Waiting For Your Ministry
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 17: The Rest Of Your Life
Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
Having warned against idleness, I am duty-bound to mention the
Henry Kirke White was a young man of exceptional promise, preparing at Cambridge, England for full-time service. He seemed poised for greatness when he suddenly died, aged 22. It is thought his fragile health was shattered by excessive study.
At age forty-three, Peter Marshall, chaplain of the United States Senate, had a heart attack. Though urged to slow down, he didn’t. He died three years later.
Toward the end of his life, Charles Dickens so pushed himself that it is said ‘he slowly committed suicide’ by overwork. May the sting in the word ‘suicide’ prick the arrogance of an over-inflated work-ethic before it claims more victims.
I suspect a full list of Christians hampered by overwork would rival a telephone directory for length. Happily, most stop short of disaster. There is a tragic minority, however, whose zeal dulls them to the Spirit’s pleas to ease up.
On the seventh day, God rested. If it is good enough for him, it is good enough for us. A substantial portion of Scripture is devoted to this subject. It even prescribes that land be rested. (Exodus 23:10-12) To the impatient, fallow times seem a waste, but the resultant rejuvenation increases productivity.
Two researchers frivolously threw paper darts at each other. The result? A breakthrough in aeronautic design. If necessity is the mother of invention, play, insists Dr. Roger von Oech, is its father.
Because over-work is futile, God gives his beloved sleep. (Compare Psalm 4:8; Proverbs 3:24) That’s one interpretation of Psalm 127:2. Another rendering is that God gives to his beloved while they sleep. Either way, I would say feverish activity is for the birds – except that birds are smarter than that. Sleep on it.
God formed Eve while Adam slept. Ever since, wonderful things have happened during sleep. Peter – key figure in one of heaven’s jail-breaks – only fully awoke when it was all over. The bleary-eyed saint would have still been in his night-shirt, had the angel who woke him not reminded him to dress. (Acts 12:6-11) Abraham, Abimelech, Jacob, Laban, Joseph, Pharaoh, Solomon, Jeremiah, Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, Mary, her husband, and the wise men, all received divine revelation while they snored. (Genesis 15:12-13; 20:3; 28:11-16; 31:11-13,24; 37:5-10; 41:25; 1 Kings 3:5-15; Jeremiah 31:26; Daniel 2:19, 28; 4:4 ff; 7:1 ff; Matthew 1:20,24; 2:12, 13,19,22; cf Acts 2:17)
Susie Spurgeon coaxed her distressed husband to bed with the promise to wake him at dawn. Charles had to address a large congregation next day and a sermon refused to form. He awoke even more upset. His wife had let him oversleep and his mind was still a desert. Yet agitation turned to awe when Susie recited the sermon he had muttered in his sleep. It was exactly the sermon he needed.
The history of Christian music sparkles with instances of people receiving words or music during sleep. (I have pursued this subject further in In Tune With God.) Indeed, that’s the story behind the first English (Anglo-Saxon) hymn. The original tune to O little town of Bethlehem also came that way.
Pilgrim’s Progress owes much to a dream that came to Bunyan while he slept.
To this, one can add scientific advance. Neils Bohr formulated his atomic model, Otto Loewi devised a significant physiological experiment, and Elias Howe perfected his sewing machine, each as a result of a dream.
There are times when the most spiritual thing we can do is to belt a ball; times when it is Christ-like to depress a mattress and give a pillow plenty of cheek. Picture Jesus asleep in the storm (Luke 8:23) and dream your way to success.
Rest is the ingredient every ministry needs. Like polishing a car, too much promotes rust but in measured dollops it makes us shine. Leisure for people of work, and work for people of leisure will increase joy and fruitfulness for all.
The theory is as easy as breathing. Like drawing back a bowstring, inhalation takes effort. Exhalation is letting go. Breathing life into a ministry also requires a continual alternation of effort and relaxation. (Compare Mark 4:26-28) Unfortunately, as the world’s laziest workaholic, I can say authoritatively that achieving the right balance can be quite a challenge.
Besides rest, Scripture suggests a positive mental attitude will do more to protect us from illness than most of us realize. (Proverbs 3:7-8; 4:20-23; 12:25; 15:15; 16:24; 17:22; 18:14) If Scripture had advised ‘have a little whine for your stomach’s sake,’ we’d all be in peak health. Instead, the God of the Bible extols the medicinal value of a merry heart and urges us to rejoice when overwhelmed with trials. ‘He who laughs, lasts . . . ’ We are wrong to treat joy as a spiritual luxury. It is a virtue of the highest order, rubbing shoulders with such essentials as love, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) ‘He who laughs, lasts . . . ’
Norman Cousins – the incurable who laughed himself to health by watching comedy movies – cited in his famous book Anatomy of an Illness the brilliant Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s belief that the best medicine for any illness is a sense of humor and the realization that you have a [vital] job to do. The bracketed word was added by the not-as-brilliant Grantley Morris, but I’m sure you will appreciate its significance. Dreary, meaningless work is barely enough to inspire a healthy person out of bed!
