“Moses continued, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” Deuteronomy 18:15
Growing up the response I would get to my answer to “What do you want to do when you grow up (and later graduate)?” was “Oh, you want to become a chaplain!”
My answer, you see, was, “Go into the Air Force.” I wanted to become a pilot. Asthma, and God, kept me out of the military. (I have since contented myself with computer flight simulation.)
When I went off to college I started as a history major. I graduated as an English major. I thought about making the study of William Faulkner and his literature my life’s work. But on the way from history to literature, I briefly stopped at the Religion and Philosophy Department and an internship at a small Maryland church the spring semester of my sophomore year.
When I came back in the fall of my junior year (playing catch up to my class to the very end) I vowed to never be a pastor. How could someone go into a person’s home and ask them about their soul let alone other “personal” questions? My pastor, my home pastor, thought that I would become a music minister (and I have done so over the years) but God had other plans.
One of the things I remember about my college days were the intense spiritual moments, often agonizing but yet essential, in which a deeper work of God was taking place. One chapel service will forever stick in my memory. It was from a familiar passage, Matthew 27:22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked” one of the dearly love religion profs spoke. But the Spirit showed up in that chapel service and spoke to me as I stood, one of 12 out of nearly 750 students, and said in my kinetic listening response, “I will do everything with this Jesus who is called the Messiah.”
The journey into the religion major began by listening to God. I remember in my Freshman year an experience outside my dorm room door of a voice calling me to change majors from History to Religion. I did a year later.
But a year after that I switched again as junior. I was afraid, rattled. I could not be a pastor. I just couldn’t.
But I kept listening to God. And He spoke to me in the chapel service.
Over a year after graduation, I found myself, because of a desire to serve the church full-time for a while, in a youth ministers’ position. Yet again, because of conflict and fear (and even some anger) I did not want to go to Seminary because I was disillusioned with the church. (Read: church politics.)
But yet again, I kept listening and much to the shock of my fiance’ and soon to be wife, we packed up and moved to seminary. That was over thirty years ago.
But, a troubling period yet again would come in my first church after graduation from seminary. I did battle with the dark side of myself and nearly gave into it.
I resigned, troubled, angry, tired, and afraid. I never wanted to return to ministry.
But God was hearing none of it.
Three years would pass before found myself saying to God (to whom I was still listening after all these years,) with a resigned sigh, “Okay, you’ve got me. I will return to ministry.”
Over two decades have passed since then and I am a Pastor (Still). Thirteen and one half years will soon pass since coming to my current congregation. I was listening to God fifteen years ago when I began to sense it was time to move on. And I did.
The prophet part of the verse above from Deuteronomy 18:15 is one that I acknowledge I have as part of my work as a pastor. It is not one I relish. It is often one I dread. It is also what prompted the autobiography above.
But the other often unnerving part of the verse is Moses’ command to listen to him.
When I look out on the congregation God led me here to lead and serve I sometimes think, “Is what I am saying to them helpful, necessary, important?” I get responses from time to time which lead me to believe, yes it is. And God keeps affirming to me, “This is where I want you.”
And so I keep listening to God.