The Quest For Fulfillment
© Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1985-1996.
For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net
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Chapter 16: Waiting In Style
Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
Identifying the problem is half the solution, but only half. Disarming
the ‘whys’ that regularly bomb our brains has inflamed the ‘hows’.
Let’s get practical. How can we blast through the mountain of
hindrances? How can we accelerate spiritual maturity? How can
we strengthen our faith? How can we prove our readiness? How . . . ?
Turning over the problems unearthed crude answers. Excitement mounted as we brushed off the dirt and saw facets glint in the light of Christ. Let’s now gather those gems and polish them until we hold such riches that we can buy whatever needed to speed our entry to ministry.
Wherever you look the lights are red. You smolder. Nothing green in sight. Your blood ignites. You select first gear and – S-T-O-P!
If there is a right way to hasten ministry, there most certainly is a wrong way. Let’s take our lead from David, the man after God’s own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14)
As anointed king-to-be, waiting for Saul’s death was not just frustrating and humiliating, it was almost suicidal. (E.g., 1 Samuel 19:10-11; 21:12; 23:3; 27:1) Saul wanted him dead. Twice, this would-be murderer fell into David’s hands. A single blow would ensure David’s survival and give him the throne. Each occasion was so remarkable it seemed an act of God. (1 Samuel 24:4; 26:8)
But David is an inspiration. He sensed evil cowering behind those apparent answers to prayer. Stifling urges for self-preservation, revenge, and instant promotion, he resolved to let his dream harden to reality in God’s time and manner.
Regrettably, not all ‘Daddy’s little helpers’ are as smart. Many of us are allergic to waiting. We get itchy feet and come out rash. Ask Abraham.
Instead of heeding God’s calendar, Abraham tried to force the pace. (Genesis 15:4; 16:1-4) In fathering Ishmael, he chose what in his era was the obvious solution to his plight, but not God’s solution. The result was a family upheaval (Genesis 16:3-6; 21:9-16) that has apparently continued in his descendants down to present times. (Genesis 16:12 seems to prophecy that Ishmael’s descendants would be hostile towards Abraham’s legitimate descendants. Modern Arabs claim to be descended from Ishmael. Ishmael even became the symbol of those who persecute Abraham’s spiritual descendants – Galatians 3:7; 4:28-29).)
Can you prize a plant out of a seed? Can you release a rose from a bud before its time? Can you hasten the rising of the sun? Can you achieve anything worthwhile outside of God’s time?
The time of waiting – the time when nothing seems to be happening – can be the most critical time of our lives. It was while the Israelites were waiting for Moses to return from the mountain that they committed the grievous lunacy of worshipping a golden calf. (Exodus 32:1-4) It was while Saul was waiting for Samuel that he recklessly assumed a role never ordained for him (that of priest) and consequently lost his own calling (that of king). (1 Samuel 13:8-14)
If you are rash, you will end up in a spot.
They that dash, crash
To fate so cruel.
Though slow the rate,
The wise rise.
The great, wait
And conquer all.
An Anglican priest in Sri Lanka was openly opposed by Buddhist monks. What should he do? Preach harder, of course. No need to pray about that. If necessary, he could get the government to enforce his rights. But instead of falling for the obvious, Rev Mendis sought the mind of God. The response was staggering. Quit preaching, the Lord seemed to say, and befriend the monks. Within months he was invited to conduct Christian services in the Buddhist temple! Several of the monks were converted. Some, wrote John Haggai later, ‘are studying for the [professional] ministry’.
It is sometimes the ‘obvious’ decisions that pose the greatest danger.
