Friday, May 21, 2010

Open Up Your Mouth and Speak

God couldn't have been more clear about my life purpose. "Open up your mouth and speak the message of the gospel to lost souls you meet."

THAT was the point it all hinged on. I thought I was a missionary when I was in Spain--I claimed to be one--I lived like a Christian--I was active in church--I passed out tracts--I visited the hospital--I did Bible studies--I led the choir--I looked for ways to do ministry. But when it came to that one thing, my lips were sealed. Down in the core of my being, I was profoundly unwilling to do one thing: activate my vocal chords for the advancement of God's kingdom.


Why would I balk at that? It should have been so simple. I talked freely and easily about anything else. Small talk, sports, politics, TV, movies, music, ideas, relationships, all came to my lips unhindered and poured out in a fluent stream as I tried to be friendly to people I met and strike up conversations "that could lead to spiritual things." I would even consciously try to coax the conversation around to making the perfect setup for linking into the gospel--where just one phrase would transition us as naturally as can be into talking about the Lord. Let's say you're talking about gardening. You say something like "Have you ever thought of the world as a garden, with people growing in it?" so that they can make a comment along those lines, which you will respond with, "It reminds me of Jesus's parable of the sower. Have you ever heard that parable?" Then you can take it from there (depending on their responses) and use that parable to explain the gospel message or ask them what kind of ground they think they are.

I got lots of these opportunities. I failed to take up any of them. The Lord would drop a perfect situation into my lap, as perfect a setup as I could wish, where all I had to do was insert that one key phrase and go from there. And every time, I would toss that phrase away and select something else, something safe, something trite or flippant or lighthearted, that would steer me away from the "danger zone" I had approached so closely.

Why, though? That was so stupid. I knew it was stupid. I would berate myself for it afterwards. Opportunities to rescue people's precious souls, just thrown out.

God called me to open up my mouth and speak, but something was stopping me. I didn't really even know what it was.

One day, he very cleverly trapped me in a real-life situation to show me exactly what the problem was.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

...The Reason We Live

The other breakthrough was equally a gift, a revelation. All at once God revealed my life purpose to me. I had an unmistakable and growing sense of a calling of God on my life. All at once verses seemed to be leaping out of the Scriptures to teach me that God was calling me to do something.

Now, it's not like I had never heard of being called before. I had often said, "I'm called to missions." But down at the root of it, it was nothing more than a regurgitation of the proper-sounding phrasing. Deep below all the layers of Christianese, I had to admit that I had practically called myself to missions. It was what I wanted to do, and while I don't doubt the Lord's role in giving me a heart for missions, I took the bit in my teeth and ran off without consulting God, assuming that he MUST accept that as my life calling. Wasn't that rare? Wasn't that admirable? Didn't he have few enough people signing up for the foreign field?

It was verses like Galatians 1:15-16 that pulled me up short.
But when it pleased God,
who separated me from my mother's womb,
and called me by his grace,
to reveal his Son in me,
that I might preach him among the heathen;
immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.

I thought, "Wow, God will do this WHEN IT PLEASES HIM." It was a paradigm-shifting thought, one that also revealed how wrong my view of God had been. I had been treating him like my tool--I was using His blessing to get where I hoped to go--when all along I was really supposed to be His tool, one that He could pick up and use or lay aside, at His pleasure.

When Ananias came to Paul, he said to him, "The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard" (Acts 22:14-15). Paul later said that Christ "counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry" (1 Tim 1:12). He further stated, "But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts" (1 Th 2:4).

God said to Jeremiah, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." (Jer. 1:5)

The Holy Ghost said to the early church, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." (Acts 13:2)

But it was Isaiah's words that hit me the hardest and the most personally. "Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. [...] And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength. And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." (Is. 49:1-3, 5-6)

God called me. He showed me that He had a purpose for me. And He even showed me what that purpose was. It was something so simple, so plain-sounding when you put it into words, so elementary. But at the same time, it was so profound, and struck so sharply at the root of who I was, and where I was, that it took it a year to sink in and become a part of my life.

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