I was a teenager and a new believer when I sensed God calling me into ministry – to care for God’s people in the role of the pastor’s wife. At that point I had not yet met the specific pastor God had in mind, only that His plan for my life included marrying a pastor and working alongside him in ministry. My particular calling was to take care of the pastor and to minister to God's people. I remember my excitement at the time, and also my response: Whatever You ask of me, Lord, I’ll do. Wherever You send me, I’ll go. Whenever You speak, I’ll obey. God reminded me of those words years later when He spoke to me about pursuing ordination – becoming an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene.
There have been times through the years when I have wrestled with hearing clearly and understanding correctly the what, where, and when of God’s voice, but I’m so glad I said “yes” to Him so many years ago. I have definitely been an imperfect servant. In fact, ANYONE who knows me could easily list my weaknesses and failures (please read on – I’m not fishing for compliments here).
I tried really hard, especially in the early years as a pastor’s wife, to be and do what was expected of me. That’s exhausting and full of pitfalls! As a fairly young Christian at that time, I didn’t really understand that “Trying harder” does not make someone a more loving person, an effective leader, or a humbler servant. It took me many years to learn that God already knew I was imperfect, immature and wounded when He called me. His calling was not based on my ability to get my act together so I could do the job He had assigned me. Rather, He knew I needed to learn to lean heavy on Him when life was hard, when I had failed, when I had no idea how to proceed, and when my own wounds and insecurities would trip me up; and it would be in this place, walking out this calling, that I would have many opportunities to learn about leaning on Him. In fact, this “calling”, this vocation, was probably more about what He wanted to accomplish IN me than THROUGH me.
You see, He calls ALL of His children to a life of serving Him by loving and caring for others and pointing them to Jesus while we learn to trust Him in all areas of life. As we humbly serve Him in the business world, the classroom, the arts, the home, the hospital, the church, etc., He works IN us: teaching us how to love, to lean on Him, to trust; giving us wisdom or creativity to do His work in the world; opening our minds to truths we have yet to understand. Our “calling” or vocation includes what God wants to do THROUGH us, as well as what He wants to do IN us to make us more like Jesus. The how and the where may be different for each person – the classroom, the business world, the arts, medicine, etc., but the WHAT is the same for all (loving, caring, pointing to Jesus, and learning to trust).
A popular question for interviewers to ask is: If you could somehow send a message to your 20-year-old self, what would you say?
Here are some things I would say – in no particular order of importance:
1. God loves you, yes, but He also likes you. (This knowledge, learned not so long ago, could have saved me lots of heartache in my life.)
2. His love is not condemning, but kind, gracious and nurturing.
3. The Lord knows all about your inadequacies, insecurities and brokenness. They are not a surprise to Him. That is why He invites you to lean heavy on Him and trust Him.
4. God’s call to be holy as He is holy is an invitation to cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s transforming, redeeming, healing, restoring work in our lives and in the world. It is not a harsh, negative command full of judgment and the threat of punishment.
5. Many times, the people who are the most critical of and harsh with you are dealing with their own wounds and feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.
Some advice for my 20-year-old self:
6. Always try to be gracious and kind rather than always trying to be right. Extend grace to all those imperfect people, including yourself.
7. Do not try to do the Holy Spirit’s work in someone else’s life. Trust Him to convict, convert, heal, and make holy.
So, when you boil it all down, it’s taken me most of my life so far to learn that God is so much kinder and more gracious than I realized when I was 20, that His love is not just for the “world” (God so loved the world…), but it’s for each individual – it’s personal. I’m realizing that He’s not most concerned with all of the times I’ve failed or fallen short; but that He delights in my heart’s desire to follow Him – even when I’ve failed or fallen short. He keeps lovingly, kindly, and graciously working in the lives of His children who continually seek His Presence and desire to walk in His ways.
When Paul pleaded with the Lord to take his weakness from him, the Lord didn’t berate him or punish him for his weakness. Rather He told Paul not to focus on his own weakness, but to focus on God’s strength: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Another translation says, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” Paul’s response? He began to boast in his own inadequacies so that God would get all the glory for anything good that happened. “So now I’m glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). This is the testimony of a man who knew he served a kind, gracious and loving God.
I wish I had known these things earlier in my life. However, I’m grateful for the journey, wondering what other wonderful truths I have yet to learn about my kind, gracious, loving Lord.
Beth Marie Bearden gave her heart to Christ when she was a young teenager and soon after felt God calling her to ministry.