Ambition, or Obedience?

Years ago my greatest delight was pastoring and teaching. As far as I knew, those were my callings and ministry gifts. The problem with that was when the Lord clearly instructed my wife and I to move to Ann Arbor, I felt I was no longer fulfilling my calling, as if I had somehow failed Him and that I was, as another brother said, “just another cog in the wheel.” What I finally realized is that I was confusing the concepts of “calling” and “tasks.”

In Luke’s Gospel, we about a time when Jesus sent out his disciples:

Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. –Luke 9:1-6

I had read those verses many times before, but recently, I discovered something. Interestingly, Christ’s instruction to His disciples was to go and minister for a specific mission or task.

Before I came to the Lord, I had spent several years in Radio Broadcasting. I primarily worked as a “disc Jockey,” and an announcer. I worked in both radio and discotheques. I also loved to do production work for radio commercials, where I could use different accents and voices. Actually, I loved to talk and to communicate. The fact that when I became a follower of Jesus, in my later years I was frequently teaching and preaching, I realized God had equipped me with a gift of speaking, and once I began exercising those gifts, man, I was in heaven! I presumed that speaking was my calling. It made perfect sense to me.

Over the years of being here in Ann Arbor, I came to realize that my “calling” was actually to surrender my life every day to my Lord’s will and to do whatever He asked of me, whatever that might be. He wasn’t asking me to surrender to an assignment, but rather to surrender to Him! He didn’t want me “hung up” on the kind of assignment He gave me. nor did He want it to matter to me whether He asked me to teach the Word of God to a hundred people, or to wash a toilet. I could find joy doing either! My calling was to be abandoned to Him — nothing more. What I did was irrelevant. All He wanted was obedience and to follow His leading.

I shared this with my pastor, and he added some valuable insight:

This is really ‘where it’s at’ – and I’m glad you stated it: ‘I came to realize that my “calling” was actually to surrender my life every day to my Lord’s will and to do whatever He asked of me, whatever that might be…’

Too little of that understanding permeates the Christian ether. We have church ‘shoppers‘ and ministry ‘shoppers‘ within the church. How many times I have heard the classic (and incorrect): ‘I am looking for a ministry in which to serve.’ Of course, it helps if the ministry in question has a badge with it and a suitably high profile (one we can boast about, but pass it off as mere  ‘information,’ so we can go around saying I serve in the ‘sexy‘ ministry. All the while failing to grasp that what Jesus demands of those of us who say we love Him, is to be disciples and to start with that – discipleship, and then end with it too, and then ‘all these things will be added unto you.’ the greatest thing we can do for God, is, as you say, to be abandoned to Him. How many times I have also heard: ‘well, there are limits, if I abandon myself to Him, who knows what He may ask of me?’

Someone who said they ‘love Jesus’ recently told me they were relying on their partner for the financial security and the consumer consumption of all the ‘stuff‘ that goes into what we call living in the modern western world. This was stated openly and without any irony. Why? because the call to be a disciple as never been heard, or heard and ignored because of the cost involved. I have never understood this: how to miss the call to discipleship? Following Jesus isn’t rocket science, or, in the first instance theologically based (although a good grasp of what Jesus has done for us and continues to do for those of us ‘in Him‘ is paramount). Following Jesus is discipleship based – when everything is done from a place of heard and mind called ‘abandoned discipleship’ things happen.

Thank you Mike, that is so true! One of the biggest problems in many churches is that so many people want to be somebody important and not enough people who couldn’t care less if they are even noticed. Their only desire is to be true to the Lord and fulfill His will and not their own.

My only desire, if I fall asleep before the Lord’s return, is that they can quote Acts 13:36: that Nickolas “served the purposes of God in his generation, then fell asleep.” I simply want to fulfill the Lord’s plan for my own life, nothing more, nothing less.

Everybody wants to preach and teach but nobody wants to sit and serve. That is what Paul was trying to get people to understand when he was saying that the eye is no more important than the ear—they simply serve a different purpose.

The hand is no more valuable than the foot. Both serve a very important function but people are able to survive without either. Where is true humility, that which says: “The Lord is the vine and I am the branch. Without Him, I can do nothing! If He sees fit to use me, I will obey with great joy and enthusiasm. If not, I’ll obey with great joy and enthusiasm.”

I believe it was Broadman who said: “There is no hierarchy in the gifts of God. The ministry of the church does not rest on status but on service. No gift that serves others is little. God uses both stars and candles to light his world.”

The issue to God is not who the stars are and who the candles are. What he is concerned with is His light coming forth. Sometimes we are hung up on the stars and we forget that a star only shines at night — one designated time — but a candle can shine at any time and anywhere!

Friends, the times of testing will come. Don’t shrink back from it. Don’t be afraid of them. The result will be a purity of heart and inner strength to endure all things. In fact, as I already reminded you above, you should consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds . . . so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. When you stand the test, you will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

Paul admonishes us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” We are to “endure the hardships as discipline because it is for our good that we may share in His Holiness.” He admitted, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.” “Later, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those that have been trained by it.” However, if you refuse that training “it will cause resentment and misery.”

In the passages I gave you above, we see that the Twelve were called to be Christ’s learners or pupils. They were also designated apostles. Now when you say that word, Apostle, we love to make special and “Holy.” It simply means “someone who is sent.”

The Hebrew word for “apostle” is shaliach, a “sent one.” Let me explain how that is used. In Judaism, a man can send a shaliach on a mission to represent him and to accomplish a specific task on his behalf. Think of the parable that Jesus told regarding a landowner who farmed the land out to some fellows, and then later, he sent out some shaliach to collect his share of the produce:

There was once a man, a land-owner, who planted a vineyard, fenced it round, dug out a hole for the wine-press and built a watch-tower. Then he let it out to farm-workers and went abroad. When the vintage-time approached he sent his servants to the farm-workers to receive his share of the proceeds. But they took the servants. beat up one, killed another, and drove off a third with stones. Then he sent some more servants, a larger party than the first, but they treated them in just the same way. Finally he sent his own son, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ Yet when the farm-workers saw the son they said to each other, ‘This fellow is the future owner. Come on, let’s kill him and we shall get everything that he would have had!’ So they took him, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard returns, what will he do to those farm-workers?”

Another example would be when the Sanhedrin of the first century sent out, as they regularly did, “apostles” on missions to the Jewish world living in the Diaspora. Those shaliach would share a message from the Sanhedrin.

So, what would His pupils be sent out to do? They would simply do whatever He told them to do. Nothing more. There lies a problem for some of us. In our human need for the security of sameness, we tend to want one job assignment from God that we can do for the rest of our lives. But my friends, He is far more creative than that!

Okay, you’re reading this and might start thinking, “Isn’t it possible for God to assign a lifelong task like preaching at one church for forty years?” Absolutely! But we are wise not to make presumptions by surrendering to the assignment! Our calling is to surrender to our Lord (period). Think of  the pitfalls we could avoid if we were more abandoned to God, rather than to a particular kind of service.

As Beth Moore wrote: “Remember the meaning of disciple: pupil, learner! We can’t keep skipping class — our time with God in the Scripture and in prayer — and expect to know when He has scheduled a field trip!”

Father, what we are going to be hasn’t been completely revealed to us, yet, but we know that we are Your children! And we know that when You appear, we will be like you, because we will see You as You really are. With this hope in us, we purify ourselves just as You are pure (I John 3:2-3), and we make ourselves ready for You to use us in Your service . . . in whatever way You choose to use us.

Nickolas
Doulos Studies

(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you to the list: Mail List)

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