It was wrong for Abraham to play God in begetting Ishmael. It would have been appropriate, however, for him to get ready for Isaac’s birth. He could have increased Sarah’s health insurance, wallpapered the nursery, practiced burping a cucumber, bought some Kimbies,a started knitting booties, or whatever fathers did 2000 BC.
Such planning is faith in action, as contrasted with his faith-less action of fathering Ishmael. Preparing for a promised ministry is a spiritual world away from storming out of God’s plan, trying to gatecrash into ministry. Discerning the difference, however, sometimes demands heavy duty prayer.
In Abraham’s case, planning was barely necessary. He was rich and Sarah’s figure would give adequate warning. Many ministries, however, require years of preparation.
If faith affirms that a heavenly assignment lies ahead but the details are hazy, how can we prepare? Joseph’s life yields a valuable clue. The rise of David, shepherd-boy-cum-giant-killer, confirms it. Let’s consult heaven’s file on these men.
Joseph plummeted from the life of despised brother, to rejected slave, to forgotten prisoner. Had there been a spark of hope when he interpreted the butler’s dream, the swirling fog of two interminable years had snuffed that out.b Suddenly he was spectacularly catapulted into an astounding vocation. He went from being ridiculed as a dreamer, to being incarcerated as a rapist, to being revered as a head of state.
What an encouragement! Joseph’s God is our God. The time for your challenging, fulfilling ministry may be startlingly close.c Playfully hiding behind the gloom might be a dynamic vocation ready to spring into sight, shout ‘Surpri-i-ize!’ and joyfully embrace you.
This is no fantasy. Scripture was penned to show what we can expect from our amazing God.
But forget it – unless you act like Joseph.
Having been wrongfully enslaved, it was natural to detest the foreign tyrant who claimed literally to own his body and mind. Like a POW sabotaging his enemy’s plans wherever possible, Joseph should have rebelled. He should at least have resolved to do only what was essential to avoid a beating from his hated owner.
But this was a man of God. He refused to let discouragement, bitterness or sloth ensnare him. He chose to be diligent in the menial, degrading tasks thrust upon him.
A despised slave he may be, but Joseph determined with God’s help, to be the best slave his master had ever seen.
‘God has abandoned me. What’s the point of remaining true to him?’ Such Satanic thoughts must often have invaded his mind. Yet he remained steadfast, no matter how lonely he felt in a foreign land, no matter how delightfully seductive and powerful Potiphar’s wife was. It might cost his life – if exceptionally lucky he would merely rot in prison – but he preferred to be a frustrated virgin, publicly branded a rapist, than become a favored trustee, guilty of secret sin.
He was so diligent as a slave that he became head-slave; so reliable as a prisoner he became head-prisoner.
His own dream mocked and haunted him.d To cling to it now was preposterous. Yet, clawing up faith’s cliff-face, he sought God on behalf of his fellow prisoners, interpreting their dreams.e
Though the interpretation was verified, his cell-mate treacherously abandoned him – just like his former master’s wife and even his brothers. Yet the candid biblical record reveals no hint of bitterness.a
Lesser people would have despaired. Others would have held grudges. But whatever the task before him, no matter how loathsome, he did energetically,b always keen to give God full credit for any praise that came his way.c He clasped God’s promises, choosing to fixate on them, rather than on his plight.
This man of God was faithful, not just in major moral issues, but in everyday affairs; not only for weeks, but for years. That’s waiting in style. God loves rewarding such persistence.
A Platoon of Sheep?
Who would have thought the key to becoming a war hero would be the experience gained in minding Dad’s sheep? It happened to David. He owed his magnificent triumph over Goliath to the faith and skills developed in playing nurse-maid to sheep.d By regularly proving God in his everyday work, he was ready to be used in an astonishing way when the occasion arose.
His path took an unexpected turn. So might yours.
Our present experiences may seem utterly irrelevant to future service, but with David’s God in control, you never know. The secret is to maintain the daring faith and faithfulness of David and Joseph. It transforms mundane, irksome tasks into powerful preparation.
Scripture: Our Launching Pad
There is a man who is not only unmusical, he likes music less than almost all of us. Yet there are musicians who value his contribution to their subject. Why? Because of his Bible knowledge.
The most helpful book I have seen for Christian singles is by Michael Cavanaugh. He is not only married, he married early. I seethed as I read it. I have suffered immensely as an unmarried without discovering the truths he knows. Here is a married person with a ministry to thousands of singles and I can’t even help myself. Why? I have equal access to truth’s source – God and his Word. Cavanaugh has made better use of this privilege than me. He’s the one with the ministry.
