One June day, several years ago, even before I met Sharon, I had a special moment with God and His Word. It was a warm day at camp where the Scriptures came alive to me. It was this moment in my history when I knew that I knew the Lord was calling me to surrender my heart and life to minister in His name.
In response to that deep sense of calling, I responded to an invitation by my pastor, Gerald Davidson. He was pastor of the church where my family regularly attended, First Baptist Church, Mansfield, Texas. Later, he became the iconic Missouri pastor at First Baptist Church, Arnold.
I don’t remember Brother Gerald saying, “If you sense God’s call to the ministry, come forward and make it known to the church.” All I knew was there was at first a prompting to say “yes” in obedience to the Lord.
Then there was a compulsion like the Lord was looking at me and pointedly saying, “You, John, are the one I am calling and it doesn’t matter what anyone else does. This is your moment. Declare your intentions to serve Me.”
So, in my brokenness and trembling, I walked briskly to the front of the auditorium, met my youth pastor, Jerry Morris, at the altar and said “yes” to God’s call before the witnesses at my local church.
I knew some of what it meant to surrender to the call. Part of it meant that my options for undergraduate studies just narrowed. There were plenty of options for collegiate studies. Namely, a junior college or a major state university. However, if I was to prepare, if I was to be the most usable vessel, if I was to learn to shepherd, I needed undergraduate studies that prepared me for life-long ministry.
This call of God meant that everything in my life had to be on the table and the Lord was calling the shots. Dr. Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, says it this way in his new book, “But, the one who would minister faithfully must be submissive to God’s call whenever and wherever He issues it. That is not just as you enter ministry, it is throughout your ministry.” (Jason K. Allen, Letters to my Students, B&H 2020, page 16.)
“But Lord, the cost of a college degree at a Christian university is so much more money than the community college down the road,” I prayed in a way reminiscent of Moses at the burning bush. Yet there was an inner compulsion that I needed to . . . I had to trust Him.
I’ve learned since then, faith is the activity of mankind originated by God. As a result of our faith, we see the results of His activity and we learn He can be trusted all the more.
What I could not see was where I would acquire the funding for an education at a Christian university. What I also could not imagine was how our middle-class family with five kids could possibly afford to send their eldest to a Christian university.
However, my parents instilled in me a hyper-work ethic. The Lord provided good-paying jobs for me to work my way through school. Those jobs not only funded the tuition and books, but after my freshman year allowed for a summer interim pastorate in Butte, Mont. My pay was a whopping $30 per Sunday, $5 for fuel reimbursement and a place-to-stay. I was happy as a lark.
During that summer experience, I learned firsthand how gracious God’s people were to put up with my preaching and how desperately I needed an education in a Christian environment.
What I could not see was the Lord orchestrating an opportunity for a meeting with a beautiful, godly, sophisticated lady who would become my wife. I won’t bore you with all the details, but without a step of faith made the year before, I would not have met the love of my life.
Little did I know that this precious lady had made a commitment of surrender to God’s mission through His church. She thought at the time it was to be a missionary. Instead, the Lord would have her marry a pastor and they would serve a major portion of their ministry as state missionaries.
What I could not see at the time as a high school graduate was that the people I thought would be friends forever would change. And I would change. The only non-changeable is the Lord. At my Christian university, I would meet college friends that the Lord wove into our lives in ways we could not see to form life-long prayer partners and co-laborers.
Juniors and seniors: Whether God’s calling is ministry, medicine, music, or a myriad of other professions, don’t miss the best while choosing what you think you can afford. You cannot afford to miss those “God moments” that shape your life to be more of the person He designed you to be.
Missouri Baptists have three of the finest universities in the world: Hannibal LaGrange, Southwest Baptist, and Missouri Baptist. Missouri hosts one of the best seminaries in North America, and its undergrad program through Spurgeon College is exceptional. All of these universities would love to talk with graduating students about fulfilling God’s call. Our amazing God can be trusted.