Lately there has been a lot of pressure to get moving. Studying at seminary and working in ministry brings with it the pressure to start climbing the church equivalent of the corporate ladder. Being half way through my twenties brings with it the unstated expectation that I should be settling into a permanent career. As a young man there is the drive internally to make progress relationship-wise. In this vein, a pastor whom I respect recently cautioned me against inactivity after leaving a church position. His advice was that I shouldn’t wait for God’s direction before re-entering a place of ministry.
This comes from a perspective that is more common in generations that are older than my own and is not without reason. Waiting for God’s voice can be taken to the extreme, as in the case of the old woman who wouldn’t get out of bed until she felt the Holy Spirit telling her too. Life is short and we would be wise to be good stewards with the time God has given us on earth. Still God’s idea of being a good steward of our time and that of the culture may be different. This culture equates a successful life with one that is full of accomplishments. The Bible, on the other hand, presents a host of people who spent large portions of their lives accomplishing nothing tangible, a Time-Wasters Hall of Fame.
Abraham was seventy-five when God told him that he would become a great nation and inherit a great land. His response to God as he spent the next twenty-five years wandering around the desert and living in tents was, “God, you do realize that for this to come true my wife and I need to have a baby?” Even after a baby was born, he spent the rest of his live as an immigrant in the land God told him he would own. Abraham died at the age of 175. From a pessimist’s perspective his life was more than half over before God gave him a child.
Moses too spent much of his life accomplishing little that was tangible for God. For the first forty years of his life he lived as a prince in Egypt. The next forty he spent as a shepherd in the desert. Almost all of what is recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy occurred in the last one-third of his life, after he was eighty years old! It is likely that it was in that time that he wrote the book of Genesis as well.
Jumping ahead to the New Testament, careful study of the life of Paul reveals some curious gaps in the narrative of his ministry. We know he spent several years in Arabia and in Tarsus after his conversion. What he did in those places in not clear, but it seems he took some time to mature before his missionary journeys.
Likewise, there was a man named Jesus who spent the first thirty years of his life as a carpenter in Nazareth. He did little there besides working will wood and being God-Incarnate. All his ministry that we read in the gospels was performed in the last three years of his life on Earth. He was certainly in no hurry to get moving.
These people didn’t try to make something happen for God. Neither did they try to rally around a vision that they had cast. Instead they waited quietly, so that when God called them into action they would be able to hear his voice. In a world where gifted leaders fail because of shallow character, moral immaturity, and being ungrounded by the adoration of their followers, not rushing into ministry or whatever vocation God has planned for someone might be a good idea. What if God had given Isaac to Abraham earlier and asked him to sacrifice his son at age fifty? Would Abraham had displayed the same faith in God? Only God knows, but those years of waiting certainly honed and sharpened his faith. If the Son of God was content to build chairs and tables for thirty years before doing “professional ministry” then I should be able to be content with washing dirty dishes until God directs me to a different ministry.
We are busy creatures. Standing still may be harder to do than acting busy, especially in the Christian culture that others and myself grew up in. However, if we do stand still, intangible things take place around us and inside of us. God will teach us how to hear the sound of his voice in the midst of the myriad of voices without and within our selves.