“To be separated unto the gospel means to hear the call of God; and when a man begins to overhear that call, then begins agony that is worthy of the name. Every ambition is nipped in the bud, every desire of life quenched, every outlook completely extinguished and blotted out, saving one thing only-separated unto the gospel. Woe be to the soul who tries to put his foot in any other direction when once that call has come to him.”
For the Sake of the Call
In a previous life, when I was flying with the Air National Guard, one of my favorite parts of the job was performing at local air shows and waving the flag so to speak. In the course of these events, I would typically spend some time each day, standing beside the airplane in my flight suit talking to starry eyed children who could only dream of what it must be like to strap on a jet fighter and dogfight with the enemies of our nation at speeds in excess of a thousand miles per hour.. Kids being…well…just kids, they would almost all ask the same questions like: how fast does it go, or how high can it fly? Is that the gun? Can I touch it? Oh and my favorite of all… what do I have to do to fly like you in one of those? It’s wasn’t so much the question, but my ever-ready pat answer that is so vital to the understanding of what one must be willing to do for the sake of the call. One must be willing to sacrifice all, do all, whatever it takes, for the sake of the call, whatever your personal call may be. So, to those of you who have God’s call upon your life I would ask, what are you willing to do? What are you willing to give up? What are you willing to endure and how long will you endure it?
Some years ago I heard one of the most memorable sermons of my life preached. The pastor shared the following story as an object lesson for endurance, patience, forgiveness, persistence, and faith for the sake of the call. The story is told by a former patient in a mental hospital of a pastor that would come to visit him every day sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Not just Monday through Friday, but weekends as well, seven days a week, 365 days a year, rain or shine, this pastor would get up and drive himself to the mental hospital, take the elevator to the ward, ask for this particular patient, and then begin sharing with the man about Jesus. The former patient tells of how every time the pastor would sit before him and begin to tell him of Jesus that he [the patient] would spit in the pastor’s face. He tells of how this same ritual of teaching and spitting was repeated day after day. After hearing this tale, the man interviewing the former patient then says to the patient, but you are a pastor yourself now, how long did it take? How many times did he return? With tears flowing down his face the pastor and former mental patient said, “ he came back every single day for thirteen years before I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”
God’s calling upon one’s life, at least in my experience, doesn’t arrive accompanied by a marching band, or flashing lights. Some have said, that if you know exactly the time and place of your calling, that you may not have received a call at all. That you just conjured it up on your own. God’s call in my life was like an incessant tune playing over and over way back in the recesses of my mind. Have you ever gotten a little ditty or tune in your head that keeps playing over and over and will not go away regardless of how badly you want it to? I think that maybe God’s call upon one’s life may be somewhat like that. However, unlike the little tunes which eventually fade away, God is persistent, patient, and more than willing to wait as long as it takes, a lifetime if necessary.
Go Near and Listen
How many times have you said to yourself, no one knows more about this [subject] than me. After which you immediately proceed to open your mouth and spew forth your profound intelligence for anyone who will listen. Do you know anyone like this who frequently feels compelled to tell everyone, everything he or she may know on a particular subject…and then some. I do, me! OK! So why am I bearing it all now? Is this just more spewing forth?
I hope not.
As is the case most mornings, I find myself at my desk long before the sun, the family, the dog, or even the neighbors’ chickens rise. Some might say, this guy needs to get a life. My response, this is my life. Three days ago, as I was sitting here I asked the Lord to show me another glimpse of Himself and like so many of us, I picked up my Bible and said, “God how about just letting it open up to the wisdom that you want me to learn today?” So I proceed to set it down on the desktop on its binding and let go. Yea..right! But guess what, while I feel somewhat certain that it did not open by some preordained phenomena to the exact page, it did get very close to the gem that prompted me to write this brief essay.
Funny, how I start to write something and bingo, another gem pops up. Here it is. God’s answer to our prayer almost always requires some effort or involvement on our part. I wanted God to flop the Bible open and draw my eyes directly to the spot that would inspire me or teach me, or maybe just give me a shove in the right direction for the day. God said... Jay, I’ll get you close, but you are going to have to go the rest of the way on your own. I’m not going to do it all for you. If you don’t invest some of yourself, then what value would it be? Wow! Now I ask myself, is this the real gem that was waiting for me all along, or is this a case of God giving me more than I asked for. Perhaps God is not so dumb after all and takes advantages of these little windows into our hearts that we open to Him. Maybe God thinks to himself, hey, Jay is listening (which doesn’t happen near often enough) I think I’ll take advantage of this opportunity. I have a feeling that this may very well be the case. Because God gave us free will, perhaps He only speaks to an open and willing heart.
OK , now how do I transition this story back onto the path from this rabbit trail? How about this. “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.” Ecc. 5:2. This is the gem that God drew me near to and then asked me to dig for.
Ask anyone who knows me. Heck, ask anyone who has been around me for more than five minutes and there is a very good chance that they will tell you that I talk a lot…I mean a lot! Some call this the gift of gab. Others may refer to it as running off at the mouth. The politically correct will say ‘what a gifted and motivational speaker he is.’ It all comes down to this. I like to talk! No, I love it. My wife sometimes has to leave the room because I get on a roll and won’t stop. There are few things in this life that fire me up more than standing in front of a group of people and sharing some life changing truth or humorous story that I hope will make some difference in their lives. To be honest, it is intoxicating to have a crowd hang on your every word. It may not be the adrenaline rush of flying a jet fighter at treetop level at 500 mph, but it can be close at times.
