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 7: Don’t Panic – God At Work
Waiting For Your Ministry
The Quest For Fulfillment
He looked serious. ‘Grantley, can I be frank?’
‘I guess you can be Frank. Can I be Harry?’
He was not amused. ‘So I’m charged with divine power, eh? Ready to explode into ministry, eh?’
‘You’ve got it!’ I replied.
‘Well, I must have the world’s longest fuse! I’ve been shelved for so long if I were allergic to dust I’d have sneezed to death!’ The last time I blessed anyone was two years ago –’
‘I remember that,’ I interrupted. ‘You lost your voice at choir practice.’
‘Why didn’t someone say something! All they did was mutter about my height when they kept pushing me to the back away from the microphone. And are you sure my little accident last month has nothing to do with my name disappearing from the communion roster?’
‘I haven’t heard. I know that cleaning incident –’
‘Aw, you’re not bringing that up again? It was just a slip of the broom. She was only in hospital overnight.’
‘Could have happened to anyone,’ I replied. ‘And who’d have guessed that at your very first attempt at counseling –’
‘It’s been settled out of court.’ He was almost smiling. ‘Only a matter of time and we’ll be on speaking terms again.’
‘That’s the spirit!’
‘But don’t tell me “Rome wasn’t burnt in a day,” Grantley.’ Face it, no matter what Scripture says, we could both write our achievements on the same postage stamp and have room left over for the Lord’s prayer, the twenty-third Psalm and the entire book of Revelation.’
He’s right. And we’re in excellent company.
Having surmounted enormous obstacles and years of preparation, Adoniram Judson arrived on the mission field. Seven hard years followed. All he had to show for it was one convert. It was about time he moved on to something more beneficial – peddling hair curlers at a Bald is Beautiful convention, developing waterproof pianos for people who sing in the shower, fitting parachutes to birds that are afraid of heights – anything but trying to win souls in Burma.
One day a man came to his house looking for work and instead found Jesus, his Savior. Another pin prick. But this one burst the balloon. The new convert became a powerful evangelist. Dozens, then hundreds, then thousands turned to the Lord. Within a century, over a quarter of a million Christians directly or indirectly owed their spiritual lives to Adoniram Judson.
But that’s eternity’s view. Years after that key conversion, Adoniram’s life still seemed a waste. He was thrown into a death prison and chained to a granite block. Every night guards, ex-criminals themselves, hoisted his ankle fetters high above his head so that only his head and shoulders touched the ground. As he lay in appalling filth, almost every thought produced a new reason for despair. There were then only eighteen converts. Surely most, perhaps all, would fall away or be killed under the new outbreak of persecution. Years of struggle had produced a lone manuscript of a Burmese New Testament and his wife had smuggled it into prison. Any moment it could be discovered and destroyed. His relations with fellow missionaries had been marred by hurtful clashes. He had buried his only child. His own life hung by a thread. He feared for his darling, pregnant wife.
‘I came to bring life,’ he moaned, ‘and have brought nothing but death.’
After a year and a half of cruelty he was finally released. A brief reunion with his precious wife ended with him having to wrench himself from her to assist in political negotiations. Weeks turned to months. Before he could return to his wife, she was dead. Months later, death tore from him his only remaining child, the baby he had battled so hard to save. After two more years of mental deterioration, still numb with guilt over being absent when his wife most needed him, he dug a grave and lingered by it for days on end, his mind churning with morbid thoughts. ‘God is to me the Great Unknown,’ he concluded. ‘I believe in him, but I find him not.’
The mighty Lord hauled him up. He became one of the most admired missionaries of all time.
Sadly, not everyone slogs through the tough ground-breaking years. David Flood’s solitary convert was just a child. When David’s wife died, discouragement won. Leaving his baby daughter, Aggie, with a missionary couple, young David left Africa – and the Lord. After the collapse of his second marriage he took in a mistress. Alcohol, poverty, illness and degradation tightened their deadly strangle-hold.
As his abandoned daughter grew, married and served the Lord, she often thought of the father she had never known. He was 77 when Aggie finally stood at his grimy bedside, ignored the stench, and hugged him. Her love and Christ’s power brought David back to the One who had moved him to ‘waste’ his life in Africa. Aggie also brought startling news. That little convert he had left in Africa had built on the foundation David and his wife had laid and the entire tribe of 600 people had come to Christ.
It’s not only missionaries who are allowed to have lean years.
Immersed in gloom.
Confounded by a curse,
Scorned and spurned.
Haunted by despair,
Mocked by words of doom.
My eyes may fill with tears,
But not with dread or fear.
This grub, wings will sprout.
Founded on his Word;
Before him lay joy and honor, a long and fruitful life, double his past prosperity and the fathering of a superb new family. (Job 42:11-17; compare Job 1:2-3) Job had everything to live for.
Like vine branches, we are not continually laden with fruit. That would be unnatural. (Ecclesiastes 3:1) For a significant portion of its life, a grapevine is nothing but a dry, twisted stick; fruitless, useless for shade, worthless as timber; to all appearances fit only to be ripped from the ground and reduced to ashes. Yet those barren times are as vital in the life of the vine, as the seasons of fruit.
If spring could tip-toe past nature without stirring it from its winter slumber; if the sun could slip through the sky without dispelling the night; if rain could fall to the ground without bringing life to the desert – only then should you fear dry times, dark times, lean times. Though you feel as useless as a fur coat in a heat-wave, the time will come when your warmth is treasured. For everything there is a season.
We could stock a library with stories of spectacularly unsuccessful men and women who eventually sparked massive moves of God. Many closed their eyes in death without seeing the fruit their labors finally produced.
