So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Luke 1:80)
The greatest things in life happen over time. Things may begin with an event, but they come to maturity by way of process. Always. Birth is an event, but growth is a process. Seedtime will yield no harvest without the passage of time in which little seems to be happening initially. The wedding is toasted with Champaign, but marriages are forged over the long haul in many moments that lack the more romantic, idealistic image of the ceremony. We all know that just because something is begun does not mean it will have staying power or reach its fullest potential. In all the above examples, the initial event is celebrated with great idealism, but the path is walked each day in realism. There are obstacles to overcome, challenges to be met, and setbacks along the way.
In short, anyone can start something, but if the endeavor is to last, the character necessary to see it through will have to be cultivated. That is process. Callouses will be formed, lessons will be learned, maturity and discipline will develop. It is often true that people with the greater talent do not always sit at the top of their field. Natural gifting can give one a false sense of advantage, while the one who is more conscious of his inability may be more committed to the process of training and development, ultimately edging out the greater talent. This is true in almost any field of endeavor one can mention, from sports to education to business to ministry.
Certainly, in the service of God, it is faithfulness more than eloquence or ability which brings promotion. Gifting is trumped by character. The former is bequeathed; the latter is developed. It requires time, consistency, and the willingness to overcome adversity. Looking into the scriptures, it is clear that God is into process. After recognizing the call of God upon his life, Moses stepped out to achieve nothing less than the liberation of the Jewish nation. While no doubt talented, commanding, privileged, with great resources at his disposal, his brief enterprise failed, resulting in his fugitive status in the land of Midian. The slain Egyptian was the result of a premature and presumptuous act of ambition, while the voice of God speaking to Moses from the fiery foliage in the desert some forty years later was evidence of the culmination of process. Often the character traits we need are found in the steady, invisible, even unappreciated service on the backside of anonymity, rather than in the golden chariot in front of the throng.
The same was true of David. While his brothers had all the traits a talent scout like Samuel might be looking for in a king, the humble shepherd had learned to love God in simplicity, tend to wounded sheep, and keep the bear and lion at bay. Just because one looks good in armor doesn’t mean one knows how to stand boldly before a giant. What makes a shepherd boy a giant slayer? Process. It was that same quiet confidence in God, honed through time in His presence, that enabled him to endure the days in the cave of Adullam with patience when rash ambition might have moved him to lift his hand against Saul. Instead, David realized the God who had announced his reign with oil from the prophet’s hand, would bring it to pass by His power and in His own time.
While I don’t know the numbers, it is certain that John the Baptist was preparing in the wilderness much longer than he was preaching before the crowds. However, in that time of anonymity, he developed the qualities of character that enabled him to keep his eyes looking out for God’s anointed rather than on his own moment in the sun. Jesus said this humble, short-lived itinerate preacher who worked no miracles, was the greatest prophet born of a woman. God had long prepared him through His process.
The call of God is often met with great ambition but were we to ask Joseph, he would tell us that there is a lot of time between the pit and the palace, and sometimes there is even a prison in between – a place where every day acts of faithfulness put us in position to handle the greater task to which we are ultimately called. In our youth, the calling seems to cast us as the centerpiece, the lead actor on the stage, while time and process teach us that it’s about something – indeed someone– much bigger and more important, besides whom we are but part of a diminutive and grateful supporting cast. As John the Baptist said, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete” (John 3:29 CSB).
We all have our calling from God. Each is unique, determined by His purpose and grace, but one thing is common to all those who respond to that call: we all go through His process. So, to think that it’s all about the moment rather than the journey is a mistake. God is not as concerned about our moment of service as He is the process by which we are refined. It is on the backside of life’s deserts, in our quiet moments of faithfulness, playing for an audience of One, that our character is crafted, and the victory is won.
Moses shows us that going for the stage before going through the stages will only result in a quick curtain call. Longevity in service comes from the slow process of maturation. Joseph shows us that dreams do indeed come true, but that their fulfillment is ultimately about God’s purposes and not about standing tall above our brothers. David shows us that worship starts by singing our songs of devotion to God in the lonely fields when there are no crowds to lead and no label looking to record our songs – that ruling only comes after serving, even when those you serve throw spears.
If it has not been a frustrating, sometimes seemingly interminable, stretching experience, you’re probably not too far into the process. Presumptions will be exposed as fallacy as we progressively learn just how little we know. The realization that God could have called anybody and that service is a privilege will replace the foolish notion that we are somehow indispensable (after all, Judas was replaced by drawing straws). For others, it will be the realization that the call of God is non-negotiable and cannot be passed off to someone else, and that often timidity and slothfulness can masquerade as false humility that wants to give the honor to another. These lessons take time to learn, and God is not in a hurry. He is building for the long haul, not the flash in the pan.
Words like authenticity, and integrity, become more important to us than power and anointing, for it is only when you are possessed of the former that you can carry the latter, and too many ruined lives are piled upon the rocks of quick success to think there are any shortcuts to the process. We spend all our lives trying to get somewhere else when God is wanting us to live in the quiet moment of His process. We rush to come out of the desert only to be met by the Serpent who still has shiny apples to offer in the form of money, power, and fame (not to mention many other allurements) by which countless men and women, loosed too soon from the stall, were taken captive. The seemingly endless preparation is justified by the longevity and fruitfulness of the ministry. It’s not about us, but it may take a long time to learn just how true that is. John the Baptist said it best: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), and only process will get you there.
Dr. Randy Bunch is the pastor of Connecting Point Church, located at 101 Adkisson Way in Taft, California, as well as a graduate advisor and adjunct professor at Summit Bible College in Bakersfield, California. He is the author of several books, including his new devotional, Immutable: Changeless Truth for a Changing World. For more information, or to purchase your copy, go to randylanebunch.org. For more information on the ministries of CPC, you can go to the ministry’s website at connectingpc.org.