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 6: I’ve Gotta Be Me
Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
Heaven’s honor roll reads like a Who’s Who of bungling. And I
I must have slammed into so many closed doors in my spiritual job search that my whole head is a dead end. Of my legendary brain malfunctions, you’ll squeeze just one example from me. Divulge more, and I’d be sentenced to wearing a paper bag over my head for the rest of my natural life – and that’s a prospect I don’t relish, no matter how much you think it improves my looks.
I was about to go home when a manager said he couldn’t start his car. Some idiot had left the headlights on. Suddenly my nerves thought I’d caught malaria. That morning I had tested the lights of our entire vehicle fleet. ‘That’s funny,’ added another manager, ‘I can’t start my car either – battery’s dead.’ (It was definitely malaria, maybe yellow fever as well.) Up walked another manager – and was that another one behind him?
I’ve got a mechanical mind; it’s just that the gears have jammed.
When I have mistake and onions it’s neither rare nor well done. And just when I’ve had my fill I’m forced to eat my words. And that’s only the entrée. Somehow I always end up in the soup and have to pay for it. Humble pie follows with a generous serve of raspberries and I scream.
I make more slips than a lingerie company. As my mind lurches from one goof-up to the next, I fill with despair. Then I limp to the Bible and find comfort. I bump into Isaac, who blessed the wrong twin; (Genesis 27:21-35) and Jacob, the scheming mummy’s boy, who had to marry his sister-in-law to patch up his first mistake. (Genesis 29:20-28) I hear Job clawing for words to recount the tragedy that marred his childhood – he was born alive. (Job 3:1-19) I see Saul hiding amongst the baggage; (1 Samuel 10:22) David squabbling with his brothers; (1 Samuel 17:28-29) Jonah bewailing the death of a weed; (Jonah 4:7-9) Thomas poking holes in Jesus’ side. (John 20:24-25) I don’t know that they had pogo sticks back then, but if they did, they played under the table for too long. Hard-boiled? These egg-heads were always in hot water. Whenever they had a brainwave heaven ducked for cover. Of course, Solomon had a good head on his shoulders – a cute brunette one night, a redhead the next. I think he ended up counting his wives and kissing his money.
Jesus hand-picked the quiet, intelligent type. When they were quiet, they were intelligent. They spent the rest of their time turning howlers into an art form. Their business cards must have read Bloopers for Every Occasion. There were the sons of blunder, James and John, armed with tongues programmed to shoot first and ask questions at the inquest. Those thunder-heads even thought the Prince of Peace was into star wars. (Luke 9:54) Then there was Peter, whose mouth went into spasms whenever his brain died. He always spoke with his mouth full, and still found room for the other foot. (Any normal sized mouth would have had corns.) You were sure to find this crying shame somewhere between boo-boo and boo-hoo. And while our silver tongued, lead brained hero was doing what came naturally, everyone else was scrambling to prove they had the IQ of a doughnut hole. Who could forget that ridiculous prayer-meeting when the maid left Peter locked out in the cold, the pray-ers thought the maid had gone around the twist for being so stupid as to think their prayers had been answered, and they finally made the brilliant deduction that the guy, who looks and sounds like Peter bashing on the door, must be Peter’s angel? (Acts 12:12-16) They believed in keeping their brains in ‘as new’ condition. Remember the dozer with the window seat who fell three floors to sleep during Paul’s sermon? (Acts 20:9) They make that drop-out look like a genius. Paul wasn’t kidding when he said that by normal standards few of the Corinthian Christians were wise. (1 Corinthians 2:26-27) If they were anything like the rest, you could pool their intellects and not have enough to power a headache.
I could put my feet up with folks like that. And what fires me is that these scatter-brains are God’s sort of people – the type through whom he changes the world.