I trust I will always recall the sickening blow to my stomach when I read a mercifully brief biography. Had it merely been an iron fist that had sent me reeling, I would have recovered by now and I would be glad to let the memory fade. But what drained the blood from my face was seeing my own potential etched in the life of a Negro-loving, Bible-adoring, devout Christian who gave God all the glory as he prayerfully and heroically massacred hundreds of Americans in a doomed attempt to wrest victory for the South during America’s Civil War. I gained the impression that, spiritually, Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson would in many ways have left me for dead; but then again, on those blood-soaked fields he left many Christians dead. Without contemplating the rights and wrongs of the causes fought for, it is an appalling historical fact that Jackson was vainly fighting for a lost cause; passionately inspiring the butchering of thousands of people for a dead dream. If it is a tragedy to waste your own life, what is it when you waste the lives of hundreds of people? Given that the South finally lost, his every victory was a disaster – inflaming the war; delaying the peace and sanity that everyone yearned for; prolonging the slaughter that finally claimed more than half a million lives and inflicted unthinkable suffering. (In an era when artificial limbs were crude and cheap, one state – said to be typical – blew a fifth of its annual budget on artificial limbs in just one of the four years of carnage.) Surely something went horribly wrong within the man who attributed his bravery to his childlike trust in Christ. Had a twisted sense of duty and loyalty, perhaps coupled with a sense of urgency, somehow tragically interfered with his ability to hear from God?
Don’t be like a child thinking only of his toy as he chases it onto a busy road. First, look to Father. Ensure it is his choice, his way of attaining it and his timing. Then, remaining sensitive to his leading, you can move with confidence.
If after seeking the Lord, you still feel uncertain, proceed with care, eyes peeled for heavenly warnings.
A vehicle may be easier to steer when it is moving, but don’t forget the obvious: this is only safe when proceeding cautiously, alert for signs to veer or brake. As we continue with this attitude, we will receive the needed confirmation. The guidance we need, however, is rarely the detailed explanation we would like. Distant objects become clear after travelling that part of the road we can see. The Lord seldom squanders further revelation until we respond to the leading he has already given.
It was wrong for Abraham to play God in begetting Ishmael. It would have been appropriate, however, for him to get ready for Isaac’s birth. He could have increased Sarah’s health insurance, wallpapered the nursery, practiced burping a cucumber, bought some Kimbies, (Registered trademark) started knitting booties, or whatever fathers did 2000 BC.
Such planning is faith in action, as contrasted with his faith-less action of fathering Ishmael. Preparing for a promised ministry is a spiritual world away from storming out of God’s plan, trying to gatecrash into ministry. Discerning the difference, however, sometimes demands heavy duty prayer.
In Abraham’s case, planning was barely necessary. He was rich and Sarah’s figure would give adequate warning. Many ministries, however, require years of preparation.
If faith affirms that a heavenly assignment lies ahead but the details are hazy, how can we prepare? Joseph’s life yields a valuable clue. The rise of David, shepherd-boy-cum-giant-killer, confirms it. Let’s consult heaven’s file on these men.
Joseph plummeted from the life of despised brother, to rejected slave, to forgotten prisoner. Had there been a spark of hope when he interpreted the butler’s dream, the swirling fog of two interminable years had snuffed that out. (Genesis 40:20-23; 41:1) Suddenly he was spectacularly catapulted into an astounding vocation. He went from being ridiculed as a dreamer, to being incarcerated as a rapist, to being revered as a head of state.
What an encouragement! Joseph’s God is our God. The time for your challenging, fulfilling ministry may be startlingly close. (Ephesians 3:20) Playfully hiding behind the gloom might be a dynamic vocation ready to spring into sight, shout ‘Surpri-i-ize!’ and joyfully embrace you.
This is no fantasy. Scripture was penned to show what we can expect from our amazing God.
But forget it – unless you act like Joseph.
Having been wrongfully enslaved, it was natural to detest the foreign tyrant who claimed literally to own his body and mind. Like a POW sabotaging his enemy’s plans wherever possible, Joseph should have rebelled. He should at least have resolved to do only what was essential to avoid a beating from his hated owner.
But this was a man of God. He refused to let discouragement, bitterness or sloth ensnare him. He chose to be diligent in the menial, degrading tasks thrust upon him.
