Bartering with a King
I recently graduated from seminary after three long and tedious years. I can’t describe to you the whirlwind of emotions that accompany that reality. I am overwhelmed with God’s grace in getting me through, and thankful for the way he used this time to mold and shape me—preparing me for what is next. But it almost didn’t happen. I almost didn’t go to seminary. Had it been up to me, I would have run from this calling. I did run from this calling for years, but I would have kept running if God hadn’t spoken wisdom and truth into my life in the way I am about to share with you. I wrote this article (although it was more of just a journal when I wrote it) four years ago, but what God showed me then still resonates, convicts, and encourages today.
I have a calling on my life. I’ve known for years. Ten years ago, while I was attending Indiana University, the Lord put it on my heart to go into ministry. The next year, I transferred to Taylor University to begin down this career path. In 2007, I graduated from Taylor with a degree in Christian Education Ministries, a minor in Youth Ministry, and zero intention of ever using either of them.
Taylor had been a rough experience for me. Between my disdain for school work, an immature faith that struggled in the “Christian bubble” environment, and a relationship heartbreak, I graduated worn down, beat up, and spiritually burnt out. I decided to become a personal trainer and never looked back.
I have dabbled in ministry on a very small scale since then, starting a summer camp and leading a bible study, but my experience with burn out at Taylor left such a bad taste in my mouth that I refused to consider full-time ministry again.
I have spent the last 6 years in denial, running from my calling. I convinced myself that I had misread God’s calling into ministry 10 years ago. I was young. What did I know?
I have wrestled with discontentment, restlessness, depression, anxiety, and feeling a lack of purpose. I blamed those feelings on God failing to meet certain needs in ways that I felt like He should. I tried moving. I tried changing careers. I tried forcing relationships. I tried running to the other end of the country. Anything to deal with those feelings except for going into full-time ministry. It wasn’t an option. I wasn’t going to do it.
Perhaps the most famous person in the Bible for running from God’s calling is Jonah. Many of us know the story. God tells him to go preach repentance to the Ninevites (Nineveh), a large Godless city in Assyria. Jonah doesn’t want to go, so he hops on a ship that is sailing in the complete opposite direction to try to escape the presence of the Lord. His disobedience brings calamity on himself and the crew of the ship he is on as God brings forth a mighty storm while they are at sea. The crew casts lots to see who brought this trouble on them. It lands on Jonah. Jonah tells them he fears the Lord, who has brought this storm upon them because of his (Jonah’s) disobedience. Jonah then tells the crew to throw him overboard and the winds will cease.
With much reluctance, they toss Jonah into the sea and the storm stops. The crew puts their faith in the Lord and offers sacrifices to Him while Jonah sinks to the depths of the sea. God sends a giant fish to swallow Jonah, where he remains for 3 days and 3 nights until he offers a prayer of repentance to the Lord. The Lord has the fish spit Jonah out on dry land and once again He commissions him to go to the people of Nineveh. This time Jonah obeys.
Jonah preaches repentance to the Ninevites, they repent, and God does not carry out the punishment He had threatened. Oddly enough, Jonah is now angry at God for being merciful towards anyone but the Israelites. Pouting, he sits at a distance facing the city, hoping God might change His mind and still destroy it. God does not, but as Jonah waits in the heat of the day, God grows a tree to provide shade for him. The next day however, God destroys the tree, which further sets Jonah off in a fit of rage where he declares he would like to die. The book ends with God confronting Jonah about being so concerned for a tree, while getting angry at God for being concerned about a city of 120,000 lost souls.
It is amazing how through scripture, the Holy Spirit reveals our sin to us. We have a tendency to read the bible as “there are good people and there are bad people”. As Christians, we then like to identify ourselves with the “good people” in the stories and disassociate ourselves from the “bad people”, assuring ourselves of why we’re not like them. But only Jesus is good. The rest are bad—there to point the glory back to Jesus. And so it is with Jonah. Despite being a prophet, Jonah is hardly the hero in this story. He’s a self-righteous, entitled, prideful, hard-hearted coward…and a character I can totally identify with.
I’ve been doing my best Jonah impersonation the last several years. The past few months have been very humbling as the Lord has revealed this to me. I’ve been running from my calling (and consequently God) for two primary reasons. The first is fear. The second is that I have a major pride issue.
In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus asks:
“Will any of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants, we have only done what was our duty.'”
My prayer is that this would be my attitude. I struggle so mightily with pride. I have treated God’s calling as if it was optional. I have placed myself on equal ground with God and tried to negotiate or barter with Him. I have said, “Alright God, I’ll go do that IF you first meet this (perceived) need. But God says, “Go in faith and do what I told you, and then I’ll meet your (actual) needs as they arise.”
I take God’s mercy and grace for granted. As a Christian, I begin to believe that I am entitled to His forgiveness. I lose sight of the holiness, sovereignty, and power of God. Like Jonah, I claim to fear the Lord, but yet I disobey His commands. I get angry with God when He takes away my “shade tree” because I am far more concerned with my comfort and my needs than I am with the “120,000 Ninevites” that do not know Him and the task He has assigned me to take the gospel to them.
In my pride, I am blinded from seeing my own wickedness. I forget that the only thing I deserve, the only thing God owes me, the only thing I’m entitled to, is DEATH and HELL. That is what I deserve. Anything else is the inexplicable, unexplainable, don’t make no sense, gift of grace through His Son Jesus Christ.
In our walk with Christ, we must first and foremost settle the issue of Lordship. It (humility) is the foundation of Christian maturity. As Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” God is Lord, King, and Master…and we are humble servants. All of our problems stem from losing sight of this and making ourselves bigger than we are or God smaller than He is. Yes, He is a loving father, but the most loving thing He can teach us is to first know that He is Lord, Master, and King.
God’s commandments are not optional. Obedience is not negotiable. And I am in no position to barter with the God of the universe.
But the amazing thing about who God is as a loving father is that which He commands us to do, is also that which will bring us the most joy and satisfaction. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that the only thing that truly lights a fire in my heart and soul is the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Though there is fear, that which God has been calling me to do (which I have been so adamantly running from) is actually what I most want to do. In fact, it’s becoming the only thing that I want to do—the only thing that makes sense to me to do.
I’m ready to answer my calling. I want to. I’m excited about it. I’m scared, but at the same tim, I have a peace that I haven’t had in a long time.
Jesus is my ultimate passion. Following Him is what life is about. And everything else is fading in importance. Everything else is secondary
How true are the lyrics from the well-known hymn “The Heavenly Vision”:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”
Nothing else can satisfy me.
Father, I will go where you send me and I will do what you ask of me. And when I am finished, may my words be, “I am an unworthy servant. I have only done what was my duty.” Amen.