We want to live forever when refreshed and clearly accomplishing things of obvious importance. Such zest for life, however, is hard to maintain when sidelined for years or after attempting so much that we are near exhaustion. We can end up as vibrant as a dishcloth. The health implications can be critical.
Open your eyes to the reality that no matter what your situation, your life is an exciting challenge to excel. Dare for a place in Heaven’s Book of Records for the person who maintained the highest level of joy in circumstances as bleak or mundane as yours. Pay attention also to good food, exercise and healthy habits.
The crumpled remains of a one-time prophet dragged through the desert. His face was that of a century-old tortoise with a hangover. ‘I’d be better off dead,’ whimpered Elijah. God’s forty-day revitalization program included sleep, food (and fasting), exercise, communion with God, a new challenge, and getting away from it all. It worked. (1 Kings 19:4 ff)
Health is crucial for a busy ministry. It is another of heaven’s gifts entrusted to us. Be faithful in this area, and when the time for action is ripe, you can offer the Lord a sound body along with your other responsibly-developed assets.
As long as God, the Genius running my life, knows what he is doing, I can tolerate being mystified. Even if he told me, there are sure to be aspects of God’s wisdom beyond my intellectual grasp. Moreover, it could be dark in the nest because God is hatching something. It might be humility (better to be blind-folded by God than blinded by arrogance), it might be faith or patience, but when God keeps us in the dark, something good is incubating.
Too often, however, we remain ignorant for a less profound reason: we have not bothered to ask. The possibility of hearing from the Lord seems too remote to warrant the effort of genuine prayer.
I am like the prodigal’s brother in Jesus’ parable. (Luke 15:29-31) ‘The father doesn’t give me so much as a kid,’ I almost grumble, forgetting that guidance, revelation – everything the Father has – is mine for the asking.
‘Ask . . . seek,’ said Jesus. Dare I ignore his plea? How else can I know whether I should work harder or sleep longer; study engineering or needle-work; live off widow’s tithes or support myself?
As I entered an office to pick up rubbish for shedding I spied a woman penning the details of a phone message. She held the pen with her toes. Most of us were born with feet like that.
I know a man who gives an impressive rendition of the William Tell Overture by tapping his teeth with his fingernails. We have teeth like that.
All but a speck of our inborn potential has atrophied. So much depends on where we channel our efforts.
I could hardly expect high achievement pouring my life into work God has not planned for me. And if I treat as a mere sideline what God regards as my vocation, I am unlikely to nurture it adequately through prayer, faith and practice. Even moderate success would be dubious.
Without a goal to aim at, we are aimless. It’s taken me far too long to grasp that simple logic. Discussions of goals merely used to depress me because I had no goal. Now the fearful prospect of an aimless existence at least drives me to form one goal – to seek God until he reveals the goals he wants me to have. Until we can have at least a short-term goal, we are powerful vehicles revving in neutral.
It must have looked a funny sight – Henry Ford attacking his work shed with an axe. With the door frame in pieces he started on part of the wall. Henry had just completed building his first automobile. Things had gone rather well, except for one detail. Trapped inside his shed was a car bigger than the door.
If we do not plan ahead, we could end up looking a little ridiculous.
We must hound God for goals, priorities, direction.
Imagine an abandoned seal pup reared in a dog kennel. See its exhausted waddle; a pathetic attempt to keep up with its friends. It is outclassed at everything – even at tail wagging!
Yet, if only it knew it, this lumbering laughing stock is the embodiment of grace and beauty. Plop this clumsy fool in water and marvel. See its lightning reflexes as it traps elusive fish by raw speed and intelligence; diving, leaping, somersaulting with awesome ease.
Many of us are like that. We look and feel hopeless, simply because we have yet to find our sea.
It would be presumptuous to take natural ability, or a love of a specific ministry as conclusive proof of God’s call. God ordained that only people born to Levite families could become temple singers or musicians. Do you think that in all of Israel only Levites loved music or had musical ability? Or do you imagine that God despised the musical gifts of everyone else?
Hymn-writer and skilled violinist Hugh Haweis wrote, ‘Music is not the business of my life, but it remains its sweetest recreation.’ He served as an Anglican priest.
A housewife with a mediocre voice decided to play some Christian music while she worked. As she switched on the stereo she felt the Lord say, ‘You are blessed when you hear this music, but I am blessed when you sing to me.’
