As long as God, the Genius running my life, knows what he is doing, I can tolerate being mystified. Even if he told me, there are sure to be aspects of God’s wisdom beyond my intellectual grasp. Moreover, it could be dark in the nest because God is hatching something. It might be humility (better to be blind-folded by God than blinded by arrogance), it might be faith or patience, but when God keeps us in the dark, something good is incubating.
Too often, however, we remain ignorant for a less profound reason: we have not bothered to ask. The possibility of hearing from the Lord seems too remote to warrant the effort of genuine prayer.
I am like the prodigal’s brother in Jesus’ parable.a ‘The father doesn’t give me so much as a kid,’ I almost grumble, forgetting that guidance, revelation – everything the Father has – is mine for the asking.
‘Ask ... seek,’ said Jesus. Dare I ignore his plea? How else can I know whether I should work harder or sleep longer; study engineering or needle-work; live off widow’s tithe’s or support myself?
As I entered an office to pick up rubbish for shredding I spied a woman penning the details of a phone message. She held the pen with her toes. Most of us were born with feet like that.
I know a man who gives an impressive rendition of the William Tell Overture by tapping his teeth with his fingernails. We have teeth like that.
All but a speck of our inborn potential has atrophied. So much depends on where we channel our efforts.
I could hardly expect high achievement pouring my life into work God has not planned for me. And if I treat as a mere sideline what God regards as my vocation, I am unlikely to nurture it adequately through prayer, faith and practice. Even moderate success would be dubious.
Without a goal to aim at, we are aimless. It’s taken me far too long to grasp that simple logic. Discussions of goals merely used to depress me because I had no goal. Now the fearful prospect of an aimless existence at least drives me to form one goal – to seek God until he reveals the goals he wants me to have. Until we can have at least a short-term goal, we are powerful vehicles revving in neutral.
It must have looked a funny sight – Henry Ford attacking his work shed with an axe. With the door frame in pieces he started on part of the wall. Henry had just completed building his first automobile. Things has gone rather well, except for one detail. Trapped inside his shed was a car bigger than the door.205
If we do not plan ahead, we could end up looking a little ridiculous.
We must hound God for goals, priorities, direction.
Imagine an abandoned seal pup reared in a dog kennel. See its exhausted waddle; a pathetic attempt to keep up with its friends. It is outclassed at everything – even at tail wagging!
Yet, if only it knew it, this lumbering laughing stock is the embodiment of grace and beauty. Plop this clumsy fool in water and marvel. See its lightning reflexes as it traps elusive fish by raw speed and intelligence; diving, leaping, somersaulting with awesome ease.
Many of us are like that. We look and feel hopeless, simply because we have yet to find our sea.
It would be presumptuous to take natural ability, or a love of a specific ministry as conclusive proof of God’s call. God ordained that only people born to Levite families could become temple singers or musicians. Do you think that in all of Israel only Levites loved music or had musical ability? Or do you imagine that God despised the musical gifts of everyone else?
Hymn-writer and skilled violinist Hugh Haweis wrote, ‘Music is not the business of my life, but it remains its sweetest recreation.’206 He served as an Anglican priest.
A housewife with a mediocre voice decided to play some Christian music while she worked. As she switched on the stereo she felt the Lord say, ‘You are blessed when you hear this music, but I am blessed when you sing to me.’
Our wonderful Lord deluges us with gifts, some of which may be intended only for private enjoyment.a Let’s underestimate neither the honor of a private audience with the eternal King of creation, nor the joy it gives him. Don’t be like Judas who considered it a waste when Mary poured all her valuable perfume upon Jesus alone.b
Even if God has already used us in a certain ministry, it would be short-sighted to conclude the Lord wants us to remain in it for life. Many people who started as youth workers, for example, have become pastors. Others, contrary to popular brain-washing, have found their highest calling only after leaving pastoral work. Duane Logsdon reeled with guilt-feelings when he concluded he was called out of an effective pastoral ministry into the business world. It seemed to jar, not just against his upbringing, but against the values he himself had passionately preached. Despite hurtful accusations, Duane submitted to God’s call and accomplished much for the kingdom, including financing missions to the tune of millions of dollars.207
Satan does all he can to deviate us from God’s calling. A world-famous evangelist revealed in a seminar that he had received countless alluring offers to engage in teaching or pastoral work. He believed yielding to such a request would divert him from the evangelistic ministry God has chosen for him.
Discerning your gifts and discovering how God intends you to use them are often difficult, but never impossible. You are on this planet for a purpose. Find it.
Grab God’s Ear
Barbara Cartland, the world’s most successful romantic novelist, kept hearing complaints from budding writers. They alleged that publishers were rejecting excellent manuscripts simply because the authors were unknown. Deciding to test this, Barbara submitted her next manuscript under a different name. It was rejected. She resubmitted it under her real name and it outsold even her previous works.208
Don’t imagine the Christian world is free from such prejudice. Gifted poet, James Montgomery, regarded George Sandys’ poetical paraphrase of the Psalms as easily the best in the English language. ‘Yet,’ lamented Montgomery, ‘they are scarcely known.’209
Some Christians believe that since God has given them a gift, they can just passively wait and their ability will eventually be recognized. Proverbs 18:16 is often used to support this notion:
‘A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men.’
