I have shared this story in a couple of places, but I will share it again here for those who may not be familiar with it. It is the best example I have of what can happen to those of us called to vocational ministry if we are not watchful over our lives. I actually give thanks to God for his grace in teaching me through the events you will read below about how wrong my thinking was with regard to my place in God’s great plan.
I was 19 years old and had accepted the position as Interim Pastor of a small, country church. I want to say from the outset that this was a wonderful church filled with some of the finest folks I have ever known. This is not a story about them exactly even though God used the intersection of our paths to teach me an important lesson.
My responsibilities were to preach on Sunday morning and evening and to teach a Wednesday night bible study. At the time I was trying to figure out what I should be doing because I knew God had called me into full-time ministry. At the campus ministry where I was involved, I saw an advertisement had been posted for someone to come and preach. After some “encouragement” (a story for another day) I called and made plans to go and preach. For the next three weeks, I was asked to return and preach the following week. After the fourth week, I told the members (all 7 of them) that I would continue to preach until they were able to find someone to take over the position full-time. I was still in school and did not feel that I should take on the church.
Everything was going wonderfully (or so I thought). After several months I was growing frustrated because I felt that my talents were being wasted in this small, country church. I decided to vent to my dad as I was driving home one Wednesday night. I can’t remember if I actually said these words, but they capture the sentiment from which I was speaking. To summarize, I was essentially telling my dad, “I am too good for this place.”
Even now as I write those words it is shocking how pretentious and arrogant they are. But that is how I was feeling at the ripe old age of 20. My dad reminded me that I wouldn’t be there forever; that God was using that small church to help teach me some things about preaching and ministry. I don’t remember everything he said, but I do remember not being entirely satisfied with his words.
A few days later it was Sunday again. The service was going as normal. We typically sang a song before the message and this morning a song I had never heard before was chosen. It is called “Little Is Much If God Is In It” by Kittle L. Suffield.
Here is a rendition of that song by The Gaither Vocal Band.
They do a much better version of the song than I heard that day. However, I can tell you, as God is my witness, I will never forget how the Holy Spirit used that moment and that song to absolutely take a wrecking ball to my pride.
In particular, the second verse brought on me such a heavy weight of conviction after the things I had said and thought in the days prior, that I began to weep. I lost all control. It was one of the most pronounced encounters with the Holy Spirit of my life because I knew that I had crossed a line in my relationship with God. I could not deny it and I accepted the burden of my shame. I had not only been disobedient, I had become rebellious against God’s purposes in my life.
The second verse goes like this:
Does the place you’re called to labor
Seem so small and little known?
It is great if God is in it,
And He’ll not forget His own.
Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame;
There’s a crown, and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ name.
After that day, I made a promise to God. I told God that I would NEVER hold back in my preaching or shy away from any opportunity to share the Gospel. I promised to never look at the numbers and determine how good I was going to preaching. If all I was called to preach to were 7 (as was the case in that small church), I would preach with everything within me. And if it was to 700 or 7,000, I would preach with the same energy and passion. I have not gone back on my promise.
If you are a pastor or called to some form of vocational ministry, you have a great enemy. But, that enemy does not exist “out there.” That enemy is that small voice that keeps telling you that some task is beneath you. It is that feeling that you are too good for some assignment or that you are too talented to listen to someone of lesser ability. That is not the posture of a servant of God.
Your calling is a gift to you. God did not have to call you, but he did. But your calling is also a gift to those to whom you are sent. When you accept an assignment you are there to take what God has placed within you and share it with others.
That is why when we hold back we are doing harm to both them and us. We harm those we serve because we deny them the best we can offer. And, we harm ourselves because we grieve God with our disobedience, causing a rift in our relationship with him.
I want to encourage you to not give ground or to give in to this enemy. Never forget that where you are is where you are supposed to be. God is at work if we are available to work alongside.
I’ll say this as final thought. It’s something my dad says frequently: “I want to be so available to God that he has no choice but to use me.” That has become a helpful reminder to me.
How about you? How available are you to God?