Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
© Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1985-1996.
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Chapter 18: Breakthrough
Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
Defeatists say ‘Yesterday’; winners say ‘Yes’ today. It’s too
late to lament the past. That’s lost forever. But it’s never too
late to move into overdrive. The present is ours to charge with
‘You’re too old,’ the mission board told a rejected candidate. God, who’s a little older than most of us, must have thought she was too young. He waited two more years before sending her to the field.
Perhaps you have heard it calculated that John Wesley preached over 40,000 sermons and travelled 225,000 miles (his horse had never heard of kilometers). Did you realize these figures belong only to the latter part of his life, from age 36 to 88? I was impressed; until reading George Muller’s figures. He is said to have travelled 200,000 miles, using his linguistic ability to preach in several languages to an estimated three million people. Now admittedly, Muller travelled extensively overseas. If I had a choice between travelling a thousand miles on horseback or a thousand miles by sailing ship, I’d go by plane. But here’s the spice: Muller’s statistics only began after his seventieth birthday and continued for the next seventeen years.
Dr. Robert Lowry, renowned for many accomplishments as a Christian musician, first undertook the serious study of music after turning forty. Fanny Crosby was forty-three when she found her life’s work – she wrote her first Gospel song. So many songs followed, under so many different pen-names, that no one could keep track of them. Informed estimates range to beyond 8,000 (some say 9.000), with more than a hundred pseudonyms.
Francis Schaeffer was little known until he was in his fifties.
Child Evangelism Fellowship was founded by a sixty-year-old, who remained at its helm for the next fifteen years.
At sixty-three, Clara Mcbride Hale began caring for addict babies. The number she has helped now runs into the hundreds.
Peggy Smith, eighty-four and blind, and her sister Christine, eighty-two and crippled, were key people in the world-famous revival in the Scottish Hebrides.
Elizabeth Wilson felt the tug of China when she was twenty. She arrived thirty years later. Conditions were harsh and dangerous, yet her age proved a treasured asset. The Lord had called her to the Orient, where – as in most societies outside our own – age is honored.
Paul Kuo presented the administrators of Hong Kong Theological College with a headache. He was already sixty and he wanted to enroll. By the time he graduated he would be too old for any church to want him. He was reluctantly admitted and although he learned, he failed to obtain a degree. In 1975 he left for Thailand’s ‘Golden Triangle’ to labor for Christ amongst mercenaries, bandits and opium farmers. His past military training earned him respect and his age made him a celebrity. He dived so deeply into ministry that he soon had to recruit other missionaries. Before long, Paul was heading up a large missionary venture.
In 1968, two middle-aged tourists, florists for over thirty years, were so moved by what they saw in Kenya that they decided to return as missionaries. Denny and Jeanne Grindall, with no engineering skills or even formal Bible training and very little money, instigated the building of a dam almost eighty foot high and piped the clean water nearly three miles to tribes people. The Maasai gradually became so responsive to the Grindall’s message that twenty churches were opened and hundreds came to Christ.
Black American missionary to Liberia, Eliza George, was forced by her mission to retire at age sixty-five. Undeterred, she raised her own support and continued independently for the best part of three more decades.
‘I want to go to the mission field as soon as I can,’ announced an enthusiastic teenager on the day of her baptism. She made it – as a seventy-one-year-old widow. In Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, Thailand, Burma and Communist Russia, Margaret Cole squeezed more excitement into a few years than most people ever see.
Cam Townsend, founder of the Wycliffe Bible Translators, flew to Moscow and began learning Russian to assist in Bible translation work in the Caucasus. The nation was still under the iron grip of Communism and he was seventy-two.
At that same age of seventy-two, Maude Cary accepted her missionary society’s plea ‘to open the city of El Haheb [in Morocco] to resident missionary work.’
