The Quest For Fulfillment
© Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1985-1996.
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Chapter 20: Turning Barrenness
Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
She was ashamed. She was tormented. She was barren. Her husband
tried to console her. ‘You already have a vocation,’ he virtually
told her. Yes, Hannah was a beloved wife. Hundreds of lonely,
rejected women would be content with that, but not Hannah. She
could know no peace until she had borne a child. (1 Samuel 1:1-8)
This yearning for a baby arose from within, was fuelled by her society’s attitude and further intensified by her rival – her husband’s second wife. Ultimately, however, I believe the pressure was from God.
‘And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. And she vowed . . . , “O. Lord of hosts, if you will . . . give to your handmaid a man child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life . . . ”’ (1 Samuel 1:10-11)
It seems the Lord had long been waiting for this degree of commitment. Perhaps reaching this point sooner would have shaved years off her wait. Nonetheless, to her vow of consecration she added faith. Before any tangible sign of answered prayer ‘her countenance was no longer sad’. (1 Samuel 1:18) Years of anguish fostered prayer, devotion, and now, faith. A miracle was hurtling toward this planet. (1 Samuel 1:20)
That’s how God moves. Isaac, Israel, Joseph, Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist were all born to women who had been barren. (Genesis 18:11; 25:21-26; 30:22-24; Judges 13:3; 1 Samuel 1:20; Luke 1:7, 13) Barrenness forced these women to exceptional fervor in praying for conception. Little wonder that they conceived exceptional children.
Hannah nurtured the babe till he was weaned (probably, by Hebrew custom, about three years). She then plunged a knife into her heart, severing herself from her flesh and blood. Custody battles involving surrogate mothers expose the faintest echo of her agony. If the bond at birth can be strong, it was three years harder for Hannah. And this was her only child.
But the beautiful story continues. The Lord, having inspired her heart-rending vow, flooded her with blessings. Her reward went beyond giving birth to a son. It went beyond proudly viewing the development of one of the greatest men of God earth has seen. And it went beyond her acclaim ringing round the globe, generation after generation extolling her devotion. There were further treasures, but the path was steep.
As she surrendered to the priest the fruit of her womb, Hannah jubilantly sang, ‘The barren has borne seven.’ (1 Samuel 2:5) Oh Hannah! Whatever do you mean? You have no abundance – only one, and even he has been torn from you.
Year by year she made a little robe for the child who was no longer hers. Every stitch was impregnated with love and thanksgiving, but many were dampened with tears for the child she longed to hold, but could not. Once a year she would journey to the house of God and hand over the robe – a pitifully small gift for the little boy she longed to wait on day and night. At each visit the priest would ask God’s special blessing upon this precious mother. And God heard. Radiance burst through the tears of sacrifice. That once-barren lady gave birth to three more sons and two daughters. (1 Samuel 2:19-21) Her glory was complete. Yes, the Lord made her like other mothers as she had always wanted, but first he had exalted her above other mothers.
Hannah’s vow of surrender unleashed the power of God. Is your life at a stalemate because heaven is awaiting a new depth of consecration from you? Search your heart and God’s mind for an answer.
But never make rash vows. Always add, ‘if it be God’s will.’ Otherwise, the vow, not Jesus, is our Master. Our humanity makes it impossible to know we have every eventuality covered. We may be certain our vow is divinely inspired and later discover to our horror that we have misheard. Even after careful consideration, it is usually best to bind ourselves merely to try to do it. Though such a resolve seems insipid, the Bible exposes the perils of disregarding this warning. Unless you are convinced of the gravity of this matter, I beg you to study the relevant Scriptures. (Compare Deuteronomy 7:1-2 with Joshua 9:4-20; note also Judges 11:29-35; Psalm 15:4; Proverbs 20:25; Ecclesiastes 5:2,4-6; Leviticus 5:4; 27:28; Acts 5:3-5) Commitment is the key, not a rush of well-meaning words that flare and fizzle.
Ending barrenness involves being intimate with the one we love. We can think this a chore, and turn it into one, but it is meant to be delightfully fulfilling. Many times in this book I have had to cite intimacy with God – waiting on him, communing with him – as the answer to various aspects of our barrenness. We can treat this as a burden – struggling, straining and afflicting ourselves – or we can unleash love and let snuggling into the heart of God become the beautiful experience he intends it to be. To wish we could know everything about our calling without spending hours alone with God is to wish we could trade the pinnacle of human experience for the clinical coldness of some sort of spiritual in-vitro fertilization.
Since Hannah’s experience blends many of the principles of entering fruitful service, let’s recycle them, giving our minds the final rinse.
God’s woman turned barrenness into a blessing not by suppressing her desires but by letting it bring her to her knees and to a rare level of commitment. Despite her husband’s pleas, she would settle for nothing less than God’s best. And God, in his grace, would settle for nothing less than her best. Creature and Creator wrestled in prayer until she finally yielded, reaching heights of devotion fertile women seldom know. Then she believed before seeing the answer. Closing her mind to a thousand previous failures, she again tried to be fruitful. Even when she held her dream in her arms, she did not slacken in her spiritual quest. She praised her Lord and mixed it with more faith. She kept her costly vow. She gave no space to bitterness. Without overstepping the mark, she faithfully did the little she could to serve the son who now was God’s. Finally, the Lord poured upon her an abundance beyond her fondest hopes.
