I don’t know whether it’s Day 12 or Day 20, but on this day I want to give thanks for my calling. On a June morning in 1974, I was sitting in a worship service at Baptist Hill, near Mt. Vernon, Missouri. Just out of high school, I was working hard trying to earn money for college, so I couldn’t get the whole week off to go to camp. I did drive up on my day off. Am I ever glad I did! Jack Scott was the preacher in the morning service. I have no idea what his text or topic was that morning. But I distinctly remember the invitation time at the conclusion of his sermon. Well, I remember one line of it anyway. After inviting young people to put their faith in Jesus, Preacher Scott said, “For some reason, I feel compelled to say that I think the Lord is calling someone to the ministry today.” And no sooner were those words out of his mouth than I felt the Lord’s hand on my shoulder and His whisper in my heart, “He’s talking about you. I am calling you.”
I wish I could say that this was the culmination of a long process of God wooing me to ministry, but it was not. I wish I could say I was prepared for this kind of encounter with God, but I was not. I wish I could say that I had heard God’s whispers plenty of times in my young life, but I cannot.
All I can say is that I just knew it was God’s voice. I just knew it. And from that moment forward, while there have been a few occasions over the decades when I had a few doubts about whether I wanted to be in ministry I have never doubted for a minute that God wants me in ministry. What’s odd about it is that as I was headed off to college two months later, I had done a lot of thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up, and ministry never crossed my mind. And it probably wouldn’t have were it not for God’s whisper to my heart that bright June day. My calling was a God-thing. It wasn’t a mama-thing or a church-thing or a fallback-thing because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. It was a God-thing. The only person who was ever in my ear about ministry was God, and He didn’t have to tell me twice.
In Baptist circles one often hears people talk about “surrendering” to the ministry, as if ministry is the last thing they’d ever want to do but God finally twisted their arm hard enough to make them say “Uncle!” It wasn’t like that with me. It didn’t feel like “surrendering.” It felt like “call.” It felt like “opportunity.” It felt like “joy.” I guess I wasn’t smart enough to contemplate how unworthy I was and am of such a calling. Maybe the whisper was just so much stronger than the voices within me and from others that would have tried to talk me out of it.
Anyway, the rest is history. Serving God in ministry has put me in the path of some wonderful people who have added so much to my life. It has put me in the church of the living God. It has put me at the side of deathbeds and graves. It’s put me at the wedding altar and the maternity ward and in the baptism waters. It’s put me with people at serious crossroads in their lives where what I said made a difference in the path they chose. It’s put me in the study and behind pulpits and lecterns. It’s put me on mission fields around the world. It’s put me in circumstances that had me whooping it up with joy, and it’s put me in circumstances that have had me in tears and fussing with God on behalf of others why He does some of the things He does. It’s been quite a trip.
There have been seasons, especially of late, when I wondered if there could possibly be anything else I could do for a living. After over 30 years of facing weekly deadlines, being up to my neck in death and grief, feeling pressure to manage growing churches, dealing with things that are way over my head, and never managing myself all that well in terms of getting out from under it enough along the way, a fellow gets tired—not just tired in ministry but tired of ministry.
And I race to the Lord and say, “Haven’t I done enough? I’m tired, Lord. I don’t know how much more of these pressures I can take. Can’t I please do something else for a change?” I am tempted in such times to mope a bit, feel sorry for myself, and be a little irritable and resentful about the next demand that comes my way. I would be dishonest if I didn’t say that in these later years of my ministry there are times when I just want to quit.
But then it comes once again: that same voice, that same whisper I heard at Baptist Hill on that June day in 1974: “I am calling you.” Only now there’s an additional word or two: “Now get back to work. And remember, we’re in this together and I am with you always.”
Thank you, Lord, for my calling.