Evelyn Brand came to India as a young missionary. After her husband’s death she pressed on, living on a pittance, caring for villagers scattered over five mountain ranges. At age seventy-five, Granny, as she was now known, had grown too old for such arduous work. Having fallen and broken her hip, she had to be carried down the mountain by stretcher, then driven 150 bone-jarring miles to the nearest hospital. By the time her son – a brilliant medical missionary – finally arrived, she was walking with two canes and managing to ride a pony to outlying villages. The skilled doctor mustered all his persuasive powers to lovingly convince his ageing mother that she ‘presented a constant medical hazard,’ riding horseback to such remote, rugged mountains with her paralyzed legs and deficient sense of balance. Brushing aside his pleas, Granny toiled for eighteen more years, despite being ravaged by tropical diseases and suffering concussions and fractures from falls off her pony. She was ninety-three when she reluctantly exchanged her horse for a stretcher; continuing her work by being carried from village to village by devoted Indians for her two remaining years.
In modern China the seventy-year-old wife of a persecuted pastor travels extensively distributing Bibles at great risk. In another part of the nation a ninety-year-old prayerfully studies a map, wondering where to lug her next bundle of Bibles. She hugs her books, rejoicing that the Tiananmen Square massacre increased not just the danger but the demand.
Think of it this way: if growing old is as bad as is sometimes claimed, how come so many people do it?
I don’t care if you’re so long in the tooth you’ve blown your entire savings on toothpaste; so out of touch that you’re fazed by newfangled things like the King James Bible; so old your grandchildren are in nursing homes; so frail you have to rest up to watch television: God can still use you. Of course, if you’ve already passed eighty-five, I can’t promise you’ll write 8,000 songs. You might, like Fanny at that age, have to settle for only 250 hymns a year.
If you’re ninety-one and still don’t know what you’ll do when you grow up, throw a party. If you’re ninety-five, it’s time to go to Bible School. That’s what David Sizer did. The last I heard, he was 101, still preaching in a prison and five retirement centers every week.
Dr. Bernhard Johnson tells of a tiny Negro in Brazil aged 105 who had led hundreds to the Lord. Uninspired? A further detail should cure that. He did not know the Lord until he turned 103.
If age is not a legitimate excuse, neither can we hide behind the negative comments of fellow Christians. Take Kenneth Taylor for inspiration.
Over thirty million copies of his Living Bible have been sold – literally a thousand times more than most Christian titles. Every publisher in the world would like a stake in such phenomenal success. But the story was once very different.
Taylor used to work for a Christian publishing house. Not even they would touch his manuscript. In desperation, (not to mention faith) he published it himself. Even then, he suffered an entire four-month period without one new order, before sales began to climb.
If you ever see a publisher with blue ankles, he’s been kicking himself again over that one.
It’s tales like this that keep my pen wriggling.
I long to buoy you by citing the story that snugly fits your circumstance. Alas, there are too many possibilities. I limit myself to two more examples, trusting your imagination to adapt them to your situation.
George Beverly Shea started his celebrated music ministry behind the barn. His music was quarantined. Any closer to civilization seemed to induce an epidemic of earache.
Gladys Aylward, the now-renowned missionary to China, wasn’t good enough for a missionary society. She was too dull, too old, too common. No one wanted that parlormaid – except the King of kings. Before God had finished, even Hollywood wanted the story.
Though multitudes pronounce the death sentence on our efforts, we believe in resurrection.
When they were young, Glenn Cunningham and Tenley Albright had legs so mutilated that they were told they would never walk again. Cunningham became one of the greatest runners the world has seen. Albright won the world figure-skating championship.
A young man almost won the ten mile swim in the Canadian championships. I see you at the finishing line, laughing at his style. He emerges from the water and you almost choke. This swimming marvel has only one arm.
The sport of hammer-throwing requires two powerful arms. Everyone knows that – except Olympic gold medalist Harold Connolly. One of his arms, broken thirteen times when a child, is barely two-thirds the size of the other.
You would need the fish fingers of a frozen food factory and the toes of a mutant millipede to count the times these athletes must have been told they would never make it, but they didn’t let up.
The achievements of people who draw solely upon human resources set me on fire. How dare we surrender to barriers that even non-Christians can conquer. (This is not a comment on the spiritual standing of the above athletes.) We’re Christ’s champions, empowered from on high. It’s about time the whole world knew it.
Jeremiah dictated a prophecy to his secretary. (Jeremiah 36:1-4) I guess it was lengthy, though able to be read in an hour or so. If the prophet had a hunch it would reach the king, it was probably written ornately with the best writing materials.