No matter what we think of his views, it is staggering to realize that Søren Kierkegaard’s writings slept for almost a century after his death until translated into English and suddenly stunning the world. And consider the Jim Elliots of this world whose apparently untimely deaths have inspired countless thousands to take up the baton and run in their stead. Though they died seemingly at the very outset of their life’s work, the final result was beyond what a dozen lifetimes could achieve. Still more tantalizing are heaven’s best-kept secrets – triumphs by people we have never heard of, or achievements our slow minds cannot adequately appreciate.
Nonetheless, God established the pattern millenniums ago: Sarah knew nothing but barrenness for ninety distressing years, yet became the ancestress of multiplied millions.
At this very moment, the Lord could be replaying in someone’s mind heaven’s recording of a conversation you had with that person years ago. You’ve forgotten the incident, but God is still using it. What you thought were normal words were Spirit-powered. You don’t feel the warm glow that would be yours if you knew those words were still echoing through the chambers of someone’s mind, but face it: results mean more to you than elusive feelings.
Clearly, the crucial issue is not what God has so far accomplished in our lives. God took twice as long preparing Moses as he did in using him. (Deuteronomy 2:7; 34:7) Joshua’s experience was similar. (Numbers 14:30, 34; Joshua 1:1-2; 24:29) For the Messiah – and perhaps his Baptist forerunner – it was about thirty years’ preparation for three years ministry. In fact, much of Christ’s ministry was packed into the last few days. (E.g., John 12:1 ff; Mark 11:1 ff) Samson accomplished more in his last seconds than in all the rest of his life. (Judges 16:30)
Wine has a longer shelf life than prune juice.
Even for the Christian, life can seem a sadistic joke. In reality, our circumstances are determined by infinite love met by infinite wisdom empowered by infinite might. (Lose sight of that and life’s a muesli bar – all mixed up and nutty.)
We need not flinch from hardship. In a mollusk’s slimy gut a speck becomes a pearl. In the bowels of the earth oppressive conditions turn blobs into diamonds.
If our ministries are at present less than outstanding, there is a reason for it. A good reason. The possibilities are numerous, but usually surprisingly simple. Rarely are God’s ways so beyond us that we cannot, at least in hindsight, marvel at his wisdom. Discovering the reasons for your plight should flood your life with light, liberating you into the joyful expectancy, confidence and trust your Lord wants you to enjoy. Let’s explore the possibilities. I think you’ll find that jigsaw piece you’ve been missing.
Moses was in ‘the backside of the desert’, says the King James Bible. (Exodus 3:1) I’d steer clear of that expression, but there might have been times when Moses was tempted to use it. The desert drop-out stood before the burning bush a broken man, haunted by his inadequacy. (Exodus 4:10-14) He was so long in the tooth, ivory hunters must have started asking after his health. And excuses! When God called him, this word-masher’s comeback was packed with more ‘buts’ than a church pew on Easter morning. As he tried to stammer home his point, he even had the audacity to imply that his deficiencies were bigger than God. What’s a stutter to the One who fashions mouths? What’s a mental block to the Maker of minds?
Poor old tongue-twister – one foot in the grave, and the other in his mouth. Yet it was Moses the word-slurping geriatric, not Moses the headstrong royal, who was on the brink of greatness.
Forty years earlier, fresh from his Egyptian education, strong in body, high in status and political pull, he was keen to help God’s people. But heaven had no use for a budding superstar. Heaven was waiting for a bumbling sheep-minder.
Viewed from the final side of the grave, everything tackled in one’s own strength fizzles. (Compare John 15:5) Only through God could Moses’ splash in time ripple for all eternity. Perhaps it took the full forty years for this realization to become an unshakeable conviction, but it was worth the wait. It became the secret of Moses’ strength, ridding him of the arrogant independence that would otherwise have fouled his service. He was the meekest man on earth. (Numbers 12:3 ff) This precious quality is adorned with exquisite promises.
‘The meek will he guide . . .
‘The meek will increase their joy in the Lord.’ (Isaiah 29:19)
‘The meek will inherit the earth.’ (Matthew 5:5)
Humility – joyous dependence upon the Lord – is the road to honor. (Proverbs 15:33 b; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6-7) The glitter at the end of other roads is a mirage. (Luke 14:11; Proverbs 16:25)
There was a young man with rashes;
(If you wrote poetry like this, you’d be humble, too.)
The issue of pride and humility is a deathtrap strewn with confusion and false concepts. Let’s clear this minefield before anyone else is hurt. We’ll begin with the analogy of a lamb in Bible times.
There’s a pride that says, ‘I can find better pasture than the Shepherd. I’ll always find water. I can handle bears, and lions are probably a myth invented by the Shepherd so he can dominate me.’
Few of us are in danger of such stupidity. Our danger is the independent spirit that says, ‘I adore my wonderful Shepherd, but that grass over the rise looks particularly juicy. I’ll just wander over. I’m growing up. I’ve been out of sight before and everything went fine. If a lion comes I’m sure I can bleat loud enough and the Shepherd can run fast enough . . . ’
There’s an attitude masquerading as humility that beats itself miserable. ‘I’m dumb. I’m ugly. I’m hopeless.’ Give no room to this imposter. But there’s a humility that rejoices in the certainty that the Shepherd knows best. Having abandoned faith in itself or in luck, it puts all its hope in the Shepherd, believing that to leave him out of sight for a second is to flirt with disaster. This virtue hugs the Shepherd, delighting in his every whisper, feasting on his goodness. Sometimes humility is led over rocky terrain but ultimately it enjoys the best pasture and the highest security. Not only is it not mauled by predators, it produces the best wool and the best offspring. It sometimes staggers up hills to stay with its Shepherd but it frolics in the warmth of the Shepherd’s love.