I'd contend that everyone serving God in an articulated form of ministry (be it professionally or as an amazing volunteer) has a unique journey and reason for doing what they do. For me it was a mountaintop experience, and I mean that quite literally.
I came to Christ during my junior year of high school through the invitation of a friend to his youth ministry. Prior to that I’d grown up loosely Catholic, dabbled a bit in atheism, and was thinking about a career as an English teacher because I took a test on a computer that told me this is what I was best wired up to do. After all, who was I to think I could/should do anything different?
And yet... I felt a stirring I couldn't quite put my finger on. A year after high school I flew from Chicago to California in order to do a personal pilgrimage of sorts. It had been a crazy season of trying to figure out life and I thought some time away in a fresh environment might do me good. You know how that goes, right? It’s like that one famous painting of a park that’s made up of little tiny dots. All we often do is focus on the few dots in front of our face but intentional fasting or Sabbath helps you step back from your life in order to see more of the bigger picture that God is painting in your life.
Ironically enough, I found myself in my own beautiful park about a week into my trip. It was not only breathtaking in its landscaping, but was surrounded by some pretty amazing mountains. I didn’t know this at the time, but their size actually exceeded that of the Sears Tower (even though at their base they initially appeared to be nothing more than local scenery). Spontaneously, I felt an urging to hike up one of these monstrous dirt clods and tame the beast that it was. Most sane people don’t do such things on a hot day in July, but as it was I was full of a cocky energy and youthful boldness that compelled me upwards.
About halfway into the climb, though, the reality of what was really going on hit me. On a day when the temperatures were off the charts, I realized that in my pride I had neglected to consider bringing any water with me. All the dark possibilities of what could happen if I fell or passed out began to consume me, from the injuries that would incur when I passed out to the body bag that would be shipped back home.
Perhaps this was the point when a sensible person would have turned around, but I had this notion – a “calling” if you will - from somewhere deep within me that God was urging me to keep climbing. I can’t adequately describe this feeling in mere words, but in the depths of my heart I knew that if I didn’t keep going I would have been untrue to something… perhaps him… perhaps myself.
And so the insane journey continued as beads of sweat dripped down my forehead and into the cracks of my mouth. I spied a very faint and small glimpse of a tree up at the top that became my motivation to pull forward. The ascent took a wholehearted effort over the course of the whole afternoon, but I eventually reached my goal and kicked the tree in a confident and brash spirit. Chuckling at my accomplishment, I turned around to gloat over the city that I had just “conquered.”
Then… it happened.
A humble breaking occurred deep within me, stripping away every pretense I had about God, others, and myself. It was as if I’d entered a room and someone immediately mugged me at the door, ripping away anything I was wearing so that I faced whatever was next completely naked. Strangely enough, I think without knowing it this moment was the reason I’d bought my plane ticket in the first place.
As all of this unfolded, I began weeping over the city in a way that reminded me of Jesus’ broken heart for Jerusalem. Honestly I knew nothing of this area of California other than the time I’d spent in it over the course of a week. Yet my heart began to sob for all the strangers I’d passed without thinking of their pain or need for a Savior. How odd that on such a “spiritual quest” I’d been so “unspiritual” the whole week.
Suddenly even the past year began to take on new meaning. I realized that since graduating high school I had been fighting God regarding a call to full-time ministry. I couldn’t imagine why he would call someone like me to do something so massive, for I not only knew nothing of the Bible but had a hypocritical lifestyle to boot. Somehow I began to realize none of that mattered, though, for I would always have to depend on his grace to be enough no matter what he asked me to do. It was in this moment that I began to take seriously the call the Lord placed upon me since coming to him in faith – and I haven’t regretted the climb since.
even though I don’t regret the climb I have experienced raw hurt.
Those who preach that following Jesus is all about prosperity must have overlooked the whole crucifixion part of the Gospel story, not to mention the book of Acts that follows. In many ways I’ve found myself sometimes skeptical of other Christian leaders who teach this and what their “real” motives are. In fact, I’ve often wondered that of myself, too. Honestly, is it possible for a human being with flaws to navigate through a new identity in Christ and calling to serve him in ministry without showing some scars for it (not to mention creating some along the way)?
After all… Jesus was pretty perfect, and if memory serves he got a few scars of his own on his way up a mountain as he kept an eye on a "tree."
So there's a little backstory... "part one." It seems as though the benefits of knowing your calling and how you got there include an assurance of purpose and accountability from others. The liabilities, though, include auto-piloting and arrogance because you believe the Creator of the Universe has asked you to do something special. Ironically, it’s been my experience that sometimes those wires cross a bit.
Especially when your calling comes into question.
Sorry... more on that outburst in the next post... as well as the aforementioned "light switch" story.