Christians squabble over whether tongues have ceased, but no one doubts that signs and blunders are with us still. The centuries have made Christians no brighter, nor any less treasured by heaven. My favorite is Dwight Moody. He hated his first name, pronounced Jerusalem in two syllables, and wrote without a speck of punctuation. Can you guess the words he was attempting to spell in the following: sucksead, beleave, shure, clurks, bead, hav, don, bimb bi, peter? (Succeed, believe, sure, clerks, bed, have, done, ‘by ‘n by’, better.) ‘I am getting over the difficulty,’ said middle-aged Moody about his spelling, ‘I am always sure of the first letter and the last . . . ’ Such shortcomings are endearing. To scorn them is to act like a thirteen year old despising childish behavior in his little sister – behavior that more mature people find adorable. Had we a massive intellect and love approaching that of our great King, we would not only discern the frailty of even the greatest earthly minds, we would probably feel as warmly about their foibles as we do about those of the cutest child.
Who would have guessed that a religion stressing lofty morals would cram into its holiest book the slimy details of King ‘Peeping Tom’ David, ‘lover-boy’ Solomon, fish-breath Jonah, sleazy Jacob, and two-faced Judah, (Genesis 38:11-26) to mention just a few of the seething swarm of con-men, backstabbers, rapists, murderers and whores that fill the Word of God?
Few Christian biographies are as fiercely honest as Scripture. If there were more books that gently peel the plastic off famous Christians, it would be easier for us to realize that we belong in the big league. For instance, John Wesley’s godly parents had a marriage so stormy it still puts the wind up people. His own string of abortive romances continued until finally he married, at age forty-seven. ‘The marriage started poorly and went downhill from there,’ wrote Petersen. ‘Perennial mutual resentment’ was how another writer described the union that spluttered and flared for twenty torturous years until ending in permanent separation.
Dwight Moody’s Christian graces have rightly been extolled, but have you heard of his temper? In public he once pushed someone with such violence that the man was sent reeling down the stairs. ‘This meeting is killed,’ gasped a friend of Moody, ‘The large number who have seen the whole thing will hardly be in a condition to be influenced by anything more Mr. Moody may say tonight.’
Martin Luther wrote things about Jews that, to say the least, are highly regrettable. And many of our early Protestant heroes in Europe, Britain and America, favored killing their theological opponents at the stake or gallows.
It takes a special life to win the devotion of natives the way David Livingstone did. Stanley glued himself to Livingstone day and night, week after week, and the experience melted his hard journalist’s heart. Four months of intense scrutiny led him to praise Livingstone’s piety, gentleness and zeal. ‘I never found a fault in him,’ he marveled. Yet though we could dwell long on the virtues that gilded Livingstone’s soul, slag touched the gold. It is said that throughout his life serious personality defects dogged his service.
John Sung has been called rude, stubborn, a poor family man, and China’s greatest evangelist.
Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision had one driving passion: ‘Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.’ An experienced biographer and researcher lauded him, declaring that ‘few people in history’ have ‘demonstrated greater compassion for suffering humanity than Bob Pierce.’ Yet just sentences later we read that ‘the love that he gave so freely’ to others ‘was given so sparingly to the ones who needed it most – his wife and his daughters.’
If you knew C. T. Studd personally you would probably be offended by his authoritarianism, his sledge-hammer bluntness, his harsh ultimatums. Like his own mission committee, you might worry about his use of morphine and want to suppress his book Don’t Care a Damn. In common with those who knew and loved him most – even close family members – you may feel compelled to withdraw from this great missionary.
We cannot idolize our heroes without falling into heresy, such as the satanic lie that being used by God is a reward for living an exemplary life. Service – like salvation, holiness and every other spiritual gift – is always an undeserved gift received by childlike faith. (Galatians 3:2-5) God broke into Paul’s life and assigned to him his enormous ministry, not after he had proved himself, but when the man was fuming with murderous rage against Christ; while he was still – as he later confessed – the ‘chief’ of sinners, torturing Christians in the hope of making them blaspheme. (Acts 26:9-11,15-18; 22:4-8,10,14-16) Though it was years before he was released into its fullness, the timing of that original call is both illuminating and liberating. May the implications ricochet within our heads until our dying day.
