By ‘ministry,’ I mean a calling; a divinely ordained area of service that thrills the heart of God and touches needy humanity. It might not be full-time pastoral or missionary work, but from heaven’s perspective, it is of equal stature. Whether full-time, part-time, or spare-time, a ‘ministry’ is sacred, fulfilling, and of immense significance. Irrespective of how recognized it is on earth, it will be forever honored by heaven.
I refer not just to serving God, but doing so to our highest capacity. It is far from easy. It stretches us to the limit. But for each of us it is the one type of service that gives Almighty God the greatest praise and us the greatest satisfaction. As a missionary can be in the will of God before becoming a missionary, so we can be in the will of God before entering our ministry. Our life consists of more than ministry, just as a plumber’s life consists of more than plumbing. Nevertheless, it is one of the thrilling aspects of Christian life.
Though it would be valid to call all obedient service ‘ministry’, I use the term in a narrower sense. Let me illustrate. With Christ-like grace and dignity, Joseph served God in Egypt as slave and prisoner, yet he could not, and should not, have viewed that as his destiny. Lodged within his heart, fired by a dream, was a divine restlessness which he dare not quench. Not all godly service, but his ultimate vocation, the earthly culmination of his yearnings, is the type of service on which this book focuses.
It’s not the task that makes the difference, but the call of God. Had Joseph a different calling, slavery might have been the ‘something more’ he craved from his youth, the assignment he was born for. If so, it would have been the one activity through which he could find completion. Though worldly voices shout that slaving is always inferior, when still and receptive to the Spirit’s whispers, Joseph would know if God had endowed him with the rare ability to elevate slavery to a holy vocation.
Preaching with pens, the apostle Paul, John on Patmos and John Bunyan turned prisons into pulpits from which they shook the world. Likewise, Saint Ignatius, Madame Guyon and Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned while penned, inking their names into history’s pages. And the crucified Christ turned being treated like the lowest criminal into the highest ministry. So in theory, suffering unjust imprisonment could have been the ultimate for Joseph, carrying with it as much eternal acclamation as being Pharaoh’s right-hand man. To urge Joseph down that path, however, would be the devil’s work, seducing him to abandon his dream of becoming a ruler. His faith in dreams was critical. It was dream interpretation, you may recall, that secured his release and allowed him to fulfill his destiny.a
Perhaps, like Joseph in prison, you are already serving God, but it somehow feels hollow, as though you’re still in the ‘waiting’ stage of your life. Fellow workers know they have arrived and they may try to comfort you, urging you to regard this as your destination, too. But though their motives are honorable and they may be reciting divine pronouncements about their own mission, they could be enticing you to miss your unique call.
Now you see my dilemma. One person’s destiny is another’s detour. The vocation of one is the temptation another of another. How can one book address people with such diverse calls? And if ministries differ, so do roadblocks to ministry. Some of us have cold feet, others a hot head, others a lukewarm spirit. A few, like baby bear’s porridge, are just right. Some of us have never neared our vocation, while others, equally needy and promising, agonies over having seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and blown it.
Addressing such a diverse audience makes it inevitable that tensions run through this book, threatening to tear it apart. Yet to write separate books is even more hazardous. What if the wrong one reached you?
Thank God, there’s an answer. I rely heavily upon the Spirit of God, trusting him to spotlight those truths you specifically need. If you join your prayers with mine, God will use this book to speak to you.
As you slip through this book, various themes will rise and fall. Like waves on the sea shore, thoughts will recede, then reappear. I pray this rhythmical ebb and flow will prove as therapeutic to you as it has to me. Rather than lull you into a hypnotic sleep, however, these waves are breakers designed to jolt you awake.
Ezekiel feared his words were like a lullaby when his listeners needed a trumpet blast.b Unlike Ezekiel, who brought accusation to the hardened, I bring comfort to the hurting, yet even I fear lullabies. Electrifying truths that lilt by without charging you with hope is my nightmare. My mission is to soothe down-trodden and confused souls and then see them to soar, not sleep. So I write staccato and use cymbals as well as violins. Instead of bridges tempting you to hurry on, I sometimes leave chasms, enticing you to pause and assimilate. My aim is to lift you, not for a month, but forever. For this to happen truths must hit with new force. The clash of rapidly changing subject matter should help. And when a vital truth is in danger of fading from your consciousness you need it to splash over you again. At least that’s my excuse for a book that reads like divine revelation filtered through a scrambled brain. As you ride its waves you will lurch and lunge like a tiny boat on a wild sea. That should keep you awake.
You’ll find the humor comes in waves, too. In fact, it’s about to wave good-bye and duck out of sight for quite a while. It will rear its cheeky head again. (There was humor on every page until someone corrected my spelling.)
The book is peppered with Scripture references. These are an incentive to consult a book superior to mine. Occasionally, I will introduce a thought you would like to pursue a little deeper. That’s your clue to check out a footnote. Another of my eccentricities is that since my creativity stops short of inventing facts, I believe your right to truth includes the right to know my source (someone must take the blame). Perhaps only one reader will benefit from some references, but I beg your indulgence. I long to serve that reader.
I have a nose for a good story (I’m told you could write most of War and Peace on it). So to add interest and substance, I cite the stories of nearly three hundred women and men. Each person was selected because a facet of their lives exemplifies a valuable principle. It is not an endorsement of their ministries or doctrine. Some are not even Christians. I take my lead from God’s book, crammed with accounts of idolaters and shabby saints. The Holy Book invites us to feast on Solomon’s wisdom without partaking of his folly; to see divine power and mercy in the story of Jonah, the cold-hearted wimp; to be proud of David the giant-killer and ashamed of David the adulterer.
It is imperative that this book be life-changing, but my love-gift to you and the Lord is the pain and prayer joyfully dedicated to making the book entertaining and a delight to read. When God does something it’s not just functional, but beautiful; not arid necessity but brimming with unexpected joys. He made the sun, for instance, not just an essential power-house but a warm bath of pleasure, delighting and inspiring all humanity. That divinely fashioned orb is more than a time-piece. Its rays don’t just illuminate, they sparkle and dance, they paint rainbows and the ever-changing splendor of endless sunsets, splashing color through all the earth with unrestrained exuberance. Everything God does displays his inexhaustible creativity and generosity.
How I long to be more like Father!