Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are God’s way of fitting us for service.c That’s what the Word says. So I need to come under the sway of people exercising these gifts.
These offices are Christ’s victory gift to the church; the expression of his love and the climax of his triumph over the forces of evil.d To proudly imagine we don’t need them is to slight our mighty Deliverer, spurn his loving gifts and insult his unapproachable wisdom.
Between lion and bear attacks, lost sheep, pasture finding, lambing, sling practice, running errands for Dad and being picked on by his brothers, David developed his musical talents. He would sing to the sheep, the rocks, the fields, but most of all, to the Lord. Perhaps none of his early songs were published, yet from this embryo grew some of the most precious parts of Holy Writ. Try figuring all the nations, generations and individuals indebted to his devout busyness. (If that calculation doesn’t boost paracetamol sales, nothing will.)
A psychologist handed people a basketball and asked them to shoot a few baskets. After recording their scores they were divided into three groups. The first group did nothing, the second practiced daily and the rest spend twenty minutes a day just vividly imagining they were practicing. Twenty days later they were retested. Those who did nothing showed no improvement, the practice group improved 24%, while those who simply used their imagination showed a virtually identical improvement of 23%.173 That’s astounding, but of little practical help to people able to engage in full practice. For people unable to practice physically, however, a torrent of exciting possibilities rush to the brain.
If you presently have no invitations but by faith you see yourself as a preacher, you can (and should) engage in regular sermon preparation and preach it to the dog. Practice in front of a thousand people would be a valuable but unlikely experience. That’s where the above finding comes in. In your daydreams, you can preach to whatever size congregation you feel comfortable and over time gradually increase its size in your mind until it is enormous.
That goal-shooting experiment is a fragment of a strong body of evidence suggesting that such regular, detailed employment of your imagination will empower you to be dropped into the pulpit of a large church and begin a hundred sermons ahead of where you would have had it not been for your mental practice. With sufficient prayer and diligence you could almost start from the top. There is nothing miraculous about this, because you actually started below what most people consider bottom – an audience of zero – and for this approach to reach its full potential you must in faith devote as much effort to your non-existent audience as you would for a real audience. By faithfully doing this, however, you could save yourself much embarrassment and jump years ahead in the maturity of your preaching style – to say nothing of what your hearers might by spared.
Many salespeople have more than doubled their selling by mentally going through their sales pitch and answering every objection they could possibly think of.174 The implications for improved witnessing are obvious.a So, I hope, are the ways this principle can be applied to the particular ministry you are believing for. Of course, we must remain as dependent as ever upon the Holy Spirit, who powerfully compensates our inadequacies, not our laziness.
In his late teens, Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) felt the call of China. How could he ready himself? Language was an obvious start. He scrounged a Chinese Gospel of Luke, but everything else eluded him – no dictionary, no grammar, no teacher. Language study would have to wait. Yet such a cop-out was intolerable for this determined teenager. He analyzed that Chinese Gospel, comparing verse after verse, checking and rechecking until he ascertained the meaning of a single character. By this tedious method he unlocked the meaning of over five hundred characters, saving valuable time on the mission field. No wonder God empowered this man’s ministry.
As a child he had learnt to dress quickly because, lectured his godly father, that is something he would have to do at least once, every day of his life.175 Such discipline enabled him to cram further studies into a busy life. Having learned that medical knowledge would be useful in China, he revised his Latin. To this he added the theologically significant languages of Greek and Hebrew.
While undergoing medical studies in London he received two offers to bear all his expenses. He declined both, forcing himself into a situation where he had to trust God for his finances, like he knew he would have to in China.176
Spiritual preparation received the priority it deserved. Was there anything he could do on the physical level? Life in China would be rough. He decided to toughen himself by discarding his mattress. He exercised, economized and ate plain food.
So rigorous and daring was his preparation that his time in England makes as fascinating reading as his time in China. In fact, the two volume biography by his son and daughter-in-law, devotes an entire volume (a mammoth five hundred-plus pages) to Hudson’s first twenty-eight years of life. This is despite the fact that his influence continued to expand right up until his death at age seventy-three, and despite the fact that his biographers could better use their personal knowledge in the later years. After sifting the evidence, they concluded that this emphasis on Hudson’s preparation and early ministry years was warranted if one were to adequately account for his eventual success.177
Don’t Spend Time; Invest It
When fifteen-year-old Samuel Chadwick felt the call of God, he did something about it – five hours study a day after a twelve-hour stint at the mill.178
Perhaps, as was my lot for several years, even secular employment has shunned you. Yet if you are not trimming your rest and leisure to the minimum, something is amiss. We should be constantly cultivating our skills, striving to enhance every ability divinely entrusted to us. To cease to grow is to begin to die. Formal training is wholly compatible with being Spirit-led. God deserves our best. Sure, it’s hard work. Frame the words of George Bernard Shaw, ‘... the harder I work, the more I live.’
