I grew up wanting to be a professional baseball player. I dreamed of standing on a well-manicured, thick, dark green grass infield, singing the National Anthem, and waiting for the umpire to yell, “Play ball!” Playing ball was virtually the only occupational desire I had, at least until the summer before my senior year of high school.
My summers were filled with baseball. The summer before my junior year I joined a traveling team and missed eight weeks in a row of Sunday services.1 Even in my state of spiritual immaturity I knew that if my soul was going to survive, I would have to do something I had never done before: read my Bible on my own. And I did. It wasn’t deep study. I used the Campus Journal booklet, a “student” (read: “dumbed down”) version of Our Daily Bread. But reading a verse, or part of a verse, and a couple paragraphs of thoughts, heated my cup of zeal hotter than ever. Sadly, when school started I lapsed back into spiritual slackerness.
The summer before my senior year brought more baseball, more missing church, and more personal Bible reading. I loved it. I don’t remember anything I actually learned, but I do remember craving the Word.
The season ended and I attended our high school church camp. I actually paid attention during the sessions though I was easily satisfied with (what I now know was rather) milky truth. I delighted to talk about the Bible in our cabin, with fellow students and with staff leaders, as well as with my youth pastor. I wanted to serve and I volunteered at almost every opportunity.
A week later I went to our church’s junior high camp as a counselor. Again, I loved every part. I had no idea what major changes (in me) God was working.
One of the messages that week, the only one I remember, was about how to know the will of God. I had been taught that the perfect will of God was a line of successive dots and that each dot represented a choice. Our responsibility was to identify the next dot on God’s “perfect” path for us. Of course, if a person failed to connect the dots of God’s will then they would fall away from the line and urgently needed to swing back to be in His perfect will again.
This preacher had a brand new (to me) paradigm. He explained that God’s will, as clearly revealed in Scripture, is that one be saved, being Spirit-filled, making progress in sanctification, and submitting to authorities. If those things are in order, then God’s will for us may be whatever we desire most.2
Psalm 37:4 provides the governing principle. If we delight ourselves in the LORD, then He will give us the desires of our hearts. That sort of freedom sounds scandalous to some. But the idea is that if He is our greatest want, then He is working in us accompanying wants that accord with Him.
I was obeying God with a clear conscience (while I acknowledge now that a better informed conscience would have challenged me regarding my church absenteeism). The possibility that God’s will was what I most wanted floored me but also filled me with fear, especially because my increasing and consuming desire was to serve Him in full-time ministry. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than feeding on the Bible, telling others about Christ, and serving His Body.
I didn’t tell anyone about my thinking for over a month. I had seen too many disavowed “camp decisions.” I was not the son of a pastor, nor was I aware of any vocational ministry types in our extended family. I finally communicated with my youth pastor who could hardly have been more excited. Soon after I told my parents and, though my dad was thoroughly against it for some time, the desire in my heart grew stronger.
Everything changed that August in 1991, though not overnight. I pursued baseball through my sophomore year of college and now I look at the fancy grass from the bleachers. Back then I had no idea how much I didn’t know about the call to gospel ministry. I never would have guessed the road would lead to where I am today. Almost nothing I expected has happened, and almost everything that has happened has been better than I could have imagined.
- I do not recommended this approach to determining God’s call, that is, neglecting the assembling for few months. Like I said, I had a lot to learn. ↩
- I don’t remember the preacher’s name. I also don’t know if he plagiarized John MacArthur’s book, Found: God’s Will, first published in 1973. Either way, I’m thankful for both of them. ↩