Our wonderful Lord deluges us with gifts, some of which may be intended only for private enjoyment. (For instance, 1 Corinthians 14:28) Let’s underestimate neither the honor of a private audience with the eternal King of creation, nor the joy it gives him. Don’t be like Judas who considered it a waste when Mary poured all her valuable perfume upon Jesus alone. (John 11:3-5)
Even if God has already used us in a certain ministry, it would be short-sighted to conclude the Lord wants us to remain in it for life. Many people who started as youth workers, for example, have become pastors. Others, contrary to popular brain-washing, have found their highest calling only after leaving pastoral work. Duane Logsdon reeled with guilt-feelings when he concluded he was called out of an effective pastoral ministry into the business world. It seemed to jar, not just against his upbringing, but against the values he himself had passionately preached. Despite hurtful accusations, Duane submitted to God’s call and accomplished much for the kingdom, including financing missions to the tune of millions of dollars.
Satan does all he can to deviate us from God’s calling. A world-famous evangelist revealed in a seminar that he had received countless alluring offers to engage in teaching or pastoral work. He believed yielding to such a request would divert him from the evangelistic ministry God has chosen for him.
Barbara Cartland, the world’s most successful romantic novelist, kept hearing complaints from budding writers. They alleged that publishers were rejecting excellent manuscripts simply because the authors were unknown. Deciding to test this, Barbara submitted her next manuscript under a different name. It was rejected. She resubmitted it under her real name and it outsold even her previous works.
Don’t imagine the Christian world is free from such prejudice. Gifted poet, James Montgomery, regarded George Sandys’ poetical paraphrase of the Psalms as easily the best in the English language. ‘Yet,’ lamented Montgomery, ‘they are scarcely known.’
Some Christians believe that since God has given them a gift, they can just passively wait and their ability will eventually be recognized. Proverbs 18:16 is often used to support this notion:
‘A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men.’
Bible scholars generally concede, however, that this Scripture refers not to the inevitability of a God-given talent being widely recognized, but to the enticing power of a present or bribe! (Compare Proverbs 17:23; 19:6; 21:14 – note also Proverbs 17:8; Genesis 32:20; 43:11, 15; Exodus 23:8; 1 Samuel 25:18, 27-28.)
It is hard to conceive of Americans better suited to serve in Africa than Afro-Americans. Yet – I feel sick to mention it – mission after mission in the past either resisted or utterly refused on racial grounds black applicants to the African mission field.
If we cannot glibly assume things will work out, there is a solution:
‘I’m stuck in this awful job,’ said Miss Fit.
‘I wish I had it so good!’ retorted N.V.
‘My ministry attempts are just one disaster after another,’ said Miss Hap.
‘I can’t get experience,’ complained Stayz Green.
‘I know what you mean,’ said Mrs. Often.
‘You’re just not good enough,’ declared Eymer Payne.
‘They say I’m too old,’ groaned Mr. Boat.
‘I’m fed up with waiting,’ said Patience Small.
‘Well if it’s that bad why waste time moaning when you could be praying?’ asked Ben Ya-knees.
(For the enthralling solution for the above nine puns please write, enclosing a fifty dollar check.) (Well I thought it was worth a try.)
Too often we speak piously of ‘closed doors’ as if Christ had never uttered those potent words, ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’
Power resides in persistent prayer; never in prayerless passivity. And it is faith, not fate, that releases us into ministry.
We all wish we had better prayer lives and we would pray more, if only it sapped our powers of concentration less. Yet for most of us an easier way of praying actually exists. There are innumerable possibilities. You can pray on a hill, in a garden, in bed; kneeling, jogging, driving; out loud (a great help to concentration), in a whisper, in song, in your mind, in inarticulate longings or groans; by yourself, with a friend, in a group; at night, in the morning, at lunchtime; and there are too many other variations for me to list or even think of. Experiment. You will discover methods that boost your prayer life remarkably, either by making prayer easier or by giving you more hours in the day by letting you pray in circumstances where you would normally be prayerless. I especially urge you to find a prayer partner. It may be quite a search. Many people will have a manner of praying or prayer burdens quite different from your own. And praying together often creates such a bond that it is usually inadvisable to choose a prayer partner of the opposite sex unless you are both willing to risk romantic involvement. Find the right person, however, and you will be amazed at how fast an hour of concentrated prayer can whiz by.
Life is too short to skimp on prayer.
An American army chaplain served in Germany with little success. When he transferred to Korea, he unpacked his old sermons and preached them to the American soldiers there. Suddenly, he was winning souls at a phenomenal rate. He was preaching the same sermons in the same manner to the same type of audience. There seemed just one difference: Koreans were interceding for their country, launching prayer assaults against the powers of darkness, at a level beyond anything known in Germany.