God gave me this gift. The ability to communicate to others via the written and spoken word, and one gem at a time, He is teaching me how and when to use it.
If you are like me, and someone starts up a conversation on a subject that you know something about, do you ever feel compelled to jump in and take over the conversation with your point of view or your personal experience? If so, consider this old axiom. ‘God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason, because He desires for us to draw near and listen twice as much as we speak.’ Makes sense if you think about it. How much do we learn when we are talking? Is it necessary or beneficial to others if we pontificate on and on and on. Are we honoring others by making their time, our time.
I would like to offer this suggestion and then I’m done. Before we begin to speak, quietly draw near and ask God to focus our thoughts and our words. Listen to His response. Consider the time of the other person.
Finally, practice the following: Be Brief, Be Brilliant, Be Gone.
A View Through The Trees, Glimpses of God
“Now we see things imperfectly…. but then we will see everything completely.”
1 Cor 13: 12 NLT
Just this morning as I was having a long put off quiet time with the one whom I love more than any other, the Lord of the universe, I joyfully found myself caught up in a spirit of awe and very personal worship that I hadn’t experienced in some time as the music on the CD that I was playing on the stereo that I had really cranked up reverberated around and through my body and soul. Before I knew it, my arms were stretched over my head palms out reaching, reaching for Him.
I was raised in a very conservative southern Baptist environment where our worship in church was well… very regimented. Sunday mornings at church were strictly governed by the order of service with much emphasis on ORDER. Dressed in their Sunday best, folks would crowd through the doors with just minutes to spare hurriedly heading for “their” seats. Soon the choir director walk up to the front asking all to rise and begin leading the faithful, all standing at attention, eyes straight forward with hymnals positioned appropriately through all four or five stanzas of however many songs it took to fill his allocated time space in the service. I still recall the words of some of those great old hymns, but for the life of me, I cannot recall one single instance of the Spirit of God reaching out to me through this time of worship. In all those years of Sundays, I do not recall a time, as a young boy, of getting even a brief glimpse of the God that I was hearing so much about, and I wondered why that was. That was many years ago and so much has changed in these past forty years. I’m not sure but I honestly believe that had someone raised their hands in worship back in those days, others in church might have misinterpreted this act of personal worship and praise as some sort of seizure and sought medical help as they quickly and quietly escorted that person from the congregation. Well here I am as I said some forty years later and most times my worship in public is still inhibited by those old conservative behaviors I learned so long ago, even though at times my heart and soul cries out to lift my hands to reach out to the one I love. To try as I may to feel just a small touch of His Spirit.
This particular morning was different however. God had a plan because He knew how desperately I wanted and needed to be near to him, and how much He wanted me to know that He wanted to be near to me to comfort me and let me know that He was right there. As the sounds of the music flowed around and through me, all of my former inhibitions about proper worship fell away. It was just He and I. An audience of one. The joy of being surrounded by His Holy Spirit was more than I could contain and my arms were soon over my head with my palms spread open reaching out. The farther I reached, the farther I wanted to reach. When I could stretch no farther, God said to me, that’s far enough my son, I am here and He reached out and took me into Himself for a time. As I stood, arms raised palms out, tears flowing down my face and eyes closed, God opened my eyes and lifted my head towards Him.
God has blessed my wife Rae Ann and I with a modest home that has a view that at times literally takes my breath away. Though we live in a subdivision in a small town outside of St. Louis, the view off of our back deck is very private, even secluded as a small forest surrounds the back of our house. In my heart, I know that just beyond this veil of leaves and branches there is another world, a world of noise, confusion, hurry, and stress, a world of pressure and challenges that often have no obvious solution. But our back deck and the forest that lies just an arms length beyond is a retreat and a blessing given to us by God and today He was putting it to His good use.
You know what is one cool thing about God, the way He communicates when He really has something important to say to us. I believe that God gave man language to communicate with one another, but He reserved something else, something very special and far more personal for those times when He wants to talk directly with us as individuals.
On this particular morning as He turned my face to himself and opened my eyes, all I could see through the huge panes of glass standing between me and the forest was hundreds of irregular patches of blue sky breaking through the canopy of the forest above my head, hundreds of small portals, glimpses connecting my world to His, a view through the trees.
As I tried to take it all in, it was just too much for me and I was overcome. I fell to my knees on the floor, my face to the ground, my hands still turned to Him. I must have been there for a minute or so, when God again lifted my face towards Him. To my astonishment the view above had changed almost completely. From my now lowered or childlike position the number of openings through the trees was considerably less. Where before there had been hundreds, now there were only a few. Immediately God’s words as given to Paul in his letter of 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now [as children] we see things imperfectly, but then [as we grow to maturity in Him] we will see everything completely,” came into my mind. In my spirit, it was as if God said, Jay this is the message I have for you and that I want you to share with as many others as you can tell. I desire so much to reveal myself to you. My heart is for you to know me. I, God desire to have a very personal and intimate relationship with you, but you will only be able to handle so much of this, so I will give you brief glimpses of myself. As a child these glimpses will be fewer and smaller, but as you grow and mature, I will show you more.
Growing older isn’t so bad. We get to see more and more of Him. Cool!