All service should be an act of worship; the overflowing of a heart brimming with love; a cascade of joyous thanksgiving to your wonderful Savior.
Picture Mrs. Average plodding away at the chore of baking a cake. Contrast this with a starry-eyed young wife, joyfully, almost reverently, pouring her love into a cake for the man of her dreams. See her striving for perfection, longing to thrill the object of her love. This will be more than a cake. Her sights are set on a work of art, a mouth-watering masterpiece, a culinary monument to love, meticulously fashioned to transport her man to gastronomic ecstasy. On wings of love, a mundane task soars to ethereal heights.
Make God the husband in our parable and we catch the spirit of all ministry, whether it be handing out hymn books or facing martyrdom; visiting sister Jane, or dispelling heathen darkness. Moreover, serving God is far more satisfying than our parable suggests. The bride’s joy may be crushed by her husband failing to perceive the love in the cake. But every loving deed directed to heaven will be treasured in the heart of God forever. And serving God is not nearly as solitary as the bride’s activity. Ministry is the height of intimacy. It is God and you in exquisite harmony bringing heaven to earth. It is your spirit mingled with God’s Spirit flowing out to a needy world. After refreshing the land, bringing life to desert sands, it ascends in clouds of adoration to heaven’s throne.
Ministry is giving heaven your very best because you know your King is worthy of nothing less. And it is giving earth more than your best because you trust your Lord to surpass your natural gifts. It is giving to God everything possible and achieving through him things impossible.
Yes, ministry involves effort, you throw everything you have into it, but ministry is more than sweat. It is offering your life as clay to the Sculptor, saying in loving submission, ‘Here I am Lord, create your masterpiece.’
Faith is not escapism; it’s inspiration to face problems head-on. If we’re all wishbone and no backbone, we’re in trouble. We can waste our whole lives, vainly imagining we will have an outstanding ministry ‘one day’. We have no right to expect a ministry tomorrow unless we are moving towards it today. That means praying, planning, training. It means poring over the Scriptures. It means taking risks and continually looking to the sky to see if now is the time to take off.
Even if it takes years to come together, an outstanding ministry is never far away. It’s as close as the prayer that you breathe. It’s in your dreams and your labors; in your heart and your faith.
It was the end of a day and I was walking behind two office workers. Said one wearily to the other, ‘Another day, another dollar.’ I inwardly concurred. My work is such drudgery. From the moment I start, I look to its end – the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of ever having to come to this place. It’s outside those hours that I ‘live’; it’s then that I do things of value.
But my eavesdropping wasn’t over. With mock despair, her companion added, ‘Another day closer to the grave.’ That shook me. He’s right! How could I wish a day away? I will never get it back. ‘Another day closer to the grave.’ If only those words could be tattooed into my brain. ‘One of the illusions of life,’ said Emerson, ‘is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour.’
I must wring full value from every opportunity, no matter how wretched. If God gives me greater opportunities tonight or tomorrow or next year, that’s marvelous, but now is the time to glorify my Lord. To say ‘tomorrow’ is to borrow time that isn’t mine.
I’m told that Peter Ball, English monk-turned-bishop, begins each day by telling the Lord, ‘This is the best day there’s ever going to be in my life.’ The notion horrifies me. Today, the best day of my life? Perish the thought! Today, while I’m still serving my sentence as a useless cog in a meaningless machine? Today, while I’m thrashing with all the frenzy of a wild animal caught in the cruelest of traps? Today? Today.
It’s better to visit a house of mourning, says Scripture, than a place of enjoyment. (Ecclesiastes 7:2) A party lulls us into wasting precious, God-given moments. A stroll through a cemetery spurs us to invest in eternity while we still have breath.
Jettison an ‘I will be happy when . . . ’ mentality. ‘Rejoice evermore’ commands Scripture, and it starts today. God is a ‘now’ God and his people must be ‘now’ people.
Let’s seize every opportunity to magnify our Maker. We need special circumstances far less than we need special dedication. During the American Civil War ‘Uncle’ John Vasser labored long hours near the battle lines in personal evangelism to up to a hundred individuals a day. His capture made so little difference that the enemy general released him with the command, ‘Take this man’s promise that he will not tell of our whereabouts for twenty-four hours, and let us see him out of our lines, or we will have a prayer-meeting from here to Richmond.’
Hunt for opportunities to serve. Throw yourself whole-heartedly into everything God gives you, no matter how trivial.
Soldiers train by slaving at apparently useless chores. They relinquish civilian pleasures when the front line is half a world away. They obey silly orders, attack dummies, run till near exhaustion when neither attacking, nor being pursued. You are being steeled for velour; primed in every fiber of your being. Your Trainer is working powerfully no matter how empty your present service seems. At the right time you’ll be in peak condition; in Christ invincible.
