Nine years ago today, I was ordained. A week later I was installed as the senior pastor of my first church. At the time, I thought I would spend the rest of my life preaching, doing pastoral care, leading the church elders, and — well, just being a regular pastor. I never thought that nine years later I would be where I am today — writing books about scripture full time. I have been contemplating this current vocation quite a bit lately.
As I contemplate it, the Apostle Paul often comes to mind. He left his Jewish faith where he was a member of the Order of Pharisees (a strict Jewish sect) to become a follower of Jesus. It was not an easy transition. The Jews were mad at him for leaving and the Christians were suspicious of him because he had participated in their persecution. Paul was sent away for several years for his own protection. No sooner does he return, than he is arrested for healing, casting out demons, confronting the Jews, and talking way too much about Jesus. He is then taken to Rome, shipwrecked on the way, and locked up. It is under house arrest where he writes parts of the New Testament.
Instead of becoming depressed or obsessed with gaining his freedom, he uses the time for two things: One was to teach the way of Jesus to those with whom he came in contact while under arrest. The other was to write about Jesus. He wrote about Jesus to the churches – often ones that he had visited or started. I’ve noticed several interesting things about what he says to these churches.
First, Paul told them that he longed to be with them. He would rather be with them than write to them. I share this longing with Paul so much that it hurts! I miss preaching every Sunday, performing weddings, doing baptisms, and, most of all, presiding over the Eucharist. Fortunately, I am asked to teach, speak, and offer pastoral care quite a bit. I cherish those times. It is so much more fun to look into the eyes of fellow learners and share our thoughts than it is to type words on my keyboard. I am so very grateful for these opportunities – keep them coming!
Secondly, Paul said that he worked for Christ and Christ alone. I marvel at how God has moved heaven and earth to give me this opportunity to work only for God. I saved quite a bit of money all those years before I was ordained – managing the engineering organizations at several startups. Between that and my amazing husband, who joyfully feels it is his ministry to provide time and space for my writing, we have always had way more than enough. We even have enough to share with others!
Thirdly, Paul prayed for those to whom he was writing. I have started doing that too. It feels very holy to pray for those I may never meet. Paul saw himself as a servant to those who read his letters. I had never thought of my writing this way, but I do now. It makes me happy to think of myself as serving others!
Fourthly, Paul asked others to pray for him. I ask that of you! Pray that I will not only truthfully interpret the mysteries that God has revealed, but that I will learn more and more how to do it in a way that is challenging and intriguing. Though I have a doctorate in ministry, I have no real training in writing, but seek it out every chance I get.
Before I end this post, the other thing I mentioned was that while Paul was in prison, he shared his faith. He ministered to the church members in Rome who visited with him. And also with his guards. Those guards were sent far and wide to conquer and protect Roman territory. They were likely key in spreading the teachings of Christ. In fact, gravestones of Roman soldiers from the first century have been found as far away as the United Kingdom. Some have the sign of the fish on them – a sign used by early Christians to declare themselves followers of Jesus. These soldiers may very well have been the ones that guarded Paul!
“For we are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” — Eph 2:10
Thanks be to God who gives us good work to do!!
April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! The cover painting, The Journey, is by He Qi and can be purchased on his website.