In March of 1980, while walking back to my dorm on the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), I surrendered my life to Christ. I am compelled to admit that there was much that I didn’t know at the time.
I didn’t know that Indiana, PA would become my home and that I would spend more than 16 years as a campus minister at IUP. In fact, many of our meetings were held within 100 yards of the very place where I met God for the first time. Nor did I know that I would one day launch a Christian ministry and that my future office would sit within 200 yards of where I was “born from above”.
At that time, in 1980, I didn’t know that this nerdy chemistry major would teach from the Bible to thousands of people through the course of his life (which isn’t over yet—as far as I can tell). I didn’t know that I would produce teaching DVDs, author books, and begin a Christian publishing venture. None of those things were on my radar. I simply wanted to complete my degree, find a nice wife, rear children, and live as comfortably as I could.
No, I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into as I walked slowly along the snow-lined sidewalk back to my room, but I did know that my decision was going to cost me. Somehow, innately, I understood that I would lose cherished friendships and that I was turning my back on the only way of life I had ever known.
Romantic Visions of Ministry
I admit that the idea of being used by God to touch the lives of others appealed to me, but it was in a romanticized kind of way. I didn’t know that serving God would turn me inside out, scour the fabric of my entire being, and leave me feeling stretched beyond what I ever thought I could stand. I didn’t know.
Now, as I peer into an uncertain future (but with concrete promises), while looking back over the steep mountains and deep valleys of the past, it makes perfect sense that God would stretch me to such a degree. And, trust me, I am by no means unique in this regard!
We all love the thought of God having good plans and purposes for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11-13)—of Him doing something in and through us beyond what we would ever think to ask or imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9). I’m not so sure, however, that we grasp the fact that the greater the work God seeks to do through us, the greater the work He must do within us.
Growth Requires that We Be Stretched
Sure enough, there is something romantic about believing God for the impossible, but the romance quickly fades when abstract impossibilities become real, seemingly insurmountable obstacles. If we are to be used by God to touch others, each of us must grow into our calling. And, make no mistake about it, such growth cannot take place without us, at least at times, feeling stretched beyond what we think we can bear.
We, however, can take heart in the fact that God doesn’t stretch us in order to snap us; He stretches us in order to grow us and—eventually—to use us. But if we are to be used by God, our hearts must be enlarged and our love increased. Our knowledge of God must grow and our faith be perfected. And, by necessity, our vision must lift well beyond the scope of the small-minded, self-serving American Dream.
Take Comfort, Your Heavenly Father Is at Work!
Christian growth is never comfortable, but it is vital. The path ahead may be uncertain. In fact, it may appear to be downright scary. But God always is on His throne, He always has a plan, and He always is attentive to His much-loved children. So, if you have a passion to serve Christ, but are feeling stretched to the point of breaking, it is very likely that you are right in line with His eternal plans and purposes!