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Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
This past week, I’ve been reading through The Hole in our Gospel by Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision. World Vision is an excellent Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. The title of his book references his contention that if your faith in Jesus has no positive outward expression, but is simply a personal and private matter, than there is a hole in your gospel. God’s vision is a community of people who have been transformed by the gospel, transforming the world into the kingdom of God.
The book is remarkable as well as challenging. I was especially moved by the story of how Richard left his job as the CEO of Lenox, the manufacturer of fine china and tableware, in order to take his position with World Vision. As I read Richard’s story, I was particularly struck at how persistent, yet gentle, God was in calling Richard to his position at World Vision, and how fearful and unequipped and undeserving Richard felt for the role. I have found that it is so easy to look at people in a position of leadership and influence and assume that they are among the strong and confident ones who have always had it together, while the rest of us normal people struggle and fail and never feel up to the challenge. That is why it is always so encouraging to hear someone like Richard be honest about his resistance to the life God wanted for him, but how God nevertheless continued to lovingly lead him.
Richard’s story went something like this – when the former president of World Vision was retiring, different people, independent of each other, kept telling Richard that they believed he would be the next president of World Vision. Over and over, Richard said no. After all, he didn’t know anything about global poverty or fund-raising. Furthermore, he had worked hard to get to the top of the corporate ladder, and his family was living in the home of their dreams, sending their kids to a school that they loved. He was a solid Christian, a leader in his church and community, and living a good and Godly life. But despite all of this, all the signs seemed to be pointing to working the front lines of the fight against global poverty and injustice.
Richard shared how, even as he kept saying no, he would think of the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19. He could feel God challenging him to not hold anything back in his discipleship to Jesus. And so he finally relented to allowing his name to be considered as a candidate. Sure enough, the board of directors unanimously decided on Richard as the next president of World Vision, and arranged to fly him out to Seattle to visit World Vision headquarters. Amazingly, on the very day he was to fly out to Seattle, a large British tableware company contacted him and offered him $50 million to leave Lenox and become their CEO.
After the board of directors selected him to be their next president, Richard spent two days at the World Vision headquarters in interviews and meetings. After that, he was so emotionally spent and fearful that he went home, and, at 4 PM, put on his pajamas, crawled into bed, pulled the covers over his head, and began to cry and pray, asking God to pick someone else (From all of us who have done the same thing or wanted to just stay in bed and hide from the world, thank you Richard for your honesty). Later that weekend, he called World Vision and told them that he was not qualified, and let them know that he was turning down the job. The board was heartbroken, and reiterated their belief that he was the right man for the job.
But then, later that week, Richard was at a missions conference at his church, where the speaker closed his message by saying that he believed God was calling someone in that sanctuary to not just give money but to go and serve, that there were hungry and suffering children all over the world who needed help. That evening, after the kids were in bed, Richard and his wife broke down sobbing, finally ready to give in to God. He remembered thinking, “What if there are children who will suffer somehow because I failed to obey God?” Richard knew he could no longer run from what was obviously God’s desire for his life, and so he called World Vision back and accepted the position.
There are so many lessons that come out of Richard’s story. Let me share one that has played over and over in my mind recently: if we wait until we have it all together to serve God, we will be waiting our whole life. So many of us disqualify ourselves because we know the truth about who we are. We know that we are weak, afraid, and not qualified like we think we should be to serve or to lead. And so we stay on the sidelines until we feel we are better qualified. But the truth is that we are never qualified. We never have it all together. It has always been by the grace of God, not by our own merit. God does not call the qualified, but qualifies the called. He regularly puts us in situations that are beyond our abilities, so that we might learn to depend on Him and not ourselves. And that truth is so important to understand, because many people like to say “God never gives us more than we can handle.” No – Paul does say “he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” (1 Corinthians 10:13), but that is in reference to temptation, not trials. The Bible never says that God will never give us more than we can handle. On the contrary, I believe that God routinely gives us more than we can handle on our own, so that we learn to depend on Him (and on others, for that matter), instead of thinking that we are self-sufficient.
Whether God is calling you to reach out to your neighbor or to combat injustice in another country, do not say no simply because you do not feel qualified. Listen to his call, and trust that if he has called you, he will equip you with what you need to succeed.
What do you learn from Richard’s story?
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