Forty-five years ago, when I was a senior in high school, (I’m 62, in case you are doing the math in your head) God and I entered into a covenant. He told me that, if I would use my gifts, talents, and abilities to advance the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and to help Christians “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” then He would show me where to use them. He would open doors for ministry. And perhaps most practically, He would take care of me materially and meet my needs. He didn’t speak to me in an audible voice, but the reality of God’s call on my life would not have been more certain if He had.
Over the course of my pilgrimage, I have come through some periods of time, some circumstances, where I could not clearly see what step I was supposed to take next. At those times, in those circumstances, I had no choice but to wait until He opened a door and showed me where to go and what to do.
Until fairly recently, the periods of waiting were measured in days or weeks, and only very rarely, in a few months. I’m in another period of waiting right now, and this one is already four years long… and counting.
Four years ago I was in my fourteenth year of teaching at a small Bible college in the free church tradition. I loved my job, and if the testimony of my former students and colleagues can be believed, I was pretty good at it.
But about five years before that, my soul had begun to hunger for something which my sojourn up to that point had not provided. I began to read the early church fathers and to explore the character of Christian worship in the first centuries of church history. I gained a new awareness of the place of mystery and reverence in worship, a fresh appreciation for the importance of the Eucharist. And I began seeking an experience of more holistic spirituality.
Eventually, it became clear that my developing convictions in the area of liturgical worship were incompatible with the college’s theological position and potentially confusing to the constituency. My contract was not renewed after the 2007-08 academic year.
Now, remember that covenant that God and I agreed to? Well, when I lost my job, I pulled it out, dusted it off, and showed it to God. I told Him that I believed I had kept my part of the bargain, and now it was time for Him to keep His. His response to me was one word—wait.
So I’ve been waiting… and waiting…
I haven’t been sitting on my hands. For the first year after I lost my job, our attention was focused on Shirley’s battle with breast cancer. Then, for the next two years, I did what I needed to do—classes, reading, interviews, etc.—to prepare for Holy Orders in the Anglican Church in North America.
I was ordained a priest last May, and since then, I’ve been learning how to function as a preacher and pastor in this new tradition that I’ve adopted.
I still haven’t drawn a paycheck in nearly four years, but God has taken care of us. So, in a very real way, He has been living up to His part of the bargain. But I’m still waiting for God to do what He has done time after time over the course of my life. I’m waiting for a clear sign from God that He has brought me to a place of ministry where I can use my gifts in service to Christ and the Kingdom.
I told you I’m not good at waiting. Waiting is painful. I’ve been waiting so long, in fact, that the pain of waiting is now greater than the pain of losing my job. The situation that produced the need for me to wait is now, itself, less painful than the urge, on some days, to throw in the towel and give up completely.
And then I read Isaiah 40. And I hear the prophet say…
29 (God) gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who wait upon the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
I can tell you, it’s been a long time since I felt like I was “soaring on wings like eagles.” And I would need the “second wind” of God’s grace before I could think of my life and ministry as something I do “at a run.” But I can still walk. Not very steadily, not very sure-footed at times. And some days over the past four years it has taken every ounce of strength I could muster just to pull myself out of bed and put one foot in front the other, because I couldn’t see any farther ahead than that.
Many times recently, I have literally sat down and cried while I prayed, “Lord, speak to me. Say something. Let me know that You are still there.”
And every time I have cried out like that, He has spoken to me. And every time, He has said the very same thing.
It’s like I’ve felt Him put His hand on my shoulder and lean in to whisper in my ear…
“Wait; just wait. Have I ever let you down? Oh, I could move according to your timetable; I could give you what you think you need. Then you’d have what you want, but you wouldn’t really know me. You wouldn’t know how I sustain the weak and give hope to the discouraged. You wouldn’t know what it means to keep trusting when you are surrounded by despair and all you can see is darkness.
So what would you prefer—for me to clear all the obstacles out of your way or to give you the spiritual strength to prevail in the midst of them? Hang on. I know the pain is sometimes unbearable. But I have promised never to put more on you than you can withstand.
And so, when you consider how much better you are getting to know me when you are forced to trust me this way, it really could be said that my most gracious response to your prayer is that one word… wait.”