What God Wants

25 08 2010

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.   Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9)

“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

To say I remember it clearly would not quite be accurate because it happened more than once.  In fact, it occurred at nearly every youth convention I attended (which was about half a dozen of the Evangelical, Wesleyan-Arminian variety).  The scene was something like this:  In a mid-sized stadium, hundreds, even thousands, of teens gathered around the platform where the speaker had just invited them to come—some raised their hands with tears in their eyes, while others cast their ID wrist bands onto the platform as a sign of their commitment.  At times the invitation was to become or re-commit to being Jesus’ disciples.  But more often than not the invitation was to answer the call to full-time Christian service:  pastor, missionary, youth worker, etc.  And yes, at one or more of those invitations you would have seen me with those gathered up front.

What I appreciated about these regular invitations was the emphasis on the idea that accepting Jesus into one’s life ought to be about more than escaping Hell.  However, as I sit here now as a 37 year old who has served as a pastor for seven years, I find myself experiencing the flaws of such an approach to teen ministry.  What the well intentioned leaders of these youth conventions probably did not realize is that they put vocational ministry before the eyes of many eager-to-please teenagers as the ultimate thing that could be done in one’s walk with God.  In fact, it seemed to be the real goal and terminus of Christ’s work of salvation.  In other words, Christ died and rose again to save us from our sins so that we could do ministry in His kingdom—especially vocational ministry.

Now, often the speaker of the night would reassure those who remained in their seats that their lives were very important and that they needed to honor God and be effective evangelists in whatever secular vocation they choose to undertake.  But actions speak louder than words—it was only those who sensed a call to become pastors and missionaries that were asked to come forward!  (There was one exception to this that I remember, where the speaker urged the teens to ask the Lord to show them which vocation He was leading them into—and that pastors and Christian accountants alike were equally crucial to God’s Kingdom work)

To cut to the chase for me personally, over the last two years I have not been able to carry on a vocational, pastoral ministry.  This is in part because I attempted to go back to school in an effort to fulfill what I thought God’s calling on my life was ultimately aiming for—teaching Christian ministries at the college level.  Those attempts failed—and it felt like I failed in God’s calling on my life.  Subsequently, (to this point, anyway), I have not returned to pastoral ministry either—something else I have always been quite sure God had called me to.

Yes, this has created no small crisis in my walk with the Lord—and such a crisis seems to be exactly what He was aiming at for me.  But why?!?!  Isn’t fulfilling God’s calling on my life what being a disciple of Jesus is really all about?  Isn’t it a waste to be out of the ministry for all this time?  What does God want from me anyway?!  I thought I knew . . . now I feel lost—homeless, nameless, purposeless.

Thankfully I’m not the first one to navigate these waters.  Others await me to help steer  my course—such as Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest:

“As long as you think there is something in you, He cannot choose you because you have ends of your own to serve. . . .  He can do nothing with the man who thinks that he is of use to God. . . .  We do not know what God is after, but we have to maintain our relationship with Him whatever happens.  We must never allow anything to injure our relationship with God; if it does get injured we must take time and get it right.  The main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain . . . That is all God asks us to look after, and it is the one thing being continually assailed.” (from the August 4th entry)

And again on August 5th Chambers is unrelenting:

It cannot be stated definitely what the call of God is to, because His call is to be in comradeship with Himself  for His own purposes, and the test is to believe that God knows what He is after. . . .  A Christian is one who trusts the wits and wisdom of God, and not his own wits.  If we have a purpose of our own, it destroys the simplicity and the leisureliness which ought to characterize the children of God.”

I still very much believe that God extends specific and important calls to individual men and women in Christ.  But too often we forget, at least I had forgotten, that our God is a jealous God and He will not tolerate any rivals—not even if that rival is the very call He placed on my life.  In short, God’s call had become a god and an idol.  It therefore ceased to belong to the One who gave it, and became a special possession of my very own:  God’s call became MY call.

Yes, my heavenly Father delights in my service to Him, but His primary delight is in me as His child and my nearness to Him.  I pray that someday soon I will be able to pray the following prayers with joy and sincerity.  The first is from John Wesley’s Covent service, the second is from John Henry Newman:

The Covenant Prayer:

Let us claim the covenant God has made with his people, and accept the yoke of Christ.  To accept the yoke of Christ means we allow Christ to guide all that we do and are, and that Christ is our only reward.

I give myself completely to you, God.  Assign me to my place in your creation.  Let me suffer for you.  Give me the work you would have me do.  Give me many tasks or set me aside while you call others.  Put me forward or humble me.

_______________________

God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another, I have my mission – I  may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next…. I have a part in a great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection  between persons.  He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good, I  shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my  own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments and
serve him in my calling.
Therefore I will trust him.  Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be  thrown away.  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him; in perplexity,  my perplexity may serve him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him.   My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us.  He does nothing in vain; he may prolong my life, he may shorten it; he knows what he is about.  He may take away my friends, he may throw me among strangers, he may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me – still he knows what he is about.
— John Henry Newman

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