Do you think it’s possible to have a personal, deepening relationship with Jesus Christ, be serving Him where you are, have a calling into to full-time ministry, and still lose hope? I do, but I also know how we approach the wait has everything to do with its fruitfulness in our lives. My wait has been so long, I’d almost given up all hope. But then: Epiphany.
>> (TL;DR? Skip to “How to Embrace the Wait”) <<
It all started on December 26, 2015, when a few friends and I gathered for our third annual “Mom’s Night Out.” This has become one of my favorite Christmas (technically, post-Christmas) traditions, and I look forward to it every year. The MNO is a little something that we do for ourselves the day after Christmas towards the end of an inevitably chaotic and stress-filled holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving dinner and ends with New Year’s Day. We leave our children at home with their dads and head out to take in a newly released movie followed by a nice dinner and fellowship.
Our choice this year was Joy starring Jennifer Lawrence. Based on a true story, Joy creatively retells the life story of Joy Mangano, an inventor who created the Miracle Mop® and currently holds more than one hundred patents. The movie spotlights various points in Joy’s life which illustrate her penchant for thinking outside the box, creating practical inventions, and facing challenges head-on. Her journey is rife with obstacles—personal and professional—which must be overcome in order for her to fulfill her destiny. In the end, she develops into a very successful businesswoman whose estimated worth is currently $50 million.1 This movie struck a chord with me on a very deep level, and I didn’t realize it until a couple weeks later.
A Personal Epiphany and Soul Stirring
On January 6, 2016 (Epiphany), I had a “moment” with the Lord during the Communion time of our Wednesday night service, and my heart was stirred in a way that it has not been stirred in a very, very, very long time. I was alone that night (hubby was home sick and son was with the youth group).
During the solemn, self-reflective moments which precede partaking the Eucharist, I suddenly found myself in tears. The noise of the surrounding environment softened into silence; the activities swirling about me slowed to a crawl; and time seemingly stood still. I remember right where I was sitting, my hunched-over posture, the super-dim lighting, the cup in my left hand, the bread in my right. In the quietness of my heart I despondently cried out to my Heavenly Father, “LORD, I’m going to be forty-nine years old this year. I was called into full-time service when I was nine! Did I imagine it? Was it real? I’ve been waiting for almost forty years!!!”
Then, all of a sudden, there was a sense of His presence. Enveloping. Comforting. Near. Peace-full. Hope-full. Power-full. Real. And I was instantly overwhelmed with the significance of those words: “FORTY YEARS.”
Inhale. Exhale. Reflect.
Forty years…that’s a Biblical number. Who else had to wait 40 years? Noah. Sarai. Abram. Joseph. Moses.
Inhale. Exhale. Reflect.
Time for what?
I slowly came to the realization that the service was moving forward. People were singing again. The pastor would be preaching soon. What just happened? I would spend the next few days processing through it. Really, the next few months. Probably, the rest of my life.
You see, I have been waiting almost forty years for the fulfillment of a calling I received when I was nine years old at church camp. It’s not that I haven’t been actively following the Lord: I have. Volunteering and leading. Living and learning. Faithing and trusting. Serving and teaching. But my calling into full-time service has technically never been fulfilled.
I’ve savored seasons of anticipation, belief, and hope. I’ve despaired through days of doubt, disbelief, and discouragement. I’ve battled depression and struggled with envy of those who were able to live out their calling while I sat at home day after day designing websites and home-educating our son.
So, when God met me where I was on January 6, 2016, I was unprepared. I had come to worship and commune, for sure. But I was not expecting a moment with the Almighty. One in which He stirred my soul. One in which He breathed life into these dry bones. One in which my ministry heart began to beat again.
Talk about scary!!! Yes, I do mean scary. When you’ve waited as long as I have for a dream to come true, you don’t instantly become euphoric about the possibilities: You become cautious. Really cautious. You’re afraid of going down that path again. The path that looks like it leads to an oasis, but turns out to be a mirage. Again. It’s difficult to find hope once it’s been covered by the sands of time.
So, the question that bubbles up is this: Is it possible to have a personal, deepening relationship with Jesus Christ, be serving Him where you are, have a calling into to full-time ministry, and still lose hope? My answer is: Yes, actually, it is. (Just let that sink in for a moment.)
