When George Müller, meditating upon the Psalms, came to ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,’ he scribbled in the margin ‘And the stops too.’c
Without attempting an exhaustive list, this book tells the stories of over twenty Bible characters whose earth-changing ministries suffered delay. Heaven’s heroes – Jesus, Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, to name a few – all spent years on the sidelines. I’m honored if God considers me worthy of similar attention.
You are God’s gift. I know you would often find it easier to wrestle a tiger than believe it, but you really are God’s gift to the church and the world.d No wonder you’ve been kept under wraps – you’re gift-wrapped! You don’t give Easter eggs at Christmas. The perfect occasion for your unveiling might have not yet arrived. We have discovered the following reasons why that day may still be future:
¶ God is waiting for circumstances to become more desperate or even humanly impossible.
The final result will then be more glorious.
¶ The exact position in which you will minister has not yet been vacated.
Driving blind-folded through the church car-park might create a vacancy or two. Nonetheless, God’s ways tend to be more refined than ours.
The time-honored approach to creating vacancies is attempted character assassination. But criticism and gossip are no smarter than my first suggestion. There isn’t a great demand for Spirit-filled assassins.
¶ The people you will eventually minister to, or with, need to change.
An evangelist may have to wait until non-Christian hearts are ripe and until the church is primed to receive an influx of new converts. Other ministries might have to wait until the baby Christians are delivered. Such factors are beyond our control. This gives us a choice: we can bewail our helplessness, beating our heads against the nearest pew, or we can rest in the blissful assurance that ‘beyond our control’ does not mean beyond his control.
Your name is on God’s calendar.
¶ You have not snuggled into that part of the body of Christ ordained for you.
At the minimum, this involves being in submission, receiving the ministry of others, and being where you can best minister to others.
¶ You are giving undue attention to a ministry you have not been called to.
If you’re trying to ape someone else’s ministry, no wonder your life’s a circus.
Presumptions often throw us off balance. The One who gave you a unique fingerprint will give you a unique ministry. He who gave you an individual voice will speak to you in an individual way.
¶ You are trying to live without goals.
A basketball court without goals makes more sense than a life without goals.
¶ False confidence has lulled you into not drawing upon God’s resources or not receiving the finer details of his direction.
‘Only when we come to the end of ourselves,’ wrote Colin Whittaker, ‘do we come to the beginning of God.’166 We are strongest when most conscious of our weakness.
¶ You tend to regard service as a means of gaining God’s love.
Love cannot be bought. Christ’s sacrifice is not for sale.
¶ You think you can earn the right to minister.
Like salvation, ministry is not a reward for faithfulness; it’s a gift. It’s not something we attain; it’s a miracle.
¶ You need more biblical knowledge or practical training.
Train, and you won’t miss the bus.
¶ Your store of life experiences is too small.
Paul instructed older women to teach the younger ones how to love their husbands and children.a We hardly need spiritual revelation to know why this task was not entrusted to ten-year-olds.
The more problems you face, the more solutions you will have.b
¶ You have yet to prove yourself faithful in humble tasks.
You start from the top to dig a grave. You don’t begin a life-giving vocation that way.
It is usually the lowly tasks, not the great ones, that best reveal the heart. Like a stone in a slingshot, the lower you sink, the higher you will soar.
¶ You need a further spiritual experience.
Though he had served his apprenticeship, Elisha could never have the mission of Elijah without the Spirit of Elijah.
The sons of Sceva attempted the ministry of exorcism by making what seemed the right noises, without the right spiritual experience. Are you familiar with the scandal? More than their folly was exposed as they high-tailed it out of there.c To their dying day they must have tried to live down that red-faced exit.
Don’t imagine your task is any less perilous. Every ministry enrages demonic powers.
¶ You need further character development.
For instance, you can curb pride now, but could you humbly handle success beyond anything you have ever experienced? God knows.
For fruitful spiritual service you must be full of the fruit of the Spirit. And that fruit grows slowly.
¶ God is disciplining you.
Can you be ripe for ministry if you’re green with envy? Who could make a sweet offering to God with bitterness in their heart? Can you enter holy service with unclean habits?
Steal righteousness from ministry and you are left with a charade.
¶ Had you a vocation now, you would become so engrossed in it as to let it ruin your health, rival your love for God or encroach on other responsibilities.
It’s better to stew for a while than end up in the soup.
¶ You lack faith.
Bowed by the weight of time or buoyed by the wait of faith: it’s up to you.
Royal blood flows in your veins. Dam-busting, mountain-blasting, Satan-crushing power resides in you. You are in Christ, incandescent with God’s glory; one spirit with the almighty Lord of heaven and earth. Jettison the dead-weights of doubt and defeatism and wing to the heights you were born for.
