In the overall scheme of things, the process I had to go through to become an ordained minister was relatively easy. To be sure, while going through that process, I didn’t think so. When I sensed the Lord’s leading in that direction, I was barely in the second semester of my senior year of high school and not even 18 years old.
From that beginning of the process, I had to apply to and be accepted by a college to major in a ministry-related field (I chose Pastoral Studies with a minor in Greek). Then off to four years of university, then two more years of graduate studies. I spent most of the summer after receiving a Master’s Degree preparing for ordination. I was ordained in August 1982. Eight months later, my bride and I landed in Colchester, Illinois, to begin my first full-time role as the pastor of a local church.
From the time I sensed the call to ministry until I began serving full-time in that capacity involved a process of a little less than seven years. At the time, the process seemed interminable! However, thirty-eight years later, I can look back on those few years and realize that the process was quite brief—and, in reality, just the beginning!
I wonder how I would’ve felt had I been Noah, Abraham, or Joseph. Each went through a God-ordained process far more involved than my less-than-seven-years of schooling. And given God’s sovereignty and limitless power, those processes weren’t “necessary,” in the sense that had He chosen, God could’ve immediately accomplished for them the intended end to which He brought them. It seems God delights in the process as much as the final product.
Follow me in this.
Take Noah, for example. You know the story. In his day, humanity had degenerated to such a low point that wickedness proliferated, and man’s imagination ran wretchedly wild. As judgment, God determined to send a global flood; but He also determined to save humanity by saving one man, Noah, and his family. Once He made the decision, God could have immediately caused the rain to fall and simultaneously and miraculously preserved those He chose. Instead, God used a process—a 120-year process of tedious ark building amidst the ridicule of all who observed the seemingly ridiculous project.
Then there’s Abraham—Abram when we first meet him in the Bible where he’s living in a place called Ur of the Chaldees. From that land, God told him to leave to an undisclosed location, with the promise that He would make the 75-year-old Abram into a great nation and give him a great name. Off he goes, but a decade passes, and he still doesn’t even have one child, let alone a burgeoning nation around him! He and bride Sarai (who couldn’t conceive) tried taking matters into their own hands, and he fathered a son through Sarai’s handmaiden (yes, pretty alarming to us, but typical of the time as a way of preserving the family name). That wasn’t God’s plan, though. He made clear that Abram would father a son through Sarai, and that son would be the progenitor of the promised nation.
Thirteen years later, the aging, childless couple went through a name change when the Lord appeared to the 99-year-old man and informed him that a year later the son would be born through his wife, now named Sarah. And so it was. Twenty-five years after promising him he’d have a son, God brought Isaac into the world. Seventy-five years later, Abraham died; yet, the promised nation was centuries away from being formed! Isaac would have a son, Jacob, who would have twelve. Their descendants would multiply over the next 400 years in Egypt as slaves—not as a nation!
Then there’s Joseph, who lived within that nation-forming process. As a young teenager, he had a couple dreams of grandeur. Those dreams seemed to indicate that his eleven brothers, and even his parents, would bow down to him! “Preposterous! Unheard of! Not going to happen!” insisted the demeaned brothers. So at a convenient time, they sold the arrogant lad to slave traders en route to Egypt, where he was purchased by a ranking government official to become his household slave. Seventeen-year-old Joseph did well in that capacity—until being falsely charged with attempted rape by the woman of the house.
So off to prison he went. For years! His big break came at age 30. After successfully interpreting some dreams for a couple of fellow inmates, one of them passed on Joseph’s ability to Pharaoh, who just so happened to need a dream interpreted.
By the way, don’t forget that Joseph had his own dreams about 15 years earlier! What must it have been like to hear about the inmates’ dreams, interpret them, and a few days later, see them fulfilled? And then to hear Pharoah’s dream, interpret it, and begin to see it unfold? “What about my dream?” he could understandably wonder. At that point, unknown to him, he’s but 15 years into a process that will last nine more years. His dreams will fade into the background and be all but forgotten.
Finally, at age 39, Joseph’s brothers show up in Egypt, where Pharoah has placed Joseph in a very high ranking position. Can you imagine the flood of emotion as Joseph saw the scene unfold before him—not merely the fact that his brothers came walking into his presence and bowed down before him, but that long-forgotten dreams are now being fulfilled!
After Joseph’s father dies seventeen years later, it becomes clear that Joseph realized God had brought him through an intentional process for the benefit of thousands of people, especially for his own people and the nation that God promised to bring into existence. His brothers were a bit concerned that, with dad gone, Joseph might try to retaliate against them for the whole selling-into-slavery thing nearly four decades earlier. No need to worry, Joseph tells them,
“…for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”Genesis 50:19-20
In other words, “I’ve gone through one of those processes God delights to use to shape people and bring about His desired end.”