A despised slave he may be, but Joseph determined with God’s help, to be the best slave his master had ever seen.
‘God has abandoned me. What’s the point of remaining true to him?’ Such Satanic thoughts must often have invaded his mind. Yet he remained steadfast, no matter how lonely he felt in a foreign land, no matter how delightfully seductive and powerful Potiphar’s wife was. It might cost his life – if exceptionally lucky he would merely rot in prison – but he preferred to be a frustrated virgin, publicly branded a rapist, than become a favored trustee, guilty of secret sin.
His own dream mocked and haunted him. (Genesis 37:5-11) To cling to it now was preposterous. Yet, clawing up faith’s cliff-face, he sought God on behalf of his fellow prisoners, interpreting their dreams. (Genesis 40:5 ff)
Though the interpretation was verified, his cell-mate treacherously abandoned him – just like his former master’s wife and even his brothers. Yet the candid biblical record reveals no hint of bitterness. (Compare Genesis 45:1-15,24; 50:18-21)
Lesser people would have despaired. Others would have held grudges. But whatever the task before him, no matter how loathsome, he did energetically, (Compare Ecclesiastes 9:10; Colossians 3:23) always keen to give God full credit for any praise that came his way. (Genesis 40:8; 41:15-16, 51-52; 45:7-8; 48:9; 50:19-20) He clasped God’s promises, choosing to fixate on them, rather than on his plight.
This man of God was faithful, not just in major moral issues, but in everyday affairs; not only for weeks, but for years. That’s waiting in style. God loves rewarding such persistence.
Who would have thought the key to becoming a war hero would be the experience gained in minding Dad’s sheep? It happened to David. He owed his magnificent triumph over Goliath to the faith and skills developed in playing nurse-maid to sheep. (1 Samuel 17:34-37) By regularly proving God in his everyday work, he was ready to be used in an astonishing way when the occasion arose.
His path took an unexpected turn. So might yours.
Our present experiences may seem utterly irrelevant to future service, but with David’s God in control, you never know. The secret is to maintain the daring faith and faithfulness of David and Joseph. It transforms mundane, irksome tasks into powerful preparation.
There is a man who is not only unmusical, he likes music less than almost all of us. Yet there are musicians who value his contribution to their subject. Why? Because of his Bible knowledge.
The most helpful book I have seen for Christian singles is by Michael Cavanaugh. He is not only married, he married early. I seethed as I read it. I have suffered immensely as an unmarried without discovering the truths he knows. Here is a married person with a ministry to thousands of singles and I can’t even help myself. Why? I have equal access to truth’s source – God and his Word. Cavanaugh has made better use of this privilege than me. He’s the one with the ministry.
Anyone steeped in Scripture, thoroughly taught of God through his Word, is an expert on the spiritual side of any topic. Could it be otherwise, given the finality of Scripture in spiritual matters? Truth will evade us, however, until Bible study moves beyond brain stimulation to a dynamic interaction with the living God.
I recently learnt you should never write on an empty stomach. Surveys confirm that manuscripts are more likely to be published if written on paper or a computer. It has taken me years to pick up tips like that. Had I devoted more of my earlier life to developing writing skills, you might be reading a better book. I did not realize writing would assume such importance in my life. When it comes to Bible study, however, I have no excuse. I don’t need the vaguest clue about the future to know my need for thorough Bible knowledge. It’s the basis of all service.
Can you imagine:
* a weaponless warrior? (Ephesians 6:17)
* a sower without seed? (Luke 8:11)
* a Moses without the commandments?
* a Job not treasuring God’s words above his ‘necessary food’? (Job 23:12)
* a Psalmist not devoted to God’s Law? (E.g., Psalm 1; 19; 119)
* a Jeremiah who couldn’t say, ‘Thy words were found, and I did eat them’? (Jeremiah 15:16)
* a Jesus inept at wielding those authoritative words, ‘It is written,’ to defeat Satan, shame his opponents and comfort the hurting? (E.g., Matthew 4:3-11; 11:10; 26:24,31; Luke 19:46; 24:32, 44-46)
* a Peter not spieling such phrases as, ‘This is what was spoken by the prophet . . . ’? (Acts 2:16, 1:20)
* a Paul more familiar with the gladiatorial results than Scripture? (E.g., Acts 17:2)
* a Book of Revelation without Old Testament allusions in nearly seventy percent of its verses?
