State of Play
Phillips Brooks was pacing the floor. ‘What’s the trouble?’ asked a friend. ‘The trouble is that I’m in a hurry and God isn’t!’78
Our Leader often had to wait. Timing was of critical importance in every aspect of Jesus’ ministry.b His followers can expect the same. In fact, ever since Adam waited for Eve’s formation – the fulfillment of a divinely-created longing for a mate – waiting has been an integral part of God’s plan for humanity. It’s thrilling to realize, however, that though life seems at a standstill, things are slowly moving, like the hour hand of a clock. Moreover, we are discovering that many of the retarding factors are within our powers of influence.
CHAPTER 9: WHY LORD?
The torment of waiting is often intensified by the delay seeming pointless. I aim to clip the barbs from that agonizing ‘Why?’ that twists inside us.
In the game of life, how long you stay on the bench often depends on how you pray in the trials.
Israel prayed and God called Moses.a Israel prayed and God called Othniel.b Israel prayed and God called Gideon. Israel prayed and God called Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and Saul and . . .c You get the picture.d
Individual prayers are also spectacularly potent. Moses prayed and God ordained seventy elders.e Jesus prayed all night and twelve disciples were chosen.f
As thunder follows lightning, ministry followed the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus. His disciples’ experience was similar. On both occasions, prayer predominated, as it did when Paul and Barnabas received their missionary call.g And I sense the air was heavy with prayer when elders imparted to Timothy his ministerial gift.h
‘Pray the Lord of the harvest,’ instructed Jesus, ‘that he will thrust laborers into his harvest.’i Prayer and the emergence of ministries march arm in arm. Heaven is a bit old-fashioned. The ‘buy now, pray later’ philosophy has never caught on up there.
I was threatened with a change that would have robbed me of so much time that continuing this book seemed impossible. While writing, I can convince myself that this time will be different; this time God will choose to use me. The possibility of having even that straw snatched from me swamped me with near-panic. I was agitated, worried, almost angry. The anguish of life in deep freeze is indelibly chiseled into the cortex of my mind. Who could forget month after month of coveting death? I dreaded even the briefest return to that dank hole.
I was ashamed of my feelings. They hardly seemed Christian. Why not add a dash of condemnation to the devil’s brew bubbling through my brain?
Looking back, I’m grateful for my ‘unchristian’ emotions. They drove me to fervent prayer. Pain is infinitely preferable to prayerlessly drifting from the will of God.
To follow in the footsteps of ‘the sweet psalmist of Israel’a we would need more than musical genius. If we added David’s extensive theological understanding and spiritual insight, we would still be hopelessly deficient.
We would have to match his patient, forgiving spirit,b his humility,c faith,d intense yearning for God,e his desire for personal holinessf and eagerness to obey the Lord.g
Even then, there would be a hollowness about our lyrics unless we shared David’s privations and exposure to danger. His sufferings lifted his songs from ‘contemporary’ to timeless.
According to Paul, the ability to serve hurting humanity comes not from a textbook but from hardship.h Not even the Son of God could begin his high priestly duties until he had undergone temptations and sufferings.i The principle was established long before Jesus’ birth: levitical priests, though born for the ministry and surrounded by it all their lives, had to wait for their thirtieth birthday before entering the priesthood.j And the principle is still in force: Scripture stipulates that church officers must not be new converts.k
Perhaps, like me, you have envied people who because of a dramatic conversion or worldly fame are quickly thrust into the Christian spotlight. Giving a ministry to a new Christian, however, is like handing your car keys to an eight-year-old.
Nicky Cruz tells of a man born to a drug-selling family. His conversion and subsequent business success brought him to celebrity status in Christian circles. As speaking invitations mounted he felt pressured to sacrifice truth in his quest to satisfy his thrill-seeking audience. This apparently contributed to him seeking the cruel solace of crack. He became tragically addicted.79
‘I thank God that I was struck down in a quiet, little, obscure place to begin my ministry; for that is what spoils half of you young fellows,’ Alexander Maclaren told ministerial students. ‘You get pitchforked into prominent positions at once, and then fritter yourselves away in all manner of engagements that you call duties ... instead of stopping at home and reading your Bibles, and getting near to God.’ Added the man revered as one of the greatest preachers ever, ‘I thank God for the years of early struggle and obscurity.’80
King Rehoboam should have heeded his elders – men older and wiser. Instead, he foolishly took the advice of friends his own age.l In the words of Scripture, he was ‘young and inexperienced’.m After all, he was only forty-one years old!n
We readily admit the folly of youth – after carefully defining ‘youth’ as an age we have past.
In a world of prickly people, Geraldo stood head and thorns above the rest. The venom he spat would inflame a corpse. A church worker struck up a conversation with him. Within five minutes, he later confessed, he felt like smashing Gerald’s head in.
And Don had to work with this piranha-mouth. For five arduous years Don worked with him. Time and again that canon of bile blasted Don’s self-control. But Don was a Christian. He resolved not to pray that his tormentor change, but that he would learn love and mastery over self. For years the inner battle flared. Finally, Don won through. Soon after, he was called into full-time service.
Now an ordained pastor shepherding several hundred people, Don looks back just two or three years to the time of his call and sees a direct link between his character development and the call to his present ministry.
Don is in his fifties.
A magazine put it well when it spoke of a certain Christian artist becoming ‘... an “overnight sensation” after a ten year apprenticeship . . .’81 Godly character and mature, effective service come neither quickly, nor cheaply. But the Lord is worth the costliest sacrifices. Moreover, he has already deposited at Golgotha the highest possible price to ensure you will make it.
A weed may peak in a few months. A mighty tree certainly won’t. Things of great worth are rarely produced quickly.a