We Are Not Alone
There are many men and women all over the world—desperate to live out their calling—who have been left on the bench or sent to the sidelines for a variety of man-made reasons including gender bias, prejudice, denominational politics, and/or marital status (just to name a few). These godly servants are all around us, and they are hurting. They are questioning themselves. Doubting their callings. Feeling frustrated with delay after delay.
These women and men LOVE God, and they yearn for the day they can serve Him in the roles to which He called them. They are serving where they can when they can, but their callings remain unfulfilled. And the longer they wait, the harder it becomes to keep hope alive. No surfacey Christian ‘wisdom’ will soothe the heartache of a minister in long-term waiting. And hope wanes thin.
Well-meaning Believers come alongside with advice such as: “Have faith in God. His timing is perfect!” or “You need to pray harder.” or “They don’t know what they’re missing.” It feels cliché. Don’t they realize we already have faith in God? That we know His timing is perfect? That we are hard-praying people? Sure they do, and the wait is making them uncomfortable, too. They don’t know what else to say. And whether or not anyone realizes what they are missing by not hiring us, that’s not the point. This is not about losing faith in God or His abilities.
What I’m alluding to is losing hope in your own calling. Becoming discouraged. More than discouraged: disheartened. I’m referring to what happens when you’ve sought the Lord with all your heart, followed where He led, took the required steps of faith, and in His power accomplished great things, BUT, for whatever reason, you continue to not be hired. If you’ve been through anything like this, you know that of which I speak (write).
I know for a fact that I am not alone in this experience. When you journey through something like this—a hot, dry Sahara—it’s not long until you begin to doubt whether you ever heard God in the first place.
- Was I imagining that tug on my heart?
- What was I thinking?
- Why would God call someone like me?
- Who do I think I am?
If you’ve ever packed up your resources and stored them in the attic, refused to unpack them at a new home, or given them away because you just couldn’t look at them anymore, I want you to know that you are not alone.
If you’ve ever reworked your resumé, updated your Linkedin profile and social media presence, purchased a new outfit or suit for an interview, traveled to scout a new home for your family, given your testimony to a committee, answered their probing questions—ALL because you truly sensed the Lord’s leading—only to be bypassed (maybe multiple times)—you need to know: you are not alone.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to just drop off the planet or quit the faith—and stopped yourself, because you KNOW God IS who He says He is—you need to know that you are not alone.
When the Wait Seems Never-Ending
Super-long waits can, and often do, eat away at our ability to trust and obey. Repeated rejections result in diminished hope, tendencies towards self-preservation, and a forcefield of cynicism. The forcefield goes up; emotions are stuffed deep down inside; books are packed; and we become a little less of who we’re called to be. We isolate ourselves, because the hurt is too deep and the questions too unsettling to discuss with people who will never understand what it means to be called only to wait and wait and wait and wait and wait for the calling to be fulfilled. They don’t get it. They want to be helpful, but there’s only One who can soothe that pain, and that is God alone.
Before we assign the delay to ourselves or “God’s perfect timing,” we must also take into consideration the many factors that play into the ministerial or academic ministry hiring process, and sometimes, personal agendas and emotional baggage get in the way. It is entirely possible that the insecurities or biases of committee members preclude you from consideration, or it could be something as simple as your spouse’s looking at someone on the committee the wrong way. It may very well have been God’s will for you to be at that church at that time, but humans got in the way. The truth we must hold onto is this: God is in control. He allowed the decision to go another way—whether it was His will or not—and He will work it out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He promised!
The worst thing we can do after an experience like this is navel gaze and pout for more than an hour. (I think an hour of pouting and navel gazing after an unexpected rejection is perfectly normal and probably healthier than stuffing the emotions inside.) The fact is God is still on His throne; He still has a plan for our lives; He will continue to work things out for us so that, eventually, we will be living out our life’s call…just as He promised.
How to Embrace the Wait
We who have been called should use this time to serve in a variety of areas, deepen our spiritual walk with the Lord through the exercise of spiritual disciplines, sharpen our ministry and leadership skills, and learn as much as we can about ourselves and others.