Prayer and ministry are hammer and nail. But don’t bother praying for anything that you consider too unimportant to work sacrificially for.
The great mystery of Christian life is not unanswered prayer, it’s unfinished prayer. Prayer that quits before the answer arrives is like a mansion carefully constructed, almost furnished, and then abandoned.
As days snake by with no apparent change, our prayers become less passionate, less hopeful. We must fight this tendency with all we’ve got, employing to the full the irresistible force of prevailing prayer.
It was persistence in prayer that made George Muller great. In the last year of his life he revealed that every day for over sixty years he had prayed for the salvation of two people, resolutely refusing to imagine they were beyond the touch of believing prayer. Though sixty years had passed without an answer, he publicly affirmed that he expected to see them in heaven. One of the two was converted just before Muller’s death and the other some years later. Such determined persistence – far more than any instantaneous, dramatic answer to prayer – reveals one’s faith.
Fools stay in bed.
Prayerful people trust;
Kneelers surge ahead.
Sluggards keep their faults;
Prayer can be a battle we must slog out in the face of bitter opposition. We must fight on when everything within us seems to scream out ‘S-t-o-p!’ Even so, we must not turn prayer into a works program, hoping we can earn divine answers by the length of our prayers or the sweat on our brow. Prayer is casting ourselves upon the Lord. It’s declaring, ‘I can’t; you can.’ It’s delighting in him. It’s resting in him. It’s loving him. It’s yielding to him.
Even misdirected prayers throb with power. Adoniram Judson, yearning for the privilege of evangelizing Jews, prayed to be sent to Jerusalem. When divine orders finally arrived they said ‘Burma’. There he suffered in prison. News of his torment spread as far as Turkey, where it moved Jews to yield their lives to Christ. When Adoniram learned of it, he was awed. That prayer for Jews was decades old.
I was driving home from church, dejected. Prayer had been offered for people who felt any special call upon their lives. Though I longed to respond, God has never spoken to me about future service.
‘The Lord gives almost everyone a personal word to cling to while waiting,’ I mused. Abraham may have languished for years, but God had promised him descendants. Young Joseph had a dream. David was anointed with oil. And the names kept coming.
‘Lord,’ I complained, ‘you’ve never given me a promise!’
‘Except the million in God’s Word,’ came the thought.
I went to bed, still agitated. As I lay there next morning my mind floated to Ruth, who found God’s blessing by stubbornly resisting the pleas of the godliest woman she knew. (Ruth 1:4-17) My thoughts flashed through the centuries to the Canaanite who won her daughter’s healing and Jesus’ praise by persisting, despite being ignored, called a dog, and told her request was improper. (Matthew 15:22-28)
My heart leapt. Maybe God is doing the same to me! Surely, despite heaven’s silence, God’s heart is still open to my cry. I recalled something I placed in an early draft of this book:
Most biblical teaching on prayer can be summarized thus: God delights in lavishing his blessings upon those too resolute to take ‘No’ for an answer.
It’s true, and I hate it. Not only does it sound like a grueling endurance test, I loathe arguments. I cringe at the thought of pestering the One I love, or grieving him by not instantly yielding to the slightest indication of his wish. Further, I’m awed by the realization that God’s wisdom is infinite. That makes mine infinitesimal. Who am I to haggle with the greatest Mind in the universe?
Jacob was blessed because he wrestled with God – and won. (Genesis 32:24-30) I thought we scored by letting God win! This side of prayer seems to tear up everything Scripture teaches about love, submission and respect.
After years of confusion a gleam penetrated in the guise of a startling thought: ‘God is a tease’. I slammed shut my mind. It couldn’t be. God’s not like that! Yet as I dared peek at that mysterious ray, light flooded my understanding. It’s true! God is a beautiful, loving tease! He declares he is the giving God (James 1:5, literal translation) and then lets everything suggest he is a tightwad. ‘You can’t have it! It’s not worth having. You’re not good enough!’ heaven and hell seem to howl. All the while he is hoping we will see through the jest to the heart of God.
Play-fights with God make us strong. They are not to be taken lightly, however. Eternity holds its breath. Ruth’s sister-in-law surrendered to Naomi’s repeated pleas and returned to her people, turning her back on God’s blessing.
Elisha wanted a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. The hide of the man! Time and again God’s oracle tried to shrug off that bald-headed upstart, yet Elisha clung to him with the obstinacy of a blood-sucker. (2 Kings 2:1-15) That’s what made him grate – er – great.
Heaven’s strong room is plundered by everyone with the audacity to ask and the tenacity to receive. And God is tickled pink! Look above the stern ‘No’ on God’s lips to the sparkle in his eyes.