Wednesday, July 11, 2018

When God calls you Pastor

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

It was a spring day in September 2004, and funnily enough, I was on a course for safety auditors, which is the kind of course that is steeped in detecting compliance within management practices. There is almost nothing in it that connects to the deep spirituality of being called by God, by name, by designation, by vocation, by the words placed on my soul that very day.
‘I’m calling you out of all of this,’ said God the Holy Spirit, even as I recognised that I was no longer fit for working in this world. Don’t worry, I was very good at it. But competence doesn’t always correlate with passion. In a stimulating career full of promise and a great salary, I felt as if I were dying. Enter the process of training.
God had said that day
that He would breathe life into me
in the area within which
He had brought me to life.
Having fallen in love with the Lord, He was calling me into an area of work connected with that love.
In God’s mercy He recognised that, in allowing me to be broken by the circumstances of a grief that turned my life upside down in so many ways, it was His Presence, agency, and healing that meant I could do little else.
There is something humbling, and indeed very scary, in knowing that you can only do one thing; that one thing meant anything other than directly serving God quickly became thoroughly irrelevant. I became a Levite in a short period of time.
It’s scary, because if you can’t do
the only thing you can do,
where does that leave you?
For a brief time in 2016 I faced this prospect. I know I got greyer in this period of my life; the worst year ever. It was for my good, however, to be placed in such a hotbed for growth as God temporarily reconfigured my vocational goals.
It’s one thing to say you are more than what you do, but this does not account for a calling on your life that God gives, and only from the perspective of two years on can I say that the torment-of-identity that came had less to do with insecurity (though I did learn a lot about my insecurity during this time) and more to do with the identity God had placed in my heart in the first place.
I do not resent the fact that I had to suffer not only time out of ministry but also a period of complete character challenge and overhaul. It actually did me no harm (apart from the grey hairs). I do see the value in having my identity stripped away, because it showed me just how faithful God was to steady my spirit at the time, and to hold me aloft throughout the journey, and I was able to see this all the way through.
But as I look back over the 15 years,
to ask the question, ‘Was it worth it?’
is the wrong question to ask.
That sort of question only serves to take my thinking in the wrong direction. When it comes to serving God, it’s not about whether it’s worth it or not, and yet I have asked that question countless times. Every time I ran off the road into a ditch. A better question I’ve found, knowing that God has called me, and that He will finish the work in me if I keep going, is to ask God, ‘Lord, will you continue to teach me, and move within me for others, and keep showing me I’m in your will (or not) as I serve?’
Many times, so many, I’ve contemplated what it would be like to be burned-out, to experience disgrace, or to die suddenly; for the ministry to finish abruptly. Besides the pain any of this would cause, such a reality doesn’t scare me as much as it once did, even if the call on my life hasn’t changed one iota. I know that God can be served from any place and situation. But I would also say I’m more likely to serve these days ‘in fear and trembling’ (Philippians 2:12).
I don’t know about other pastors, and I can only surmise it is the same for most of us, but being a Pastor is not a job but a way of life. It would be rare that I make myself unavailable. Having learned the practice of protecting accessibility in my secular management career, a practice I became very good at, God’s call completely reverses such a practice, because that’s servanthood. Many modern day professional pastors may draw neat lines around their service, and it is wise to do so, but truly serving God means many times being available for people when we would prefer not to be. Of course, it quickly blurs into the unreasonable, and when family suffer the cost, I have learned more and more there is more to discern, including my hidden drives and motives. But there are countless times, almost daily, when I’ve said ‘yes’ to Jesus in serving someone when I would have preferred not to, and have known His blessing; His blessed Presence there with me, ‘in’ the moment of service.
I know there are many careers that require the same level of devotion, but serving God adds a nebulous degree of complexity, in that if we really don’t enjoy what we are doing, what do we do? Argue with God? I haven’t won too many of those. For me, being a pastor can feel more like a cross to bear than anything else I’ve done.
I do have this comfort though: I know that in not being able to do anything else, I am called of God, and whether it is worth it or not has come to be irrelevant.

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