While searching for partners in our mission Marci and I have spoken often about the different ways God has shaped us for our new calling. I speak of being thrice adopted—to a family, to God’s family, and to the NAB conference. I look back and see how the church of my youth emphasized missions, how I invested years in the training to be a professor, and backed into the pastorate and found it to be such a joy.
Now I’m preparing to be a missionary professor who trains pastors. It all fits together. But along the way I didn’t see that.
In family devotions we’ve been going through the Old Testament. I’d heard the Exodus story a lot, and it never gets old. But one thing stood out this past year. When God’s people cried out to him for deliverance from slavery in Egypt, God rushed in to carry out an 80-year plan to free them.
That’s right, 80 years. And halfway into that plan it looked like he was doing nothing. Like he hadn’t heard, hadn’t seen, and didn’t care. All that had happened in the first half of his plan was that Moses fled Egypt and found himself taken in by nomadic shepherds for 40 years. He found himself alone often. Meanwhile the situation in Egypt continued unchanged.
Today I met with the leaders of one of our partner churches and we talked about prayer. When I shared this thought about God’s 80-year plan in Exodus a friend of mine who serves at the church said, “God doesn’t reveal his plans to us in advance because if he did we’d prepare the wrong way. Moses might’ve trained his tongue to become a better speaker or studied politics or even war. But God wanted him to shepherd.”
Yesterday I started grading papers for my theology class in Brazil and prepared this week’s lecture notes. While writing I thought of the teachers who shaped me as a theologian. I often hear their voices in my mind as I write.
Diversity is relative, but for someone who grew up fundamentalist Baptist, I’ve been trained by those who were Evangelical Free, Wesleyan, Dutch Reformed, and Anglican. Sometimes I echo what they said, like when I tell my students you can’t unscramble the egg regarding remarriage after divorce. Other times I mention their ideas as those that might be true, but are right now different than mine, as when I think of the analytic philosopher who prized sharp logical consistency in a faith that strives against it at so many turns. His formulations were…interesting. And my theological shaping continues as I discover the culture, religions, and contexts of southern Brazil.
God doesn’t just shape pastors and missionaries. He’s shaping all of us. All of our work can give glory to him an serve our neighbors. As Paul says, we’re being conformed to the image of God’s Son. He’s shaping you today. It might surprise you what he has in store for you in the future, but if he let you know in advance you’d likely spoil the preparation.
Keep at it. Be faithful with what God has given you, and be open to what might be next. For me it is Brazil, and I love hearing about what it is for others.