Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Matthew 28:16
“The number ‘eleven’ limps; it is not perfect like twelve. […] The church that Jesus sends into the world is ‘elevenish,’ imperfect, fallible.” – Dale Bruner
In the Bible when God calls somebody to do something, as far as I know, nobody ever responds by saying, “I’m ready! Good timing! You came to me at just the right moment when my tank is all filled up, and I’m adequately prepared.” The truth about you is you’ll always have a reason to say, “Not ready,” because for us, ready is to be so completely self-sufficient that success is guaranteed.
But in God’s kingdom, the issue of feeling ready is not the primary indicator of being ready.
I became a pastor at the age of 26. The little country church that asked me to be their pastor was very longsuffering and kind.
As a young man, I had concentrated all my energies on being a good preacher. I wrote sermon after sermon; even when I did not have a church. When I went to that little Baptist church in Oklahoma, I had six months’ worth of sermons. Back in those days, we preached Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. But I had all those sermons. I was ready. Or so I thought.
I desperately wanted to be a good pastor and yet I knew I was not ready to care for anyone’s soul. Not really. I was out of my depth. But I always had my dad, who was a pastor.
I had asked him how to do business meetings. (Robert’s Rules of Order)
I asked him where to stand after you preach a funeral. (At the open end of the casket)
What do I say at the baptism? I remember he said, “Put your right hand in the middle of their back, raise your left hand and say, ‘Upon your profession of faith and in obedience to the commands of our Lord and Savior, I baptize you my brother or sister in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.’ Then bend your knees, lower them down, and help them out.”
There’s no possible way I would remember that, so I wrote it down on a yellow post-it pad and stuck it to the glass in the baptistry. That way I could cheat if I needed to. The steam from the warm water caused the adhesion to release and the post-it was floating in the water.
I kept glancing at the bobbing post-it pad but couldn’t get a read on the words.
“Upon this rock…”no that’s not right.
“I feel it is important to be obedient….no, well, yes, it is important, but…”
“I’m going to baptize you now with our knees bent in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spicket.”
It was horrible and harmless at the same time.
But there was one thing that scared the living daylights out of me: what do I do if someone comes to me for pastoral counseling? I can read commentaries, listen to other sermons, and preach louder if I am unsure about my preaching. But what do I do when someone comes to my study with a spiritual problem? What do I say without the props of my sermon notes? I hadn’t finished college and had never gone to seminary.
Other than Baptist business meetings, nothing scared me more than pastoral counseling. I knew I could pretend to sound like I knew what I was talking about in a sermon, but they would find out early on what I did not know when they came to ask for counsel in my study. I felt so inadequate for that responsibility. I dreaded that day.
I was elevenish. I doubted.
I was a towering bowl of Jell-O.
One day someone called me to see if I would counsel them. I waited until after ten o’clock to make a long-distance call to my dad. (It was cheaper after ten o’clock, remember?)
“Dad, I have my first pastoral counseling appointment tomorrow. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?”
Long pause on the phone.
Then my dad said, “Lean forward, pay attention, and rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. You will never get in trouble for what you don’t say.”
The next day Chuck Smith came to see me and that’s what I did; palms sweating, knees knocking, I leaned forward and listened. The whole time he spoke, I just listened and prayed silently:
“Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.”
After about 45 minutes, Chuck had run out of things to say and stopped. I took a deep breath and asked him if I could pray for him. He said, “Yes.” I didn’t even know what to pray, so I let about two minutes of silence pass between us and then prayed.
When I said, “Amen” I looked up and he had the most serene look on his face.
He said, “Thank you, pastor. You really helped me.”
God had spoken in my silence (weakness) in ways he had never spoken in my sermons (strength).
And so, my friend, may you put your “yes” on the table and move into the task put before you no matter how incomplete and inadequate you might feel, and remember the issue of feeling ready is not the primary indicator of being ready.