Yes, our character flaws grieve and defame the Holy One. Yes, we must move heaven and earth to root out our shame. And yes, as impossible as it sounds, God’s holy power can trickle through flawed, sin-stained channels to a thirsty world.
God does not use synthetic saints petrified in stained glass or mummified in strained biographies. If the paper people squashed between book covers or exhibited in special Sunday services seem real to you, you’ll love the Easter Bunny. If you were thinking of cornering the market on your brand of inadequacy, forget it; heaven’s databanks bulge with the triumphs of people with quirks like yours. Heaven’s heroes are people with pimples and stringy hair; people with wrinkles and pug noses. If you’d like to see a real saint-in-training, a cheeky Master’s apprentice poised to gelignite Hell’s gates, someone on the brink of eternal acclaim, go to your mirror.
Some of us live life in the fast lane. I’d be happy to get out of the parking lot.
I was reading about John Wesley. The more I read, the more inadequate I felt. Like Luther and several other famous Christians, Wesley seemed to have the abilities and do the work of ten men. I’ll quarantine further details lest I spread my gloom. Yet as I groped through the fog I began to query my suppositions. Is God so short of workers that he particularly needs someone to do the work of ten? Could not you and I be among the ten or even a thousand who together could equal a Luther or a Wesley? Are God’s gifts so puny that they must be concentrated in the hands of a few before they are of value? Is the need of the hour for more Wesleys or for ordinary Christians to overpower discouragement and start pulling their weight?
Let’s be content to fulfill our God-appointed task. It alone, delights the Father’s heart and brings the joyous satisfaction we were born for. The pressure to fill someone else’s shoes is not from God. It leads only to corns!
In Jesus’ powerful story, three servants were given money. One received five talents, another two, and the other one. (Matthew 25:15) Feel sorry for the one who received so little? I used to. It seems grossly unfair, though I’m forced to admit it’s true to life. God has distributed his gifts unequally. Moreover, relative to others, I’m that one-talent man.
After years of feeling hard done by, a light flashed that should forever banish my self-pity. In the currency of the day, a talent was worth 6,000 denarii. Still mystified? Well, according to another parable, the going casual rate for an eleven-or-twelve-hour day was just one denarius. (Matthew 20:1,2,8) My mind splutters into action. Multiply your daily wage by 6,000 and see if you despise the figure. You could immediately go on holiday for twenty or thirty years, (The lower figure if you usually work seventy hours a week, the higher if you work a forty-hour week.) or, in Jesus’ day, you could invest in many slaves (who each would earn far beyond their minimal keep) and spend the rest of your life in idle luxury.
A talent was worth three-quarters of a million widow’s mites. At that time it would cover a full year’s rent on fifty houses, or buy quarter of a million sparrows (Luke 12:6) (with bulk discount you could probably buy every sparrow on the planet!). Judas sold his Savior for just two percent of this sum. With these riches you could gain full access to Rome’s magnificent public baths all day every day for a hundred years and have enough in reserve to buy a liter of wheat, or three of barley, every day for two life-times.
I can pity no longer that ‘unfortunate’ who received the least. He was rich. And he had the potential to double his wealth. (In Luke’s version of the parable (Luke 19:12-27), the servants were allocated equal portions. Perhaps Luke’s version reveals the heart of God and the other (preserved in Matthew 25:16-17) describes the strategy of God. The Lord loves his children without favoritism. Or perhaps Jesus told this story once from heaven’s perspective (equal portions) and once from our human perspective. In our eyes, ministry gifts seem to vary in significance, but I don’t think God sees it that way.)
Your Father, in the divine extravagance of infinite love, showers his riches upon other people. Yet that cannot diminish the magnitude of your own gift. And your investment potential is phenomenal.
Who can complain when the wisest Person in the universe does what he wants with his own wealth? Instead of resenting God for his kindness to others, or cringing before those who seem to have more, you have every reason to delight in the enormity of your own gift. In joyful thanksgiving to God, stretch that precious talent so that when the king returns you can lay at his feet a gift that has doubled in value.
There is another side to this matter. Did you know . . .
