let it serve us. Fear’s duty is to impel us to prayer. Deprived of this faithful servant we might foolishly expose ourselves to danger without activating God’s wall of safety.
Ensure your plans are in the will of God. Then list every fearful possibility. Pray through each point for as long as it takes to muster the faith that God has taken control. Now you have divine protection, the highest conceivable security. Fear has done its work. Bid it farewell. Like a naughty puppy, fear may still tag along, but ignore it. Reciting the fear-crushing promises of Scripture, fix your eyes on the goal and stride toward it.
Waiting for fear to fade before advancing is like Peter waiting for the lake to evaporate before stepping out of the boat. Faith is the defeat of fear – not usually by fear’s removal, but by moving us to proceed despite fear’s yelps.
Where acceptable, take small steps. If the torment is intense, the support of experienced counselors can be valuable. Be prayerful about your choice of help, however. Unwise counselors can wound.
When the pressure is on, there are just two types of people: those who cling to Christ and those who run away. Heaven’s heroes are natural weaklings who are willing to let Christ make them supernaturally strong.
All of heaven is on red alert when you follow Father’s orders. Help is a prayer away. Heaven’s resources – infinitely more than you will ever require – are available the instant you need them. (Matthew 21:12-19; Luke 10:19; 21:12-19) As you march forward in obedience success is certain.
How would you like to amass so much wealth that you could educate 122,683 children; buy 282,000 Bibles and one and a half million New Testaments; give away 112 million books, pamphlets and tracts; support hundreds of missionaries; and feed, clothe and house 10,000 children from the time they were orphaned until becoming independent? George Muller did. And he achieved this not by sweat and business acumen, not by garage sales and mailing lists, not by borrowing or asking for help, but solely by faith and prayer. He refused to let his needs be known to anyone but God. Fifty times in just one two-year period there were insufficient funds to see them through the day, yet what was needed always came in time.
Trans World Radio, with an annual budget of little more than $10,000, faced a half-million-dollar down payment, to be paid in $83,000 installments every second month. On the deadline day for the second installment they were $13,000 short. $5,000 arrived that morning, but nothing more. The director shuffled to the bank with the knotted stomach of schoolboy sent to the principal’s office. Before he reached the bank a worker handed him an unexpected mail delivery containing another $5,000. Missed by just $3,000! A knife to the stomach would have been less painful. As he slumped in the seat of the bank president’s office, contemplating the hefty penalty for not meeting a payment, money was wired to the TWR account – $3,000.
On the day the next payment was due, after every piece of mail had been scoured they were $1,500 short. Not another cent arrived. Most of the donations were in German marks and they had checked the exchange rate the day before. They re-checked. The money was now worth $1,500 more.
And the miracles kept coming.
Lack of money never stymies God’s work, but materialism does. This disease of the mind comes in two deadly strains. One is loving luxury more than God – television reception is atrocious in the Irian Jayan jungles, so I refuse to go. I’ve caught the other strain if money gives me a greater feeling of security than having the Creator of the Universe as my Father – I know my cold-hearted, money-grubbing boss will pay me every week, but I’m not so sure about God, so I squelch his leading to leave my job.
As a law-abiding Jew, the rich young ruler was, by common Christian standards, remarkably liberal in his giving. His contemporaries may have regarded as obligatory the giving of up to thirty percent of one’s income. At the very minimum this man must have been offering expensive animal sacrifices in addition to his ten percent. Yet he was still so entangled in the deadly web of materialism that not even the lure of eternal life could entice him to break free. He could not obtain salvation for himself, let alone live a profitable life for others. He was poor indeed. (Mark 10:17-31)
I once spent an entire year rejoicing in God. I was sure I would never see depression again. Then I lowered my gaze from the beauty of Christ to my own imperfections. Depression returned. So I try to avoid self-examination. Occasionally, however, peering into the dingy world within can be helpful.
Perhaps part of me – the part that gets its way most often – wants me to fail. That seems incredible. Success is a delicious daydream. But maybe cowering on the fringes of my consciousness is a fear that success would lose its savor if it stepped into reality. When I succeed I shrink from mollycoddling my ego lest it become inflamed with the pus of pride. The only time it gets the comfort and attention it craves is when I fail. I hold my ego close and whisper in its ear, ‘You poor dear.’
Mediocrity has been such a part of my life that though I imagine I hate it, it brings with it the warmth of familiarity.
The things we tell ourselves can become powerful forces. If, for instance, I tell myself that no one likes me, I will lack the confidence to mix freely. My aloofness will turn people away and constantly affirm my belief that no one likes me. The result? A seriously hampered ministry.
Often there is just one thing holding us back. I know someone with wisdom in almost every area. Many people could benefit from his wisdom, but what he lacks is the wisdom to know when and how to share his insights. He comes across as an interfering know-all, turning away the very people he longs to help. The thing keeping us in a wilderness of lost opportunities may be easily correctable, but it can become such a part of our lives that we are oblivious to it. Blindness to our weaknesses is one of several reasons for holding Father’s hand when we look within.
If prayer sheds no light, however, we must leave these murky depths lest we begin to assist the Accuser in his attempts to torment us. Drop the accusations and mind-dredging, but keep praying in faith for the strength and wisdom to triumphantly hug success.
From a history of repeated failures – real or imagined – to a love of money, we have exposed, and will continue to expose, things that make us reluctant to fully embrace ministry, but we will find no ‘ministry’ worth surrendering integrity and Christ-likeness for.
If Jesus suffered for us when we didn’t deserve it, how can we refuse to suffer for him when he does deserve it?
To snuggle into the will of God is to be enveloped in the fiercely protective love and infallible wisdom of the Omnipotent One. Outside that warm cocoon lurk genuine reasons for fear, but inside the Almighty’s perfect will, fear – no matter how intense – is ultimately an illusion. The pain is transitory; the fulfillment, eternal.
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