Whether or not you know the name John Newton, you probably have heard or sung his song, "Amazing Grace." Ahhh...can you hear the tune playing softly in your head? "Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me..." Newton left a legacy, and his works are still witnessing to the work of Christ and ministering to people 200 years after his death!
But what is remarkable to me is that this same man who left such a legacy also had a lot of disappointments, failures and rejection in his pursuit of ministry. The first time Newton ever preached a sermon was at the invitation of John Edwards, and as Newton later described it, it was a disaster!
"My ideas forsook me; darkness and confusion filled up their place. I stood on a precipice and could not advance a step forward. I stared at the people and they at me. Not a word more could I speak but was forced to come down and leave the people, some smiling, some weeping. My pride and self-sufficiency were sorely mortified."
Also, the first time he sought ordination in the Church of England he was refused because he was too evangelical and too connected to the Methodists. I can only imagine how frustrated, sad and disappointed Newton might have felt. And, just maybe, at the time did not see how his call to ministry would flesh out.
Newton is just one example of many people who had setbacks, rejections and frustrations in their pursuit of God's call on their life. One of my college mentors who has a PhD and teaches at my alma mater was a stay-at-home mom until her youngest of three boys was a teenager -- then she went back to school. Another mentor in seminary worked at a department store for many years before his ministry of preaching and teaching really took off.
Some days, like today, I feel so lost in a world that seems overcrowded with laundry, cleaning, cooking, bills, being a mom and being a wife. I long for a ministry of teaching and speaking so that I can use my calling and my gifts to encourage Christ's church -- His Body, but I encounter rejection by publishers and by churches. I want to be out doing missions but because of certain circumstances I don't have the opportunity to serve like I would like to serve internationally and nationally at present. Do you have similar struggles?
If so, I am glad to know we are not alone as I know we definitely are not. But what does God's Word say to us to help us with these struggles?
1. He is Faithful; Be Faithful
One of my favorite verses is Psalm 138:8, "The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands." And 1 Thess. 5:24, "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." I don't need to worry about God's call on my life because He is faithful to see it through. Instead of measuring my worth and my call quantitatively or by someone else's standard, my call must be measured in faithfulness. In a parable Jesus said to his disciples he said, "One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much" (Lk. 16:10). Instead of focusing on the have-nots, I believe Scripture teaches us to focus on being faithful in the present. Do well at being faithful to God and to Scripture in all areas of life and then you will see Him giving you the desires of your heart and fulfilling His purpose for you.
2. Be grateful and thankful
Isn't it our human nature to just want to be negative? I know it is for me! Instead of negativity, the Psalmist says, "Enter his gates with thanksgiving," and "Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving." 1 Thess. 5:16-18 says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." It is so tempting to want to compare our lives with those around us (and social media makes it all that much easier!). I've personally experienced when I constantly compare my life to others I diminish my value and worth and become ungrateful and jealous. Instead, replace the act of comparing with the act of thanksgiving and see how your outlook on life changes! It puts focus from self to God.
3. Don't count time.
I have noticed a certain mentality among my generation and younger that you must have it all by age 30: be married, have children, own a four-bedroom home and two new cars, and be independently wealthy. (Well I can say I did 1 1/2 of those things by the time I reached 30 but they are on the front end of the list! Ha!) Given that I am doing life in this culture means that often times I feel rushed to have the ministry I feel called to now or it won't happen at all. And, if I don't, I am a failure to God, unable to do what He has called me to do. Well that's absolutely ridiculous, but it's a lie that Satan likes to use constantly with me. But the truth is is that Time Is In God's Hands. This truth goes back to the truth that God is faithful. It is good to wait upon the Lord, David writes in the Psalms. Isaiah 40:31 says, "but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." Whether it is waiting for the return of the Lord, for vindication, for healing, for provisions, for an answer or even for a calling to come to fruition, it is good to wait. God holds time in His hands; therefore, do not worry about the time you have. He has it under control.
Newton had to wait many years before he was finally ordained and given a pastorate. While he waited he wrote this letter to one of his spiritual mentors.
"I agree with you that my call has not been clear because I think no one's call is complete till the Lord has confirmed their desire by his providence and placed them in the work. But I believe I have in some degree that inward call -- that desire and preference to the service and a little measure of that experience and those whole gifts that would justify my embracing a proper invitation or opening whenever it should happen. Till then I shall wait."
And like Newton, I shall wait. I shall try to wait with grace, a grateful heart, faithfulness in the small, mundane things of life, and with trust in God that He is faithful to see through those plans He has for me. And you? What about you?
(My information about John Newton and quotes came from a book written by Jonathan Aitken called John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.)