There is a world of difference between trusting and rusting.
Most Christian service involves communicating with people. So even if the nature of our calling is uncertain, training in communication skills or interpersonal relationships is likely to be helpful.
A second language or culture presents innumerable ministry possibilities. For instance, the sparseness of Christian material in most languages is appalling. No one has bothered to translate more than a shamefully small portion of the spiritual riches available in English. Consider Hindi. There has been a Christian witness in India for more than a millennium. I could not guess how many missionaries have toiled on that sub-continent. And yet the world’s third most spoken language can boast not even one complete Bible commentary.179 It does not require great proficiency to be part of a translation team – the final polishing could even be completed by non-English speakers – but if you already have some familiarity with another language or culture you are so far ahead of the rest of us that I suggest you need nothing less than a revelation from heaven before allowing that knowledge to fade.
Indeed, be cautious about allowing any past skill or experience to fall away. John Bunyan, the most published and most translated writer in all of Christianity since the completion of Scripture, did so little to maintain his meager education that he apparently lost the ability to read and write. When he finally recognized the value of these skills he had to arduously relearn them.180 Consult the only One who can see ahead, before acting as if your past is of no relevance to your future.
To write this book efficiently, in addition to the mandatory prayer and Bible study, I learnt
toych touch twyping. To that I added computing. (I can now talk authoritatively about software problems without once mentioning moth holes, too much starch, or stretched elastic.) I crammed what I could about publishing, grammar, prose, and poetry (Mary had a little lamb . . .). I spent hours trying to nurture writing skills, stretch my vocabulary, and so on. Audio recording, drama, music, video production, public speaking and speed reading are other areas I would like to explore. They might open new ministry possibilities for me. At the least I will have some useful skills, even if I never get the hang of television viewing.
Your list will be different. It might entail perfecting your culinary skills for the ministry of hospitality, learning a musical instrument for possible use in a home fellowship, developing your artistic flair, attending a counseling course and gaining experience in personal evangelism.
A married couple may feel led to develop complementary skills – while he’s learning Thai cooking, she’s studying first aid.
Don’t learn short-hand in the hope of finding a church that’s short-handed. Seek divine direction.
Some activities God suggests may surprise you. Before her seventeenth birthday, Florence Nightingale felt a call of God on her life. She longed to prepare but the nature of her vocation remained a mystery. So she studied mathematics. Don’t laugh. Biographers insist that mathematics was a key to Miss Nightingale’s success.181 On the other hand, Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed his famous preaching and counseling owed much to his medical training.182 Let me confuse you further: one of my Bible College lecturers claimed his study of mathematical statistics had positively influenced his thinking more than his theological degree. We must quash the lie that only a few spheres of knowledge are of value to God.
Several times, a photograph of an ancient moss-covered tree caused my spirit to leap, filling me with love, praise and adoration for the Creator of that tree. Many respected Christian songs, books and sermons have moved me less than that photo. Yes, God can empower even photographic ability.
When every area of your life is submitted to God, every area is impregnated with heavenly glory. If God used Peter’s shadow and Paul’s handkerchief,a he can use your hobby.
Two years after Stella Cox arrived in Japan she discovered the potential of American cooking as an evangelistic tool. Over the years Stella has become one of Japan’s ‘experts’ on American cuisine and has published a book on the subject. Before her class taste their day’s cooking they sing a Christian song and hear a Bible story. Stella’s commitment is typified by the story of one of her converts who came to Christ after attending these classes for nine years. Missionary to Africa, Joy Johnson, would pooh-pooh the idea of using cooking for soul-winning. She uses crochet.183
Michelangelo had great potential as a poet, yet he let the gift stagnate for thirty adult years. Perhaps he made the right choice, but who knows what he might have given the world had he, even as a hobby, infused more of his life into his literary gift?184
Paul Brand’s contribution to the treatment of leprosy is legendary. His name will always appear in the history of medical advance, and his prominence has afforded him unique opportunities to magnify Christ. Yet he nearly missed it. Several times he rejected the opportunity to study medicine; first, because the thought of doctoring turned his stomach, and later because he could not bear the thought of deferring missionary work for all the years that medical study demands.185
The place of study can be as crucial (and as surprising) as the field of study. Union Seminary taught John Sung liberal theology that caused this brilliant academic to drift from God and brought such distress that he was confined to a mental asylum. It was in that asylum that he received his valuable theological training through studiously reading the Bible from cover to cover forty times.186
The automatic telephone was developed by an undertaker, Kodachrome film by a musician, the pneumatic tire by a veterinarian, the typewriter by a farmer, the locomotive by a coal miner. The father of the electric motor was a bookbinder; of photography, an army officer; of the telegraph, a portrait painter.187 These facts whisper two things. First, what you do outside your working hours can be highly significant. Second, you probably have latent abilities in fields you have hardly explored.