Photo by ronnieb on Morgue File.
When was the last time you did something completely new and out of your element? How was it? Will you do it again?
It was not the last time, but it was a time that I will never forget. I was seventeen years old. The year was 1992, not exactly ancient history, but becoming more distant each passing day! In order to understand what made the event so much out of my element, you would need to know something about me at that age. Truth is, in many ways, I was not all that different then, than I am now; I was just more rough around the edges, so to speak.
I have always been an introvert. As a teenager, I was helplessly so. As I have grown older, I have learned to interact better with people. I have learned to manage my energies, so I can be around a group of people and not go stark raving mad in a matter of minutes! I have matured with age in this area. I have accepted the fact not everyone is an introvert, (I know it is a shame!) and that I must be able to handle that truth.
As a teenager, I was painfully unable to do this. Let me make the point even clearer by way of an illustration. It was my junior year, first semester, I had an AP English course. The teacher assigned us a number poems we were to read, memorize and recite to the class over the course of the semester. The first poem assignment came due, my classmates stood in front of the class, recited the poem (more or less!) and received their grade. What did I do? I sat and listened; more importantly, I did not take my turn. I intentionally took a zero on the assignment. I preferred an “F” to an “A” if it meant me having to stand up and speak in front of a group of people.
You see, me and public speaking did not belong in the same sentence. We did not even belong on the same continent!
Now, here is something important to know as well: I have also always enjoyed poetry. So then, I had read and memorized the poems for the assignments. If I had been asked to write the poem down, I would have done so. But, I was not going to stand and recite it publicly.
Two or three of these assignments came and went, with me taking a zero each time. After the third one or so, the teacher asked me to stay behind after the bell. I went to her desk and she asked me why I was not participating in the poetry assignments. I’m not sure what I told her, I probably stammered and stuttered for a few seconds, while looking straight at my shoes!
She finally said, I know you have read the poems and I know you have memorized them. So, I want you to recite it to me right now, right here at my desk, just you and me. And I did. She gave me an “A”.
As a student, I routinely strove to be middle of the pact. I intentionally made “C’s” and “B’s” instead of “A’s” so as not to stand out and receive any unwanted praise or recognition. I preferred to stay in the average range, because I had learned people don’t make much of a fuss over you if you are mingled in the masses. I always knew I could do better, but I never had the incentive to do so.
(To prove the point, in my graduate and post-graduate studies I graduated with a GPA over 3.9 and with honors.)
So, having given you all of that as a backdrop, back to the point of the prompt.
When I was seventeen years old, junior year in high school, second semester at spring break, my church youth group went to a youth camp, which we did every year. Long story short, (I know too late for that!), that youth camp I became a Christian. I have written about this in another post, you can find it HERE.
Immediately, I felt God dealing with me that there was more he wanted me to do. That night and the next several days and weeks, I prayed and prayed and prayed. I sought godly advice from my parents, friends and pastor.
Two weeks after my conversion, I walked down the aisle of our church and surrendered my life to God’s call and ministry. Two weeks after that, just a month after my salvation through Christ, I was scheduled to preach my very first sermon on a Sunday night at my church. The principal of my high school, a member of the church, had even announced on the loud-speaker to the whole school I would be preaching that night and invited everyone to come.
I had chosen my text (Ephesians 6), a title (The Greatest War Ever to Be Fought) and had written something of a manuscript. I rehearsed the message several times. I even had gotten permission from the pastor, to go into the church one weeknight and stand in the pulpit and do a mock performance.
Our church was not huge, we averaged somewhere between one to two hundred on Sunday mornings. But to me, it was gigantic! Again, I am going from not reciting a poem in front of my classmates, to preaching in front of a much bigger crowd.
I’m sure some people came just to see the spectacle! I’m sure many people believed I would stand to enter the pulpit and then like a runaway bride, bolt for the nearest exit!
Was I nervous? Absolutely! My mother has said my dad’s heart was beating out of his chest. I’m sure many who knew me well were in the same boat. They all knew how “shy” and “bashful” (these are the words people would use of me) I was. They all knew I had never attempted anything like this in my life. They all knew this was completely against my personality. They all knew I was definitely out of my element!
But, all the same, I did it! I made it through it. I preached my first message. A teenage introvert, just a couple of months earlier who could not recite a poem in class, now standing in front of a full church house proclaiming God’s eternal truth.
You might say I was out of my element!
How did I do it? How do I continue to do it now all these years later? The answer is simple: the grace and power of God! It was God’s grace through Christ that saved me that night at youth camp. It was God’s grace that called me to his ministry to preach and teach his word. And it was God’s grace that walked me up to the pulpit that night and gave me the courage to preach. And, it has been God’s grace and might ever since. The Holy Spirit who dwells within gives me that grace and power.
If not for that . . . I would still be the guy unwilling to recite a simple poem in front of a few people.
All these years later, I am still amazed at God’s goodness and grace. I have said it is a sign of a divine sense of humor: he created me an introvert, a non-talker until later than most, (when I did learn to talk I had to go to speech therapy), awkward in front of others, shy, bashful and all the rest . . . yet, it was this same person he calls to stand and preach and teach!
My senior year, the principal asked me to speak to the entire high school for the opening assembly of the year. I went from preaching to a church full of people to speaking to the entire high school student body, all in less than a year’s time!
I don’t think many would have believed it. I know I never would have thought it of myself.
That is one thing I learned early on about God: never say never!
Christ often calls his followers outside of our comfort zones, so we must trust and lean on him. It teaches us faith and trust. It reminds us that he is really in control. It gives us perspective and humility.