It reached the king all right. King Jehoiakim took to it straight away – with a pen knife – and fed the fragments to the fire. (Jeremiah 36:23)
In destroying the scroll, the king dealt four crushing blows to Jeremiah. First there was rejection. Then there was the loss of the manuscript. It was probably the only copy. I panic whenever I lose a few edits of this book by absent-mindedly putting them through the shredder. (All geniuses have brain-waves, it’s just that my brain waves goodbye and visits another planet.)
The next blow was financial. Living in an era far removed from Jeremiah’s, we might have missed this, but the significance was not lost to Jeremiah. Enough papyrus for one gospel would cost a skilled workman his entire pay for a year. The book of Jeremiah, as it appears in our Bible, is twice that length.
Then came the final blow: he had incurred the king’s wrath. Orders were out for his arrest. (Jeremiah 36:26)
What did Jeremiah do, reeling under rejection, loss and fear? He did what Tyndale did when a shipwreck sent a significant portion of his Bible translation to the bottom of the sea. He did what William Carey did when fire ripped through his print room, reducing his crowning glory – his massive polyglot dictionary, painstakingly prepared grammars and precious translations of the whole Bible – to ashes. He did what Gospel singer Ira Sankey did when the sole manuscript of his book, written under the hardship of advancing years, was destroyed. He did what Frances Havergal did when her lengthy music manuscript was burnt at the publisher’s – a nightmare painfully intensified by frail health. He laboriously rewrote it. What’s more, he added to it. (Jeremiah 36:32)
Pondering the enormity of losses these saints suffered is like a knife through my own flesh. Why God would allow such havoc I can hardly imagine. But I know their refusal to let tragedy beat them, their dogged determination to do it all again, and their resistance to Satan’s whisperings that God was against them, is a profound inspiration; an enduring testimony to the strength of God’s people.
Hailed as the forerunner of Protestant missionary glory, the missionary pioneers’ hero, the Bible translators’ inspiration, William Carey founded several schools, translated Scripture into forty-four languages and dialects, established missions in India, Burma and Bhutan, was appointed professor of Oriental languages by the Governor-general and became an authority on Indian agriculture and horticulture. Yet he reached these heights not on the wings of genius, but on plodding feet; not by bursts of inspiration but by a determined, daily slog. It was as a plodder that Carey wanted to be remembered. ‘To this,’ insisted the great achiever, ‘I owe everything.’ When he headed for India, his wife had refused to go, his church resisted the move, and his parents thought he was mad. He plodded on. In India he was lonely, poverty-stricken and spiritually barren. When his son died, Carey was too ill to bury him and so friendless he almost despaired of finding anyone to assist in the burial. He plodded on. For the first seven years, there was not one convert. He was strongly opposed by governmental and commercial authorities. He had coerced his wife to join him, but she became mentally deranged and grew progressively worse. He plodded on. He had left for India, having failed as a farm laborer, a shoemaker, a school-teacher, a preacher, a husband and a father, but the old trail blazer left for heaven a master of plodding.
Our spiritual forebears can so motivate us that the furnace they endured can harden the steel in our own spines. Let’s look at a few and see if it works.
Though he died before the Reformation, Luther honored Savonarola with the title of Protestant martyr. Savonarola preached, pouring out his soul to congregations of less than twenty-five. The impact could hardly have been less had even those few stayed away. It slowly dawned with heart-crushing certainty that whatever gifts he had, preaching was not one of them. He reverted to teaching convent novices. Later, he again thought he should face the daunting task that had so devastated him. Again his preaching made little impression. He continued, and in time the great Duomo cathedral was so incapable of containing the eager throngs flocking to hear him that queues regularly formed in the middle of the night, waiting for hours for the doors to open.
Clarence Jones’ dream of a South American Christian radio station was known in his local church as ‘Jones’s folly’. Hurt, but not defeated, he invested in an exploratory trip to South America, praying for the Lord to do ‘great and mighty things’. Instead, heaven slammed doors in his face. He courted government officials in Venezuela, then Columbia, then Panama, then Cuba. All refused him.
