Just As He Was

When I heard the news of Billy Graham’s passing, it brought to mind a story I heard about him several years ago. Billy came to a small Bible conference in Western Michigan and asked to speak at the evening service. The leaders of the Bible conference politely turned him down. But over the next few days, they noticed that the attendance at their services began to thin until it was only a handful. Billy had set up on the beach and a crowd had gathered. Nearly everyone who was supposed to be attending the services at the Bible conference was coming to hear him instead.

I’m pretty sure that if I had been one of the leaders of that Bible conference, I would have made the same decision they did. How were they to know that the bold young man who invited himself into their pulpit would eventually become the Billy Graham we know of today? This was before the days of the Los Angeles crusade that made the evangelist a household name. It was long before Graham achieved the status of “America’s Pastor.” In those days Billy was just another unknown preacher looking for an audience. Did they make the wrong choice? Most of us would probably say yes. But that’s only because we know what Billy Graham eventually became.

How do we distinguish between presumption and the call of God? Often it is only history that enables us to know the difference. There are many things we would like to do but might not have the ability. There are other things that we might able to do but will never be granted the opportunity. The race does not always go to the swift or the battle to the strong (Eccl. 9:11).

The fact that you can do something does not automatically mean that you will do it or even that you should. The fact that you are better at the task than someone else, does not necessarily mean that God will choose you to accomplish that task. The prophet thought it was a good idea for David to build the temple until God said otherwise (2 Sam. 7:3). God’s choice for the task was Solomon, a man who eventually proved to be of lesser character.

So what does all of this mean for our dreams and aspirations? It means, at least, that we need to leave room for God to have the last word about how they will turn out. His plans usually unfold differently from those we envision for ourselves. It means that we need to be careful about the conclusions we draw about our successes. The fact that more people show up on the beach to hear us may not say as much about our own skill or effort as we might think. We should be even more careful with the conclusions we draw about our perceived failures. The outcome is hardly ever up to us and we rarely know the whole story.

Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #6: Feeling Underutilized

William Carey
Image via Wikipedia


William Carey’s famous maxim was: “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” Yet some of us suffer from a nagging fear that we are underutilized in our current field of service. Our preaching ability merits a larger audience or our leadership gifts would bear more fruit if we served a congregation that was more responsive to vision. How can we achieve great things when we aren’t allowed to exercise our gifts to their fullest ability? 

 It is possible, of course, that we have overestimated our abilities. I know that I am better at some things than I am at others. But I also know that I think I am better at some things than is really the case. This is a conviction based upon common observation rather than self observation. Hardly any of us is really self aware. Overestimating one’s abilities is a common fault. One that is more easily seen in others than it is in ourselves. The kind of denial that causes us to think too highly of our abilities is usually immune to self-scrutiny. 

 But it is also very possible that we genuinely possess gifts and abilities which are greater than our current opportunities. A pastor who serves a small congregation may preach better than another whose ministry attracts a larger number. An associate pastor may have better leadership gifts than the senior pastor. The race does not go to the swift or the battle to the strong. The world is full of people whose talents go unrecognized. 

God who assigns us our field also determines the scope of our influence. Carey offers good advice, as long as we grant that God’s definition of “great” may not be the same as ours.