You’re either grounded in the Word or grounded. And don’t think a spectacular spiritual experience makes you an exception.
The Spirit, Jesus told his disciples, will bring to their minds all that he had taught them. (John 14:26 b) Note the order: first teaching is embedded in the mind, then the Spirit activates it. That’s the norm. A self-induced ignorance is unlikely to inspire God to miraculously compensate for our laziness.
Saul of Tarsus was no sooner converted than he was preaching with amazing power, proving to Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 9:20-22; 13:16-41) How? By the Spirit drawing upon Saul’s lifetime of intense Bible study.
Peter’s Pentecostal sermon was more than the flash an explosive spiritual experience; it was the climax of Bible studies that began as a child and culminated with years of teaching and interaction with Jesus. (Luke 24:27,44-47; Acts 4:13) His whole sermon was Old Testament quotes and allusions, laced with a brief reference to his experience of Jesus’ ministry. Check it out. (E.g., compare Acts 2:14-36 with Psalm 16:8-11; 110:1; 132:11; Isaiah 57:19; Joel 2:28-32)
Our Lord will not perpetually pump life into the shriveled ministry of anyone unwilling to embrace the pain and joy of serious Bible study.
Perhaps the most valuable time of John Bunyan’s life was his lengthy imprisonment when he was locked up with the Word of God. All sorts of wondrous truths opened to him, girding his future service with divine power. Would God have to resort to such drastic methods before we will give adequate attention to his Word?
Many people have needlessly perished in Australian deserts beside disabled vehicles. Though modern technology has changed things, what magnified the tragedy of past incidents is that people died because they forgot that the drinkable water they critically needed was in the engine radiator. A tragedy of potentially equal proportions is people who carry Bibles around and fail to imbibe its life-giving sustenance or, more likely, fail to appropriate its truths into their everyday living.
God commanded Joshua to meditate upon Scripture ‘day and night.’ (Joshua 1:8) But this was not an end in itself. The goal was to ‘observe to do according to all that is written.’ Whoever does this, God promises, will be ‘prosperous’ and ‘have good success.’
Likewise, the psalmist ‘hid’ Scripture in his heart, not because of some holy ritual, but so that he ‘might not sin.’ (Psalm 119:11)
In Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders, both classes of people represented were familiar with the Word of God. The foolish ones, however, did not put it into practice. (Matthew 7:24– 27)
In a daring experiment Dr. Masanore Kurantsune and his wife – while she was nursing her infant – limited themselves to the same impoverished diet that caused horrific malnutrition in Japanese concentration camps during World War II. After 233 days on this apparent death-diet the couple and their baby showed no ill effects. Their secret? Instead of cooking goodness out of their food, they ate it raw.
Doubt, liberal theology, or not seeking the Spirit’s interpretation of the Bible can leach the goodness out of life-giving Scriptures, leaving even avid Bible readers malnourished.
We all talk about it, but I wonder if any of us fully recognize the power in those pages. Great wisdom is the inheritance of those who devour its words. (Psalm 19:7; 119:98-100; Proverbs 1:1-5) Every time we open the Bible, we are investing in a future ministry. Every word adds power to that ministry. There is no substitute.
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are God’s way of fitting us for service. (Ephesians 4:11-12) That’s what the Word says. So I need to come under the sway of people exercising these gifts.
These offices are Christ’s victory gift to the church; the expression of his love and the climax of his triumph over the forces of evil. (Ephesians 4:8) To proudly imagine we don’t need them is to slight our mighty Deliverer, spurn his loving gifts and insult his unapproachable wisdom.