* Most actors wanting the role of Long John Silver are hopelessly inadequate? They have too many legs.
* Most people look like ridiculously overdressed, non-Japanese, anorexic sumo wrestlers?
* When I was younger I could run faster than Carl Lewis? Over the years my superiority gradually waned, especially after baby Carl learned to walk.
I know what you’re thinking: I’ve finally blown a fuse upstairs. It was all a misunderstanding. They said success was just around the corner, so I went around the bend. Before you start sending get-well cards, however, let me assure you I’m as sane as anyone else here in the psychiatric ward. My point is this: whether you see yourself as gifted or weird, indispensable or inadequate, depends entirely on the frame of reference you choose. From God’s frame of reference – the life’s work he has chosen for you – no one is as perfectly endowed as you.
If that seems like soppy idealism, you have not thought it through. Do so, and it will become a treasured source of strength and comfort. You could choose any individual and fill volumes with what he or she cannot do or is hopeless at, but that’s of no more concern than the fact that a video recorder cannot fly, wash dishes, quench thirst, tie shoelaces, and prevent tooth decay. Besides the endless list of things a video recorder cannot do, many of the things it can do, it does poorly. It’s an inferior paperweight, straightedge, and bookend. You could use it as a fly-swatter – once. Such lists miss the critical point: anything skillfully designed is ideally equipped – and usually solely equipped – for the specific and commendable purpose for which it was made.
Did you hear about the man who inherited an old violin and an oil painting? Excitedly, he took it to a dealer for evaluation and to his amazement discovered he was the proud owner of a Stradivarius and a Rembrandt. Unfortunately, Stradivarius was an atrocious painter and Rembrandt’s violin was worthless.
An exceptionally attractive woman heard wedding bells whenever she thought of a brilliant composer. ‘With your brains and my looks,’ she told him, ‘what wonderful children we would have!’
Replied the composer, ‘Have you considered a child with my looks and your brains?’
Of course you cannot do everything – that was never your Designer’s intention – but to imagine that your Creator and Savior will not fashion you with perfection for your reason for existence, is to accuse your Maker of impotence and incompetence. Face facts: everything God does is impressive. For the exact role that he created you, you are superbly endowed.
If you think you are called to a ‘normal’ ministry, think again.
Our Leader’s behavior shocked the religious establishment. Christ partied with people considered by others to be crooks, drunks and sluts. (Luke 5:29-30; 7:37-39) A woman of questionable morals kissed his feet. He did things on the Sabbath he wasn’t supposed to. He insulted dignitaries, calling them vipers, blind fools, whitewashed tombs and other endearing names. (Matthew 15:12-14; 23:1-7,13-33) Those closest to him usually had no idea what he was talking about – he’s warning them about the Pharisees and they think he’s complaining about leaving the bread behind (Matthew 16:6-12) – but to those outside his inner circle, Christ wasn’t nearly so intelligible. ‘Eat my flesh and drink my blood,’ he demanded. Multitudes left in disgust. (John 6:53,60,66) He was hailed by demons and spurned by theologians. He spoke to a fever, a tree, even a storm. (Mark 4:39; 11:14; Luke 4:39) Before long, Jesus’ sanity was called into question and at one stage his family came to take charge of him. (Mark 3:21) He was forever messing up funerals, wrecking beggars’ only source of income – their infirmities – and outraging religious leaders. He made goo with spit and smeared it on a beggar’s eyes. (John 9:6, note also Mark 8:23) He stuck his fingers in a man’s ears, spat, and grabbed the man’s tongue. (Mark 7:33) How many churches would tolerate such ludicrous behavior? He took a short-cut across the lake – without a boat. (John 6:19) He sent two thousand swine hurtling to their death. (Mark 5:12-13) He physically assaulted temple workers. (John 2:15) No one – whether friends, family, admirers; devout, legalistic or lax – could agree with him for long.
Are you sure you want to be Christ-like?
