Right now I’m reading a book that’s rocking my socks, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being by Zack Eswine. This book is all about the human side of ministry—specifically realizing that all of us who minister to others (vocationally or otherwise) are human beings.
Early on in the book, Eswine writes about limitations and the danger of ungrounded ambition:
…aspirations, even noble ones, can go awry. Human nature is restless. “Its ambition,” Calvin said, “longs to embrace various things at once.” Discontent with one thing at a time locally exposes the longing for grander things that can tempt even a shepherd. Shepherd is one of the primary images used in the Bible to describe a shade giver. The ambition of a shepherd can err. God rebukes erring shepherds. The error includes the lack of locality in their ambition…
Shepherds are meant to give shelter and refuge to an ordinary people in a particular place. So, when I think about giving shade locally, I feel Calvin’s point. Each of us longs to embrace various things at once. Locality can mess with one’s contentment. That is why leaders sometimes strive to be everywhere at once. But to be everywhere generally is to reside nowhere particularly. To strive for various things at once is to announce one’s secession from place. The driven have no places in what they imagine; only positions and postures. (p. 58)
What Eswine identifies here is important. There’s a kind of ambition or restlessness that is actually good and God-honoring; it’s what some have described as a holy discontent. A kind that recognizes the evidences of God’s grace in the lives of people or events, while also recognizing there’s so much more to be done.
But there’s a different sort of ambition that makes us see where we are and only wish we were somewhere else. So we run in all directions, doing as much as we can for as long as we can until we crack.
Or realize that maybe God’s purposes for us involve staying somewhere for a little while longer than we’d expected.
For a number of years, we’ve been wrestling with this whole question of “calling” (or whatever language you want to use)—and while we’ve seen God providing clear answers in some regards, we’ve not seen a lot of definitive forward motion toward a complete answer. And it can be kind of frustrating. I like getting things done, achieving goals, and so forth.
Waiting is hard, and I don’t really like it.
But shepherding, like anything else, requires waiting. “Complete patience” is connected with the role of shepherding in 2 Tim 4:2 because people don’t learn quickly (no matter how much we may want them to). Sometimes that person who doesn’t learn quickly is us.
Whatever our ambitions are—maybe it’s being a bestselling author, recognized as a leader, or pastoring a large and growing church—our locality reminds us that we can’t make these things happen on our own (and I really am speaking to myself here). We are where we are because God wants us there. Which means we can embrace it and wait, we can fight, or we can completely disengage.
When we fight, we always lose. When we disengage, we dishonor God. But when we wait and embrace our locality, we get to fulfill whatever God’s called us to for the moment.
Waiting is hard, but we need to do it.