God's call to Abram anticipates next chapters. He said, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land I will show you" (Genesis 12:1). That first vision of being special to God was an unfolding of what God was going to do for Abram over the span of his life. I will show you. I will make you. I will bless you. I will make your name great. I will bless those who bless you. They were perhaps the chapter titles of Abram's story, the attributes of God being realized in the human he had chosen to represent him. "So Abram went as the Lord had told him" (12:4) began the journey. It was a life, a ministry, and a passion that would ignite Abram and see him through his entire epoch. The destination came later. God wanted Abram first.
We are often destination specific and allow the stops in the journey to define us. Certainly there is an overwhelming sense of his direction as we make important decisions about the places we serve. Like Abram we always need God to show us. To know God's call is to discern where he is guiding and when, how he has chosen to use our gifts and abilitites in an outpost of his kingdom. Sometimes we listen well and enjoy the blessings of his direction and care. In many instances a particular assignment, the place we believe he showed us, is just right and is our place of service for many years. It really does define us.
The reverse is often just as true, when we observe the wrong things and go to a field that tests, challenges, and agonizes us. Like Israel, there are times when we just don't listen as well. In more and more instances our movement is rash, guided by our own ideals, and the situation is a bad fit, the stay fiery and short. These circumstances are among the long list of reasons 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. To misinterpret how his leadership to the land we think he is showing us is such a mammouth sense of failure many of us cannot recover. These hot spots define us too.
Underneath all of them, however, is the life, the minstry and the passion, the constants in our call. They defy the labels associated with our places and burn deeper in us than the thrill of our victories or the agonies of our defeats, to borrow an old sports phrase. Armed like Abram with belief and trust in the one who called us, this life, ministry, and passion are the theological underpinnings of his claim over us. Most of us experienced these before ever considering the places. They are the story-line that links the chapters, the theme that runs through the places of our service.
On the wall in front of me are three frames. They are my life verses, ministry verses, and passion verse. Even in retirement and the closing of my final pastoral chapter they comprise the burning issus of the next one. This is because they didn''t change. Even as I grew spiritually, added education and experience to the resume, changed locales on five occasions, and experienced the mixed bag of pasrtoral reality, these verses were the sure compass points of his call. Even more, each of my four pastorates and a period with the South Carolina Baptist Convention were chapters defined by the three guiding Scriptures. And, that 's it. The pastoral destinations shouldn't define us. The life, ministry, and passion should.
That's the deal with next chapters. If the fires of life, ministry, and passion are burning bright, there will always be one, no matter what happened in the last place, or the one before, or the one before. You see, Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. That is, even before he new the place.
Paul counseled Timothy, "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7). It was about his calling, that which had been confirmed in him through the symbolic laying on of hands, the fire that should be burning in him as a result. The Apostle was reviewing the chapters of Timothy's life, the faith that came to him through his mother and grandmother, and commiserating with him about some hard times. As he gave him comfort and challnege, he urged him toward the next chapter---"By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:14).
That inner fire is the life to which he has called us first, the ministry for which he has gifted us to serve, and the passion that keeps us focused on him.
The sign-posts to the next chapter.