Bible scholars generally concede, however, that this Scripture refers not to the inevitability of a God-given talent being widely recognized, but to the enticing power of a present or bribe!c
It is hard to conceive of Americans better suited to serve in Africa than Afro-Americans. Yet – I feel sick to mention it – mission after mission in the past either resisted or utterly refused on racial grounds black applicants to the African mission field.210
If we cannot glibly assume things will work out, there is a solution:
‘I’m stuck in this awful job,’ said Miss Fit.
‘I wish I had it so good!’ retorted N.V.
‘My ministry attempts are just one disaster after another,’ said Miss Hap.
‘I can’t get experience,’ complained Stayz Green.
‘I know what you mean,’ said Mrs. Often.
‘You’re just not good enough,’ declared Eymer Payne.
‘They say I’m too old,’ groaned Mr. Boat.
‘I’m fed up with waiting,’ said Patience Small.
‘Well if it’s that bad why waste time moaning when you could be praying?’ asked Ben Ya-knees.
(For the enthralling solution for the above nine puns please write, enclosing a fifty dollar check.)d
Too often we speak piously of ‘closed doors’ as if Christ had never uttered those potent words, ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’
Power resides in persistent prayer; never in prayerless passivity. And it is faith, not fate, that releases us into ministry.
We all wish we had better prayer lives and we would pray more, if only it sapped our powers of concentration less. Yet for most of us an easier way of praying actually exists. There are innumerable possibilities. You can pray on a hill, in a garden, in bed; kneeling, jogging, driving; out loud (a great help to concentration), in a whisper, in song, in your mind, in inarticulate longings or groans; by yourself, with a friend, in a group; at night, in the morning, at lunchtime; and there are too many other variations for me to list or even think of. Experiment. You will discover methods that boost your prayer life remarkably, either by making prayer easier or by giving you more hours in the day by letting you pray in circumstances where you would normally be prayerless. I especially urge you to find a prayer partner. It may be quite a search. Many people will have a manner of praying or prayer burdens quite different from your own. And praying together often creates such a bond that it is usually inadvisable to choose a prayer partner of the opposite sex unless you are both willing to risk romantic involvement. Find the right person, however, and you will be amazed at how fast an hour of concentrated prayer can whiz by.
Life is too short to skimp on prayer.
An American army chaplain served in Germany with little success. When he transferred to Korea, he unpacked his old sermons and preached them to the American soldiers there. Suddenly, he was winning souls at a phenomenal rate. He was preaching the same sermons in the same manner to the same type of audience. There seemed just one difference: Koreans were interceding for their country, launching prayer assaults against the powers of darkness, at a level beyond anything known in Germany.211
Prayer and ministry are hammer and nail. But don’t bother praying for anything that you consider too unimportant to work sacrificially for.
The great mystery of Christian life is not unanswered prayer, it’s unfinished prayer. Prayer that quits before the answer arrives is like a mansion carefully constructed, almost furnished, and then abandoned.
As days snake by with no apparent change, our prayers become less passionate, less hopeful. We must fight this tendency with all we’ve got, employing to the full the irresistible force of prevailing prayer.
It was persistence in prayer that made George Müller great. In the last year of his life he revealed that every day for over sixty years he had prayed for the salvation of two people, resolutely refusing to imagine they were beyond the touch of believing prayer. Though sixty years had past without an answer, he publicly affirmed that he expected to see them in heaven. One of the two was converted just before Müller’s death and the other some years later.212 Such determined persistence – far more than any instantaneous, dramatic answer to prayer – reveals one’s faith.
Passive people rust;
Fools stay in bed.
Prayerful people trust;
Kneelers surge ahead.
Sluggards keep their faults;
Loafers end in shame.
Pray-ers get results;
Kneelers always gain.
Pain raged through his body, muscles pleading with him to ease up. Ron Boehme kept running. His heart thumped. His lungs burned. On and on he pushed himself until finally completing his run. ‘Very good,’ the Lord seemed to say, ‘Now do the same in prayer.’213
Prayer can be a battle we must slog out in the face of bitter opposition. We must fight on when everything within us seems to scream out ‘S-t-o-p!’ Even so, we must not turn prayer into a works program, hoping we can earn divine answers by the length of our prayers or the sweat on our brow. Prayer is casting ourselves upon the Lord. It’s declaring, ‘I can’t; you can.’ It’s delighting in him. It’s resting in him. It’s loving him. It’s yielding to him.
Even misdirected prayers throb with power. Adoniram Judson, yearning for the privilege of evangelizing Jews, prayed to be sent to Jerusalem. When divine orders finally arrived they said ‘Burma’. There he suffered in prison. News of his torment spread as far as Turkey, where it moved Jews to yield their lives to Christ. When Adoniram learnt of it, he was awed. That prayer for Jews was decades old.214
The spent prayers of yester-year still echo in the heavenlies. Don’t waste them; amplify them.