Despite my relentless longing to share these truths, it hurts to let this book be published. The more I work on the book, the more immersed in its truths I become. It’s continually washing away layer after grimy layer of negativity and buoying me ever higher. I hate the thought of this process ever ending, but dour experience affirms that it will – soon after I put the book down. I have had to re-read it scores of times to halt my slide back into the bog. And still I need it.
Though my need is chronic, I doubt if the mildest affliction could be relieved forever through one reading of this book. I expect you to feel better after a single dose but regular doses are essential for a permanent cure. So I urge you to keep this book handy, even after completing it. Long-term problems need long-term solutions. I covet a new life for you, not just a momentary easing of the pain. Experience suggests you will need this book year after year. We never reach the point where temptation leaves us forever.
Negative thoughts have been roosting in our heads, pecking away at the fruit beginning to form in our lives. We’ve shooed these pests away, but they will stealthily return. That’s our cue to skim through the book again. Highlight the parts that especially speak to you or uplift you. Personalize them. Write them out. Display them. Memories them. Add to them. Share them. Live them. They will keep the vermin away and bring you to new levels of fruitfulness.
Find ingenious ways to kept in your consciousness truths you particularly need. At work I must set and use several computer passwords. I might say to myself I will praise the Lord at all times, while typing the first letter of each word. IWPTLAAT then becomes my new password. No one could guess such an apparently random string of letters and I can remember it only by rehearsing in my mind that positive declaration every time I must use it. Perhaps you could put a little heart somewhere to remind you how much you are loved by God. There are thousands of possibilities. Finding some that work for you will be well worth the effort.
I’d be thrilled if my expressions sometimes help. I have tried to shape them to stick in slippery memories. But don’t be chained to my words. Using your words will help the truths become yours. And don’t be confined to the paltriness of my insight. Hound God with the passion and confidence of a cherished lover until you receive your own Bible-based, Christ-centered revelations.
No matter how hot it’s served or how much it’s sweetened, second-hand revelation is as insipid as second-hand tea leaves unless the Holy Spirit comes upon you, exploding those words within you with such power that it becomes your own divine encounter. A hand-me-down word from God might bring a little refreshment, but a truth super-charged by the Spirit of God percolating through one’s life is so superior that no cost is too high a price to pay for it. Fervent prayer and Bible meditation is the usual price.
Though I have prayed incessantly that this book bless you as much as it has me, I fear I’m asking God to break one of his principles. Why should he command us to seek and to ask and devote our lives to poring over Scripture unless that’s the way he prefers to reveal his truth? It is truths in the heart, not words in a book, that set us free. And lodging them there takes spiritual and mental effort. I crave the joy of serving you by doing all the prayer and study, but that’s like trying to play tennis for you – I get the healthy exercise and you miss all the fun.
John Towy was so short you might wonder why he bothered to line up. He competed against men whose elbows would literally hit his head as he ran. Once he entered a two-mile race – twenty-two laps of an indoor board track so cut up that it was mainly splinters. After the first half a lap, tragedy struck. His shoe came off. It was the end of the race for Towy. No one can compete against champions, with only one shoe. Yet he kept running: one leg now effectively shorter than the other; splinters, like fiery darts, shooting into his foot. Resisting the pain, closing his mind to the sheer insanity of it, he pressed on, lap after lap after lap. At the end of lap twenty, he took the lead. A lap later, still in front, gold seemed a certainty. Then Forest Efaw, towering eleven inches taller than Towy, began to close in. Efaw gave it everything he had. Towy kept pumping those aching legs; pounding that paining foot. The finish was just feet away. Towy was still ahead; Efaw still gaining. Just before the tape, Efaw burst through to win by a foot (take whatever way you like).
If athletes do such things, often without Christ, just to prove they can rapidly put one leg in front of the other, then I can hardly wait to hear what you will accomplish, empowered by the Spirit, eyes fixed on eternal goals.
Lost in defeat; saved to triumph.
Destined for greatness,
Bound for glory,
Held in love,
Girded with truth,
Filled with might;
Free the slave,
Heal the sick,
Raise the dead,
Astound the world.
We should not demand iron-clad guarantees of success before attempting something big for the Almighty. What value can we place on one human soul? (Psalm 49:7-8; 1 Peter 1:18-19) The slightest possibility of winning someone for Christ should be enough to set us ablaze.
We must resist the urge to play safe and bury our talent. (Matthew 25:25) Why let fear of failure immobilize us? Look not at the impossibility of the situation; look at the impossibility of God ever failing. Like Peter walking the waves, if we begin to sink, Jesus is there, ready to grasp our hand.
Work hard. Make financial, social and recreational sacrifices, like an athlete training for Olympic gold. Invest time and effort into a ministry that is presently non-existent. That’s faith in action. That’s following the path of the good and faithful servant. In submission to God, ears tuned to heaven’s frequency, such risks are honoring to God. You’re investing in eternal glory.
Worm, you’re gonna fly.
Dunce, astound the school.
Slave, prepare to rule.
Cleaner, address the throng.
Welder, inspire with song.
Plumber, rebuke that cancer.
Mother, kings you’ll counsel.
Stone, you’re gonna sparkle;
Rock, you’re solid opal.
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