How do you know if you’re ready to do what you’ve been called to do? There is the story about Moses, who fled for his life into the wilderness after killing an Egyptian. We don’t know exactly why Moses killed the man, but he probably thought this would be the beginning of his ministry as leader and deliverer of his people.
How often is that the reason our calling hasn’t kicked in yet? We say we are in training for our calling, like the young future Zorro in the training circle, but assume that training is about skill, not about deepening our character.
I wrote in the margin of my book: “Is it possible to know this about yourself?” Of all the things we can’t accurately judge, our own character must be the greatest. How can we possibly know the depth of our own character? How do we know if we’re ready?
My friend Bob Cain asked, “So, if it's not possible to know that about yourself (the depth of your character), who do you have to do that for you?
That’s a fair question. There aren’t many friends, no matter how close, who’ll say, “You just aren’t grown up enough yet to do that. Wait a few years.”
About twenty years ago, in 1995, I wanted to lead a class at my church on the Great Books of the Christian Faith. I wanted to start with Knowing God by J. I. Packer. I had a study guide, I read and re-read the book during the summer, and made notes in the margin. I was ready to teach.
When I shared with Cyndi my dream of a Great Books class she smiled sweetly the way she does to let me know she loves me and believes in me and is proud of me, and asked, “But who would come to a book class besides Bear?”
Well, I didn’t know who would come, but surely there would be a few people. I thought it was a great plan to read Augustine and Luther and Eusebius and Calvin, and discuss their approaches to Christianity, and together we’d all grow smarter about God and have a better understanding of how we should live. I thought it was a worthwhile project, and I was the one to lead it.
Well, about two weeks before my class was scheduled to begin, the church asked me to teach something else instead – they had a video series about – I don’t remember, but I think it was relating to one another as church members – and they wanted me to teach that instead of the book. Well, bummer.
I mean, I was flattered they asked me to lead a class normally taught by staff. I appreciated the confidence they had in me, and I knew I had the skills and heart to teach the material. But I also felt the loss of a dream, and I wondered if someone at my church thought I was too much of a light-weight to teach Packer, or thought Knowing God was the wrong book. I mostly took it as a personal hit.
The video study went well but it was like a lot of canned courses I’ve taught where they take one magazine article and stretch it into a twelve week course. Classes like that are difficult to teach after everything has been said two or three ways and you still have eleven weeks to go.
I never mentioned my idea of a Great Books course after that, except to Cyndi and Bear. I was not the guy to do it, if indeed it should be done.
But then one morning not long ago it occurred to me that I had been leading a men’s book study class on Thursday mornings. We call I Iron Men. I was doing what I once dreamed of doing, only twenty years later
However, the difference was way more than twenty years. I had become a different person. Back in 1995 my goal was that we’d all become smarter in the ways of God; now, my goal is that we’ll grow together in our Christian walk, a band of brothers on a common mission. Twenty years ago my focus was on books and intellect; now it’s about relationship and leadership and how we help each other live as men.
It was a surprise to realize I was doing what I wanted to do so long ago. I wasn't ready back then; I was living the wrong message. I had to personally grow into the man God needed. My heart needed more training.
Thinking again about Moses, it was during those hot lonely wilderness years that he went from being a spoiled, privileged, rich kid to a patient, persistent, and wily backcountry survivor. Morley wrote, "What Moses no doubt thought was abandonment was actually equipping."
I once saw Gary Barkalow pull out a claymore, one of those huge Scottish swords, as in William Wallace, and swing it around the stage. He said, “This is a powerful and lethal weapon; but imagine going into battle with a sword this big before you’ve been trained to use it. You would hurt as many of your own men as the enemy. Having a powerful weapon from God can be dangerous if used before God makes you ready.”
That would’ve been Moses had he moved into leadership forty years too soon. That would have been me had I taught the class twenty years too soon.
Back to Bob Cain’s question – How can we know? – I don’t think we can know ourselves. But if we keep learning, and training, and equipping, and being patient, God won’t keep us sidelined forever.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32