1. Serve Where You Are
We who have been called are responsible to serve HIM whenever and wherever we are— whether on staff at a church/school/college/non-profit or working a full-time secular job with no prospects for a ministry position anytime soon. This means we volunteer to help where we are needed, regardless of whether or not it fits within our specific calling—even if it’s simply helping children register for Sunday School each week or greeting people at the front door with a smile, handshake, and bulletin. By serving in a variety of positions, we can gain new appreciation for volunteers, a different perspective on kingdom work, and hopefully, new skills we can call on later when the time comes. We must trust that God is utilizing that time to carve us into the servant-leaders He needs us to be. It may be a humbling time for us, but we should never don’t doubt that God will use these experiences to teach us more about Himself than He would if we were stuck in a perpetual pity party or only serving where we felt properly equipped. He will teach us what we need to learn, and then we will be released to do and learn something else somewhere else.
2. Practice Spiritual Disciplines
In order to deepen our spiritual walk with the Lord, we need to continually practice spiritual disciplines. These include prayer, fasting, solitude, Scripture verse memory, meditation, etc. There are many spiritual disciplines, and the best thing to do is work on one at a time. Some disciplines will resonate with you in such a way that you cannot imagine how you did life without them, others you may try and wonder what the big deal is. Cool. That’s great. You found something that doesn’t work for you. move on to the next one. After a few months, you’ll have a few favorite disciplines you can practice in order to keep your relationship with the Lord healthy, vibrant, and growing. This will also help to ward off the blues which lurk around the “why am I still waiting” corner. Our goal in all this is to increase our ability to draw close to the Lord and discern the His voice form all others.
3. Sharpen Ministry Skills
One of the most important things we can do for ourselves during the long waiting period is to work on our ministry and leadership skills. We should spend time studying the Word as though we were already on staff—this is especially important for those who have been called into the pastorate or a teaching ministry. Preparing a sermon or Bible study lesson with all the passion you would if you were on staff somewhere will not only feed your soul, it will also keep your skills sharp. A methodical approach to Bible study will keep us grounded in the Word, and we may discover new resources and tools of which we were previously unaware. Streamlined lesson preparation is a huge asset. Think about it this way, the more you practice, the less time it will take to get the sermon or lesson prepared (or the time you spend will be more efficiently used)—your family will thank you. (Lesson and sermon preparation are NOT to take the place of spiritual disciplines.)
4. Broaden Leadership Skills
In addition to ministry skills, development of leadership skills is CRITICAL during this waiting time. More and more churches are being destroyed by great preachers with terrible leadership skills. Although we may not hold leadership positions at church (which is a crying shame), there’s no reason why we cannot volunteer as a leader in another organization. The need for excellent leadership is not limited to the walls of the church or faith-based organization. You could volunteer to be on your HOA board or Neighborhood Watch. In addition to being in a leadership position, you could also hone your skills by reading books on leadership, listening to leadership podcasts, and attending leadership seminars. Don’t let satan fool you into thinking that the only place you can lead is in the church. That’s a lie.
5. Learn about Yourself and Others
It’s not narcissistic to try and understand yourself better, it’s necessary. When you learn about your personality type, as well as the personality types of others, you are going to be amazed! This dovetails nicely with developing your leadership skills and enhancing your ministry skills. As our worship minister recently remarked as he peered out over the congregation, “Y’all are weird!” He got a good laugh, and what he said was absolutely true: God’s people are “weird.” We’re an eclectic bunch of sinners saved by grace who enjoy gathering together on a regular basis to learn and help each other grow. No two of us are alike. And the more we, as ministers, understand various personality types and traits, the better able we will be to minister to their needs and enforce healthy boundaries as needed. Start with yourself first, then your spouse, and go from there. Take the online quizzes or have the test administered by a professional. We need to know who we are and how people perceive us. We need to use this time to grow, because once God puts us where He needs us, we may not have the time to work on ourselves like we do when we’re in the holding place.
Click here for a brief description and links to a variety of FREE Online Personality Quizzes you can take at no charge to get you started.
When it all comes down, God will use our “delays” for His glory. He will do work in us during this time that will potentially completely transform how we approach ministry and life. The experiences we have along the way will increase our skill sets, nurture empathy, and diversify our sphere of influence. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (The Message)
Feel free to comment and/or share if this has encouraged you to embrace the wait!
Photo credit: Lord’s Supper Elements by Alanscottwalker – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16842185