Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!—1 Corinthians 9:16 (NIV)
I am going to share something intensely personal with you because I think it represents the struggle most Christians must wage in an attempt to live faithful lives. The issue is quite simple. I feel the call to ordained ministry and have enrolled in seminary. The work is so time-consuming that it is starting to become oppressive. It’s not hard and I can do the work, but it is so time-consuming that I wonder if I can survive two years of this.
Yet if I give up, am I not rejecting God’s call to me? Am I unwilling to endure hardships for the sake of Jesus? Did I not stop and count the cost before embarking on this road? Is this my sinful rebellious nature or is Satan involved? Perhaps it’s both, I don’t know.
And so I share verbatim what I wrote in my journal on Friday last. I will let the entry speak for itself and ask for your prayers.
Friday, Feb. 3, 9:36 a.m.
I am at a crisis here. I’m spending almost all my time studying and it is getting to be oppressive and I am getting resentful. And so I need to decide if I can keep this up. I don’t think I can. I am unwilling to give all my free time to study and must conclude I am unwilling to do what it takes to answer the call. That saddens me but I believe it is the truth of the matter. Once again I am unwilling to give my all to Jesus. Perhaps the better question is if Jesus wants me to continue the work. I can’t seem to get an answer from him and don’t know what to think about that.
Then there is my beloved wife who is getting beaten up by the Luddites at her school. I am angry at them for doing that to her and angry at myself for not being supportive of her last night. Instead I went into my own little selfish funk over seminary work. That is just not acceptable behavior for one who wants to lead this house. And so here I sit this morning, sad, angry, and unsure about what to do next. If I quit seminary and give up the priesthood, then what? Will God utterly abandon me? Why would he call me to something he knows I’m incapable of doing? I guess it’s not a matter of ability as it is will. Why should I spend every spare moment studying? How can I keep that pace for 2 years and add CPE to the mix? Why can’t I serve at St. Matt’s as a layman?
Perhaps I ought to see what it would take to get a local preacher’s license in the UMC. Surely it wouldn’t require the same amount of work on my part and I guess that’s the issue—my willingness to put in 60 hour weeks over the long haul. Again, I need to go back to the question, what does Jesus want me to do? If he does want me to pursue this, I can reasonably expect him to sustain me but I ain’t gettin it. Why? My stomach is in knots because of the stuff I have to do and I haven’t even started my paper! Why? Is this the devil attacking me again? I don’t know and so I go to God in prayer, looking for some answers.
The day’s lesson is Luke 22:24-27. Jesus reminds us that we are to be servants as he was a servant. What does that look like? I guess the essence of ministry is service—devotion to helping build up Christ’s body and reaching out to those who are not of the Body. Can I do that w/o being ordained? I don’t see why not. I did not stop to count the cost before I began this journey and now will look foolish if I drop out. So be it. The greater question is whether I can be faithful to God’s call w/o being an ordained minister. That’s what I hope to learn in prayer today. Am I willing to live with the “not mine but your will be done” if the answer is no?
As a postscript, it is easy to see the flaws in my thinking as well as my foibles, but that really isn’t why I shared it with you. Instead, I hope you felt the anguish that comes with the struggle to do what I know is right versus the desire to give into my slothful self. It’s what usually happens when the path of discipleship becomes arduous. I hope you also caught the glimmer of hope, be it ever so faint, in my entry.
This business of losing one’s life to find it can be tricky—but it is not without hope.
So what have I heard from Jesus? Nothing directly. But I did receive two emails—one from a Christian brother and another from a dear friend and brother in Christ—that were greatly supportive of my call. Yet they were also willing to give me a kick in the rear as well (there’s only a six inch difference between a pat on the back and a swat on the arse, you know! :)). I guess that’s what good Christian friends are for and why Wesley believed there was no such thing as an isolate Christian. Given that I have not discerned a change in marching orders and believing that these two email voices represented the voice of Jesus, I press on. I’m not a particularly happy camper, but I press on believing that the One who calls and sends also sustains.
Sometimes we just have to stop protesting, be quiet, and do what our Lord tells us to do.
What about you? Have you had a problem like this in your Christian walk? Do you ever wrestle with God? What’s that look like and how have you resolved it (or have you)? How do you see faithful discipleship manifesting itself in your life? How does Jesus sustain you?
I’m also wondering if I really mean “your will be done” when I say it during prayer. Of course God’s will be done; it’s ridiculous to think otherwise. But will I surrender to it or fight it? Have you ever struggled with this issue? If so, have you resolved it or are you still working on it? Tell us your stories so that we might continue to “watch over each other in love.”