¶ Your prayers lack penetrating power.
‘If you don’t spare your people, Lord, I don’t want to live,’ cried Moses.a Does that mirror the intensity of your prayers for service? A half-hearted request invites a half-hearted reply.
We must pray like the widow badgering the judge, and the neighbor hammering the door in the dead of night until receiving the thing desired.b
¶ You have chosen the soft life.
If your God is not worth suffering for, you don’t know the God and Father of the Lord Jesus. Don’t sell your Savior for the price of a house.
¶ Satan is hindering you.
If oppression brings you to your knees, remember what Christians do best in that position, and victory won’t be far away.
Winds that kill candles make coals glow brighter. We’re a new creation, nothing like the insipid weaklings we used to be. Opposition will merely toughen us. Rise up and assert your Christ-bought authority.
¶ Psychological forces are undermining your progress.
Perhaps in the lower realms of your consciousness is a growing fondness for the sympathy failure attracts, or a driving fear of the disruption, responsibilities and temptation success might bring. Do what were once cruel bars now seem more like friendly protectors against a cold, unpredictable world? The crucified Lord has made your fears groundless. Push on and watch mountains crumble.
¶ You have let past ordeals so discourage or alarm you as to leave you virtually paralyzed.
Success is failure that tried one more time. As we look to God and courageously move ahead, stumbling blocks turn to stepping stones to a beautiful ministry. Not only are apparent failures rarely the disasters we imagine, they are often not even failures. God’s definition of success may be far more generous than you imagine.
Even monsters like sickness and disability might not be hindrances at all.
¶ You have confused waiting with stagnating.
Are you really serving God to your maximum? Though your ultimate service may be out of reach, that is no excuse for doing less than you are presently able. What seems a blocked tunnel is actually a maze. There are always openings. It may be befriending someone, weeding a widow’s garden, intercession or witnessing.
If people are of value only in so far as they further our ministry opportunities, most people are trash. To give them so much as a grunt is to waste your precious time. But if the measure of people’s worth is the price Christ paid for their friendship, then you are surrounded by people of incomprehensible value. To do the tiniest thing for the least of them is an enormous privilege. Grasp this and you will discover that unless you are marooned alone on an island (and even then you can worship and intercede), you are constantly inundated with ministry opportunities. Whenever you meet someone, think to God, ‘How may I show this person your love?’ Anything could happen. You might end up being a little friendlier or breathing a five second intercessory prayer. By some measures the result may seem small, but for a few moments you have allowed yourself to be a critical link in a flood of love from Almighty God to a person of infinite importance. That’s an honor of the highest order.
Ex-slave-trader, John Newton, became an Anglican cleric. His preaching was poor and the results discouraging, but he found an avenue that worked for him: letter writing.167 You could be bed-ridden and too weak to write, yet still bless people over the phone. Ferret opportunities.
Last week, God’s word to you may have been ‘wait’, but is that his word for today? If God has locked a door, has another clicked open without you noticing? Keep testing the locks. Keep looking for alternatives.
Opportunity knocks. It doesn’t gatecrash.
¶ The twenty-fourth possibility is that the obstruction is beyond my discernment, perhaps even beyond human comprehension.
Face it. God does not have my intelligence. If only he would put me in charge. In five seconds islands would be spinning off the globe, angels begging for death, cats giving birth to giraffes, and I would have a ministry.
Until then, know that when unfathomable love and inexplicable wisdom hold you in divine embrace, life will be tinged with mystery but aglow with glory.
Phew! With so many possible holdups, you might wonder if you will ever make it. You will. Anyone itching to serve will come up to scratch. God’s love and power will see to that. Provided you are laying the right foundation, an effectual ministry is certain. In fact, it may be surprisingly close.
How would you feel if while you were away from home suffering rejection, thugs broke into your home, stole everything they liked and burned your house to the ground? What if, in addition, they kidnapped your entire family? What if the same happened to all your friends and everyone for whom you felt responsible? What if all those friends then turned on you, blamed you for the disaster and in grief-blackened rage conspired to kill you? And what if that was just another blow after years on the run as a fugitive, trying to escape the clutches of a king who mobilized your nation’s entire army to kill you? That’s was David’s numbing horror. Just days later – his family, his honor and his possessions restored – he suddenly became king.a
We have established that our term as under-employed saints is neither exceptional, nor unreasonable, nor endless. Delay is almost as inevitable as it is that in God’s perfect time we will receive our heart’s desire. Knowing this may not dissolve our frustration, but it will keep it within manageable proportions.
Our conviction is now rock-hard that, in God, a delay is not some capricious inconvenience. It’s a time of preparation for a Spirit-empowered ministry that outshines your fantasies. You might be on the back burner, but something’s cooking!