He returned home in agony to acquaintances who continued to laugh, and to a wife who was secretly elated about the failure. Finally, it got too much. He decided to chuck his family and local Christians by joining the navy. The navy rejected him too.
Eventually he met a missionary couple who claimed that Ecuador was the place to go. He had no sooner received the necessary government clearances than he learned from officials and radio engineers that the site was utterly unsuitable for radio. The mountains and proximity to the equator were insurmountable obstacles to acceptable transmission. Yet it seemed God’s leading, so ‘Jones’s folly’ continued.
In 1931 his 250-watt transmitter in a sheep shed beamed its first message. Many missionaries were strongly opposed to the whole idea of Christian radio, but people were at least curious. That day, every radio in the country was tuned in. That’s right; all thirteen.
Donations fell off due to the Depression. In the entire year of 1932, he received less than a thousand dollars. In 1933 the bank through which he operated folded. Then the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle, the mainstay of his mission’s support, went bankrupt. As he staggered on, it began to be said that you could hear the sounds of his station from behind doors displaying Protestants Not Welcome signs.
In 1940 he expanded to a 10,000 watt transmitter and started receiving letters from New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Russia . . . . Contrary to expert opinion, he had located on one of the best spots for radio transmission on the entire planet. He later moved up to half a million watts and ‘Jones’s folly’ became one of the Christian wonders of the world.
‘It seems as though everything I do is wrong,’ cried Gladys Aylward in a letter from China. Great men and women of God often long to quit, but they wobble on. (E.g., Jeremiah 20:7-8) When they are hit, they bounce – like flat footballs usually, but enough to stay in the game. After a while they are pumped up again and their erratic zigzag course resumes that vaguely goalward trajectory that sends angelic cheer-leaders wild.
In the 1850s, Jeremiah Lanphier gave up his business and walked the streets of New York, his heart throbbing with a divine obsession. He distributed leaflets inviting people to attend an hour-long prayer meeting. No one turned up. Half an hour late, someone arrived, followed by five others. Next week, twenty came. Within six months they were meeting daily, and the number had risen to ten thousand. People were being saved. Diverse denominations were working together in unity. Revival sparks flew to other parts of the nation. In two years over a million converts were added to the churches and a further million church-attenders revived.
What if, twenty-nine minutes into that first prayer meeting, Lanphier had left in despair?
Elijah prayed for rain. Not a cloud in sight. He prayed again. Nothing. Six times he prayed. Six times there was no response.
Time to implement plan B. This is how it went: if prayer doesn’t work after six times, try seven.
Israel got wet.
God’s chosen were in a desert facing starvation. And it was God’s doing. The Lord later revealed he had engineered it to see what his people were made of. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3) Would they fall into faithless despair, or would they muster faith and declare, ‘Somehow, some way, God will bring us through’?
Unlike the Israelites, we may not be in a life-threatening situation, but our ministry hopes could be staring at death. We’re wasting in a wilderness where through sickness or whatever, there’s not a crust of ministry to be found. This is not the time to crumple in a whimpering mass. This is our moment of glory. It’s the time to display our faith to the entire spirit-world, declaring, ‘God is the God of the impossible! Somehow, some way he will fulfill my heart’s desire.’
The Spirit can thrust us into a wilderness for testing as he did Jesus. But like Jesus and through Jesus we can emerge Spirit-filled and burst into ministry.
In Christ, our possibilities would blow the circuits of anyone’s imagination. Let’s not succumb before discovering at least a fraction of the astounding things God can do through us.
Cultivate the blind optimism of a love-crazed boy forever pestering his vision of beauty for a date. She’s so sweet his tooth aches. His physique is a stretched rubber band and his face an acne war zone. He is certainly no oil painting, but something had to making his skin that oily. She is the most popular girl at school. In a world of shining lights he is a black hole. The very thought of her sets the butterflies aflutter. He does something to her stomach, too. Finally, after his thirty-fifth refusal his enthusiasm skyrockets. He knew he was making progress the moment she uttered those magic words, ‘I’m telling you no for the last time.’
God has a bigger crush on us than we have on him.
