One of the most powerful and life-changing experiences of my life resulted from hearing three simple words. They were ordinary words, but what made them powerful was a potent combination of who spoke those words and when and where I heard them. Those words were spoken eight years ago, but they resonate within me as if they were spoken eight minutes ago. First let me back up a bit…
I spent over nine years in pastoral ministry within the United Methodist Church. Those nine years were filled with a mixture of great blessing, constant struggle and a nagging sense just below the surface that something wasn’t quite right. Looking back, it is not difficult to diagnose, but during that time frame I could not identify what was wrong. I was living in a state of mixed obedience, and was living as a result in a state of mixed blessing. When I was sixteen years old, as a very new Christian, I experienced a call to ministry. But that call was never really defined, it was a vague, but powerful, sense that I was to “do something” with my life for the Lord. As years went by, this vagueness continued. So I did something that is very common for Christians to do. I filled in the blanks. I decided to forge my own path the best I could. I “leaned on my own understanding”. I had warning along the way that this might not be the best way to proceed, but I kept on going. I had (and have) a genuine call to ministry and was (and am) powerfully gifted by the Holy Spirit for pastoring, teaching and leading. As a result I found a not insignificant measure of success everywhere I went. I flew through the ordination process without a hiccup (it took six years, but trust me this is flying through the process). In the interim, I secured an M.Div degree, served at four different churches in a nine year period (including four as a senior pastor), saw a lot of people blessed through my ministry and made many wonderful friends. Best of all, I met my wife, Bonnie, fell in love and got married. There was only one problem. God never told me to do any of this. (To clarify, this applies to the path of ordained ministry within the United Methodist Church, not the decision to marry Bonnie. God absolutely told me to do that) I just decided to do it because it seemed to me to be the best course of action. It’s kind of a mystery, isn’t it. how God can bless us and accomplish his will and purposes in our lives despite our failure to follow his path. I firmly believe that God led me to the perfect woman for me and that many of the relationships that were initiated and developed during that time frame were absolutely God-ordained. But at the same time, I know that I walked down a path that God never led me on and likely never intended for me. It seems impossible to reconcile those two thoughts, but I believe that both of them are true.
But there came a point where things had to change. And boy, did they change. Without going into to too much detail, I crashed and burned. I left pastoral ministry and started looking for a job. Oh, by the way, Bonnie was pregnant expecting our first boy and our finances, to put it mildly, were a mess. God provided a job (eventually a great job where I still am today) and we found a church home. I was crushed and confused, a walking ball of hurt and questions. At the same time, I was relieved and blessed, knowing that I was not continuing along a path of disobedience. Along the way, Micah, our oldest son was born and my heart was filled with joy and gratitude. This brings me back to those three simple words.
It was a Sunday morning and we were at church. The music began. We stood up and began to sing. Micah, now about 4 months old, was in his carrier on the seat beside me. He was fast asleep. I had my eyes closed and my hands raised, thinking about how good God had been to me. My voice was raised in praise and in that moment, life was wonderful. I suddenly felt as if a hand was on my chin, gently but forcefully pulling my head downward to look at my son as he slept. I looked at him sleeping and clearly, loudly and even a bit sternly – I heard these three words that I knew without a doubt were God’s voice to me. “You pay attention!”. Three words. But I immediately knew that God’s message to me was a lot deeper and more comprehensive than those three simple words. The blanks that were still there from that sense of God’s call on my life all those years ago were filled in irreversibly. I knew in that moment my purpose for being. I am a father. There is nothing in my life on earth that I will ever do that is more important and more deeply obedient and fulfilling of God’s purposes for my life than – in daily relationship with Jesus Christ, led by the Holy Spirit and in partnership with Bonnie – shepherding Micah, Nathan and Julian toward their destiny in Christ. Every other possible ministry activity pales in significance. I am a father. And our world (heck, our churches) desperately need fathers.
In the years that have passed since, this sense of purpose and calling have only grown. I have experienced great healing and freedom in the Lord as I have learned more of what this means in daily, practical terms. I have patiently (sometimes more patiently than others) let the Lord refine and flesh out what this calling looks like. And recently, I have sensed a release to step into a new season in this journey. Most of what I have learned and experienced along the way I have really kept to myself and shared only with Bonnie and bits and pieces with a few close friends. But now it is time to share a bit more widely. In this blog, and in other forums that are yet to be determined, my focus will be much more on sharing and encouraging other toward godly fatherhood. A lot has been downloaded into me over these past eight years and I look forward to sharing it. But let me start (and end this post) with a simple truth to dads. If you are a father, understand your impact. No matter what your calling in life – there are very few things in this world that can possibly surpass the lasting legacy that you leave as a godly, strong and loving father. It means way more than you could possibly imagine. Embrace that. Dad, you have a high calling and it is one that can change the world.