Anyone steeped in Scripture, thoroughly taught of God through his Word, is an expert on the spiritual side of any topic. Could it be otherwise, given the finality of Scripture in spiritual matters? Truth will evade us, however, until Bible study moves beyond brain stimulation to a dynamic interaction with the living God.
I recently learnt you should never write on an empty stomach. Surveys confirm that manuscripts are more likely to be published if written on paper or a computer. It has taken me years to pick up tips like that. Had I devoted more of my earlier life to developing writing skills, you might be reading a better book. I did not realize writing would assume such importance in my life. When it comes to Bible study, however, I have no excuse. I don’t need the vaguest clue about the future to know my need for thorough Bible knowledge. It’s the basis of all service.
Can you imagine:
¶ a weaponless warrior?e
¶ a sower without seed?f
¶ a Moses without the commandments?
¶ a Job not treasuring God’s words above his ‘necessary food’?g
¶ a Psalmist not devoted to God’s Law?h
¶ a Jeremiah who couldn’t say, ‘Thy words were found, and I did eat them’?b
¶ a Jesus inept at wielding those authoritative words, ‘It is written,’ to defeat Satan, shame his opponents and comfort the hurting?c
¶ a Peter not spieling such phrases as, ‘This is what was spoken by the prophet . . .’?d
¶ a Paul more familiar with the gladiatorial results than Scripture?e
¶ a Book of Revelation without Old Testament allusions in nearly seventy per cent of its verses?
You’re either grounded in the Word or grounded. And don’t think a spectacular spiritual experience makes you an exception.
The Spirit, Jesus told his disciples, will bring to their minds all that he had taught them.f Note the order: first teaching is embedded in the mind, then the Spirit activates it. That’s the norm. A self-induced ignorance is unlikely to inspire God to miraculously compensate for our laziness.
Saul of Tarsus was no sooner converted than he was preaching with amazing power, proving to Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.g How? By the Spirit drawing upon Saul’s lifetime of intense Bible study.
Peter’s Pentecostal sermon was more than the flash an explosive spiritual experience; it was the climax of Bible studies that began as a child and culminated with years of teaching and interaction with Jesus.h His whole sermon was Old Testament quotes and allusions, laced with a brief reference to his experience of Jesus’ ministry. Check it out.i
Our Lord will not perpetually pump life into the shriveled ministry of anyone unwilling to embrace the pain and joy of serious Bible study.
Perhaps the most valuable time of John Bunyan’s life was his lengthy imprisonment when he was locked up with the Word of God. All sorts of wondrous truths opened to him, girding his future service with divine power. Would God have to resort to such drastic methods before we will give adequate attention to his Word?171
Many people have needlessly perished in Australian deserts beside disabled vehicles. Though modern technology has changed things, what magnified the tragedy of past incidents is that people died because they forgot that the drinkable water they critically needed was in the engine radiator. A tragedy of potentially equal proportions is people who carry Bibles around and fail to imbibe its life-giving sustenance or, more likely, fail to appropriate its truths into their everyday living.
God commanded Joshua to meditate upon Scripture ‘day and night.’j But this was not an end in itself. The goal was to ‘observe to do according to all that is written.’ Whoever does this, God promises, will be ‘prosperous’ and ‘have good success.’
Likewise, the psalmist ‘hid’ Scripture in his heart, not because of some holy ritual, but so that he ‘might not sin.’k
In Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders, both classes of people represented were familiar with the Word of God. The foolish ones, however, did not put it into practice.l
In a daring experiment Dr Masanore Kurantsune and his wife – while she was nursing her infant – limited themselves to the same impoverished diet that caused horrific malnutrition in Japanese concentration camps during World War II. After 233 days on this apparent death-diet the couple and their baby showed no ill effects. Their secret? Instead of cooking goodness out of their food, they ate it raw.172
Doubt, liberal theology, or not seeking the Spirit’s interpretation of the Bible can leach the goodness out of life-giving Scriptures, leaving even avid Bible readers malnourished.
We all talk about it, but I wonder if any of us fully recognize the power in those pages. Great wisdom is the inheritance of those who devour its words.a Every time we open the Bible, we are investing in a future ministry. Every word adds power to that ministry. There is no substitute.
Plunge deep enough into the Word, and you will emerge with a ministry.b