I remember that when I first went to Ozark Christian College (where I now teach) as a student, I was pretty raw. I was pretty passionate. I didn’t know a whole lot. I remember sitting in Acts class, realizing for the first time that there even was a Book of Acts. I didn’t know we got to know what happens after Jesus left.
I remember just sitting in class day after day being like, “Can you believe this? We have this stuff!” There were Bible Bowl kids in there. “Yeah, I memorized the whole book already. There’s some good stuff later on.”
I’m just like, “This is amazing.”
I knew I wanted to serve God with my life, and I knew I wanted to learn the Bible, and I knew that I had lost friends that I wanted to reach. There were buddies from the football team and people I had gone to high school with. I wanted to learn how to reach them.
And somewhere along the way I learned that there’s this whole profession of ministry.
I already knew you could work at a church, but I came to discover that there’s this whole professional world of ministry. There are internships and residencies and majors and minors and all kinds of ways you can hone yourself and specialize yourself. You can pick between great options and have preferences among those options and work your way through options to get to better options.
All of a sudden, this whole thing got more confusing. True, some of that’s good. Figure out what you’re good at. Figure out what you’re passionate about. Take some tests and figure out you’re an ENTJ. Find out what your Enneagram number is. Find out what house you would be in Harry Potter. There’s a value in learning who you are and how God might direct you accordingly.
But if we’re not careful—and I know what happened in my heart—ministry training becomes a time where, with more preferences and more specifications, we end up grabbing onto more and more control.
We might even look back at that raw, youthful passion we had with amusement. After all, now we’re so much more sophisticated.
Meanwhile, there came a time at Ozark when I found myself looking back at the younger me that was fully surrendered to God and saying, “I want that again.”
I remember my junior year. I’d gotten to do a really great internship and had some cool experiences. I started having these specialized interests in ministry. But it was my junior year when I said, “I’m going to read the Bible all the way through for the first time.” Hadn’t done that yet.
Reading the whole Bible messed me up, because what happens is you come to a book like Ezekiel. I’m thinking, “I want to be used by God. I want to make a difference in the world.”
And God uses Ezekiel.
God comes to Ezekiel in Chapter 4 and says, “Here’s what I want you to do. Take a block of clay and draw the city and make little siege works that are going to destroy the city.” Ezekiel was God’s street theatre prophet.
God said, “Now, lie down on your side for 390 days, and you’re going to be there for 390 days representing the sin of my people. And, of course, you’re going to need to eat. It’s a long time. You’re going to need to prepare your food and drink water at certain times. And here’s what I want you to do. I want you to cook your food on human poop.”
Now, he does give Ezekiel some options. Ezekiel’s like, “I don’t know about that.” God says, “Okay. Cow poop.” So, you get choices in ministry.
For 390 days, he lies on his left side; for 40 days, he lies on his right side, living on poop bread. For God has said, “My people are going to be driven into the nations where they will eat defiled food. So, I just need you to speak for me on my behalf that way.”
You keep reading. You get to Chapter 24 and it gets worse.
God comes to Ezekiel and he says, “I want to use you to make a difference in the world. And so your wife’s going to die, and you cannot mourn. You cannot go through the normal process of sadness and changing your clothing and eating different food. If you need to cry, go have a quiet moment. But then you come back out and don’t mourn, because destruction is coming to this city. And the precious temple and precious city is going to be taken away so quickly from my people that they won’t even have time to mourn.”
God, I want you to use my life. I want you to use me to make a difference in the world . . . but not like Ezekiel.
A couple more books, you get to Hosea. Uh-oh. God’s first message to Hosea is that he’s going to give him a partner in ministry. That’s something a lot of ministry minded people are looking for, someone you can serve with side by side. She can support me in my ministry. I can support her in her ministry.
Hosea is told her name is Gomer. Sounds hot.
He finds out she’s a prostitute. Hmm. Perhaps Hosea was like, “Well, we have Rahab in our nation’s history. She had been a prostitute in her past. It’s a redemption story. That’s part of Gomer’s past, but we’re moving on together and supporting each other in ministry. It’s going to be awesome.”
God says, “No. She’s going to keep being a prostitute. That’s part of the point. She’s going to cheat on you a lot. And when it’s time, you bring her back into your home, and you show the love I have for my people even in their adulterous idolatry.”
I wonder if Hosea was thinking, “Can I talk to the ministry center, see if there’s some other openings?”
God, I want you to use my life but not like you used Hosea.
But if we belong to God, then that’s not how it works. Our job is to say, “God, I’m yours. Where do I go? What do I do? You’re in charge and I’m not.” When it comes to our calling, there will be many questions to figure out. But one thing is certain: we are called to belong to God.