It was six months and four days back in 1982. They were the longest days in the history of the world – at least from my lovestruck perspective. It was the period between my engagement and my wedding day, which was then followed by my wedding night, if you get my meaning. Man it was torture.
These days, well, let’s just say six months can slip by before breakfast. One minute it’s January and I can’t find my coat, the next it’s mid-summer with the mysterious disappearance of my swim trunks. It’s not like 1982. Back then it was as if time itself had frozen. I’ve heard my British friends use the phrase, “Swimming in treacle.” I think treacle is some kind of syrup. But I get the point. That year was like swimming in treacle.
Engaged couples share two striking similarities with men who desire church planting or pastoral ministry:
Both are people in preparation.
Both are people in waiting.
There are few things more frustrating for a man who desires ministry than being forced to wait. He wants to get busy, get on the playing field, start making some noise for Jesus. As he goes about his studies or day job, he often feels like he is wasting his time. He feels like everything but ministry is pointless.
But the man in waiting needs to understand that God uses the years of waiting as much as he uses the years of ministry. Why does God often make us wait for ministry? There are numerous reasons, but here are three that jump to mind.
We Wait Because It Prepares Our Hearts
Waiting is the motif of the Christian life, the recurring melody that plays in the background of every season of life. God often inserts long periods of waiting into his people’s lives before he uses them for his purposes. Abram and Sarai are promised a child of their own but must wait twenty-five years for Isaac’s arrival. David is anointed the next king, but he must wait more than a decade while he runs for his life and lives in a cave. Paul is called to evangelize the Gentiles, but not before he punches the clock for fourteen years in the wilderness. Waiting is God’s way of doing things.
How we live when our ambitions for ministry are delayed significantly shapes who we become. God uses the waiting period to teach us to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.
Waiting prepares us by purifying our desires.
We may be tempted to think that if our desires are delayed, they will fade. This isn’t true of authentic godly desires. Reach your hand into a river and grab a handful of rocks. You can tell the ones that have been recently deposited and those that have been there for a long time, waiting. The new arrivals are rough with edges and sharp points. The other rocks are smooth; time and water have worn away their rough exterior, revealing a polished, beautiful stone.
For us, waiting has the same effect. God purifies our desires by delaying their fulfillment. A desire with a waiting sign is a desire being smoothed in a riverbed of God’s activity. The rough edges—the selfishness in our desire—become smooth. The desire is purified. The dull exterior starts to shine.
Waiting prepares us by cultivating patience.
Impatience deletes God’s schedule and replaces it with our own. It perverts desires into demands. But God has a rescue plan for us. It’s called waiting. Lamentations 3:25 says, “The LORD is good to those who wait for him.”
As we wait, we learn to trust the goodness and wisdom of God. We learn to patiently wait for God to fulfill his plans for us in his timing.
Perhaps in reading this you’re becoming aware of impatience toward God and his timing in your life. But is God’s timing not perfect? Are his ways not perfect? Is his will not perfect? Is his character not perfect? And hasn’t all this perfection been displayed for us in the cross? Who are we to question God in impatience when he has so perfectly displayed his love for us in the shedding of his Son’s blood on the cross?
Waiting is hard, but it’s good, because it allows God to do his good work in us. Waiting prepares us.
We Wait Because It Preapres Us to Serve Those Who Wait
Pastoral ministry is all about serving men and women who are waiting. Romans 8:23 describes the tension that every Christian feels this side of eternity: “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Every Christian experiences the pain of waiting on a daily basis. Waiting for God to save a child. Waiting for God to deliver out of a trial. Waiting for God to heal a chronic illness. Waiting for God to deliver from a habitual pattern of sin. Waiting for God to repair a broken relationship.
Pastoral ministry involves ministering in the waiting rooms of people’s lives. A man who has had waiting imposed upon him by God is better prepared to serve the people in his church who are also waiting. A man who has pled with God to fulfill his promises is better prepared to serve those who are also pleading with God.
Everyone is waiting in one way or another. Waiting for ministry is good because it prepares a a man to serve others who are waiting.
We Wait Because God Waits
Waiting to enter pastoral ministry is not a time of idleness. You’re time of waiting is to be a time of actively preparing for what will come.
Waiting for God to move us into ministry is a reminder that we are really waiting for God to fulfill his ultimate promises for us. We are waiting for God to prepare a final home for us. In John 14:2, Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” So we linger here on earth, “…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13)
There is a time when pastoral ministry will no longer be necessary because Christ has come and made all things right. Waiting to launch into pastoral ministry is an opportunity to cultivate our longing for that time when Christ will come and escort us to our final home.
Waiting is good because it allows us to actively prepare, not just for ministry, but for eternity.
As Jim Elliot said, “So many missionaries, intent on doing something, forget that God’s main work is to make something of them.”
Waiting isn’t fun. It often feels like wasted time. It feels like all the action is happening somewhere else, and we’re being left out. But God often does his best work in a man while that man waits.