We find him lurking in the shadows of Scripture. He was a breath of fresh air in a whirlwind. John Mark was bad news. In the human race he led the field from go to woe. He has often been identified with Christianity’s first streaker – the man who blurred through Gethsemane’s garden with the raw grace of a plucked chicken, leaving behind his clothes and his Savior. (Mark 14:51-52) More humiliations were to follow.
His unflattering nickname, stub-fingered, suggests he was physically impaired. To this he added a handicap of his own making: he was branded a deserter – a second time.
When the pressure mounts, the last thing you need is for a trusted companion to abandon you. That’s what Mark did to Paul and Barnabas.
His desertion seems to have deeply hurt Paul. The apostle was adamant that hanging out with this dodo was a no-no. Barnabas, who always stood up for the under-dog, (Acts 4:36; 9:26-28; 11:22-25) defended his cousin Mark. The result was a rift between old friends; the shattering of a great missionary team. (Acts 15:37-39) We never hear of Barnabas again.
One look at ‘stump-finger’s’ yellow face and you knew this jinx had had mistake and eggs for breakfast again. Whenever this egg-head cracked, everyone got egg on their face. Just what the church needs! He must have felt as blue as a browned off white man seeing red because he’s accused of being yellow.
Mark could have drowned in self-pity. He could have resented Paul. He could have turned back to Judaism. Instead, he redoubled his efforts, eventually being recognized even by Paul as having an outstanding ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24) Peter also spoke affectionately of him. (1 Peter 5:13) As writer of possibly the earliest gospel and a primary source of Matthew and Luke, Mark’s contribution even to today’s church is beyond measure. This planet is a better place today because nineteen centuries ago a ‘no-hoper’ called stub-fingered decided to tough it out.
Knowing our weaknesses, our loving Father has preserved many such stories for us to gain strength.
‘Then will I teach transgressors your ways,’ crooned David. When? After a calamitous moral fall. (Psalm 51:title, 3-5, 12-13)
‘Simon . . . feed my sheep.’ (John 21:17) When? After denying his Savior.
‘He slew at his death more than he slew in his life.’ (Judges 16:30, paraphrase) When? After Samson’s greatest humiliation.
Samson and David each knew the horror of spiritual failure. On the crest of their vocation, they plunged to abominable depths. Their lapses were inexcusable. Their ministries were desecrated. Yet they refused to dwell in defeat. They were failures for a moment, but they were overcomers forever. Grasping God’s hand of forgiveness, they clambered to new heights for the exaltation of the One who washed them clean.
Oppression crushed Simon the rock into sand. On the brink of ministry, after years of grooming, he blew it. He lied. He invoked a curse on himself. He disowned his Lord. (Matthew 26:74) Yet though it rocked Simon, this one-time rock didn’t peter. Empowered by his Savior, he again turned to stone.
Though the righteous – that’s you and me in Christ Jesus – fall seven times, they rise again. That’s a promise. (Proverbs 24:16, see also Psalm 37:23-24)
For the plaything of Delilah;
And just a prayer-cut
For Peter the denier.
Strong they dozed
But weak arose,
And knew it not.
Men destroyed by fatal cuts;
A seed so small and barely sown
If sin can grow,
His repentance real,
When his wife was pregnant with their only child, George Whitefield knew he had heard from God: it would be a boy and this son would become a great evangelist. Newspapers grabbed the story and mocked. Whitefield was unmoved. The whole world could laugh; time would vindicate him. Finally the baby was born. A boy. It died.
Doug Hunt, chief pilot for Wycliffe Bible Translators – dead. Dr. Darlene Bee, brilliant linguist and Bible translator – dead. In all, seven mangled corpses lay strew amongst the aircraft wreckage. All because a missionary-mechanic neglected to tighten a nut.
‘The funeral was a ghastly ordeal,’ confessed the shattered mechanic. ‘The sight of those caskets lined up . . . hit me like a blow to the stomach. I wanted nothing but to get out of there . . . . How could I face my friends? How could I face myself?’
Anyone who can keep going after that is not a negligent mechanic. He’s a spiritual giant.
The farmer who forever consults the sky will never sow, says Scripture’s philosopher. (Ecclesiastes 11:4) We will always find reasons for deferring service or opting out, but are they God’s reasons, or our excuses?
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