Being the embodiment of divine perfection made our Savior such an oddity that no one knew what to do with him. Yet our fallibility will not pave an easier road. Christ pledged us his Spirit and if we dare follow his orders we can expect to be regularly jarring people’s sense of propriety and intelligence, just as he did. That’s the way it has always been.
Sunday after Sunday, the works and lives of Scripture’s heroes are reverently read in pulpits across the land. But if the Bible’s motley crew revisited this planet, would they be honored in our churches? Even the Pharisees revered dead prophets. It’s the live ones that make us squirm. There’s Jesus, who drank, and the Nazarenes who abstained even from grapes. (Numbers 6:4) Solomon wore extravagant finery. Equally holy men wore rags. Paul’s dress would get even an apostle blacklisted in most churches. (Well, if it wasn’t exactly a dress that he wore, what was it? A nightie?) Some lived in palaces and some in caves. Some were free-thinkers in the realm of personal hygiene. Many were in public disgrace, some were even outlaws, yet they refused to conform. Whether they had ice in their veins or permafrost in their brains, you can decide, but they established new frontiers in outlandish behavior.
If you want to stand out like iridescent acne, have the spirit of an Old Testament prophet. Zany publicity stunts were their specialty. You’d think Ezekiel was vying for the weirdest entry in the Guinness Book of Records, lying on just one side for more than a year, fuelling his fire with dung to cook needlessly-rationed food. (God wanted him to use human faeces, but Ezekiel was too straight for that – (Ezekiel 4:4-15)) He dug through a wall, built make-believe siegeworks against a brick he called ‘Jerusalem’, and attacked shavings of his hair. (Ezekiel 4:1-3; 5:1-4; 12:5) Isaiah sauntered around almost starkers for three years. (Isaiah 20:2-4) Hosea got involved with a woman. Pious eyebrows must have shot through the roof. Yet these were not the hare-brained schemes of religious nuts. Men of God were obeying the holy leadings of the Almighty.
See Samson, flat on his face – tripped over his hair again. Nearby is a Nazarite, desperately trying to suppress his laughter (laugh at Samson and you laugh all the way to hospital). Under divine direction, the Nazarite has shaved his entire head. (Numbers 6:9, 18-19) Here we have two men led of the Spirit. One we’d reject because his hair has never seen a razor, the other because his hair has seen a razor. Everyone knows saints must conform to our standards.
I could prattle on forever about the mad-cap antics of clowns like Samson, the long-haired lout who brought the house down – on top of himself; (Judges 16:30) Jacob, who had an angel in a headlock; (Genesis 32:24 ff) Daniel, who ended up on the lion’s menu, not because he prayed but because he insisted on praying on his knees with the windows wide open. (Daniel 6:10) I could lampoon whole armies – like the one that snuck off to battle insisting that the choir go first, (2 Chronicles 20:21) or Joshua’s troops who waddled around in circles to the (short-lived) amusement of Jericho’s inhabitants. (Joshua 6:3) (How embarrassing to be in that dizzy army. The locals must have died laughing.) Or I could slip out of the Bible covers and tell of Luther, who threw an ink pot at the devil; of Wesley, who prayed for his horse’s leg; of Finney who brought jesting factory girls to their knees by merely looking at them; of the nineteenth century ‘funeral’ procession where a Bible-thumper burst out of the coffin and launched a verbal assault on startled on-lookers. I’m telling you, you and I are the first sane Christians that have ever lived!
But honestly, has God stopped prompting people to break with convention, or have we stopped heeding his prompting? Has God exhausted his creativity, or are we exhausting his patience?
If we were more open to the Spirit’s leading would the church have fewer Sunday School teachers and more clowns, cartoonists and puppeteers; fewer choir members and more yodellers, mime artists and totally new forms of music; fewer preachers and more entertainers, movie producers and computer whizzes?
I am being neither radical nor dogmatic. I’m simply pleading for an army of Christ-centered saints, dedicated to allowing the Spirit of God express himself in the way he chooses, rather than the way our tomato brains think he should move. If your ministry seems bland, that’s fine, provided it’s a calling, not a cop-out.