Preparation for the Ministry
The ministers we plead for are such as are acted and led by God's Spirit, and by the Power and operation of his Grace in their hearts are in some measure converted and regenerate, and so are good, holy, and gracious men, such were the holy prophets and apostles, as appears from 1 Tim. 3:2-6; Tit. 1:7-9.
Barclay's Apology, Proposition 10, section XXXIII
God does not call the prepared. God prepares the ones God calls. This preparation is not always easy. There must have been Christians already in the Jerusalem Church who would appear to have the credentials to become an apostle to the Gentiles. Instead God prepared Saul. The preparation was not particularly gentle. It involved being struck down on the road to Damascus, being made blind and having to seek help and healing from the very people he had been persecuting. Then once he began his work he faced beatings, stonings, imprisonment, shipwrecks and floggings. He recites the entire list in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30.
I do not think that this aspect of the ministry is fully appreciated by those who fear that naming gifts will set one person above another. I certainly do not claim to have experienced the hardships or difficulties of Paul. But sometimes I have been called to do things that have reminded me of a story told by Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln said that he had spoken to a man being run out of town on a rail and asked him what he thought about the situation. The man replied, “If it weren't for the honor of it all, I think I would just as soon walk.”
One does not always recognize the preparation when it is happening. I had been reading the Bible and the writings of early Friends because I enjoyed doing it long before I came to realize that, since I had studied all this material which was not accessible or easy for many people, I had an obligation to share what I had learned or else all my study would be just so much self indulgence.
Sometimes the preparation happens as part of being faithful and doing the work to which we are called. The more I have taught about Barclay and the beliefs and lives of early Friends, the more I have been challenged by those very things. When I speak, am I following the guidance of the Spirit? I am often brought up short by the idea that God cannot reside in a place that is impure and unholy. There are times when I can think of no place more impure and unholy than my own heart. But Jesus came to heal the sick and cleanse and purify the unclean and impure and I experience that blessing. There are times when I feel the presence of God so strongly that being anything less than faithful seems an unfathomable choice. There are other times when I deliberately choose to be unfaithful to drive God away. I may talk a good story about living the transformed life but there are times when I say, but not that transformed. I am grateful to never have gotten the same instructions as Lot and his wife or else I would have long ago become a mighty fine pillar of salt. In spite of all that, I feel some improvement in my overall condition and I feel God's continued encouragement. Fortunately the requirement for ministry is a measure of conversion and regeneration and not perfection.
This recognition of our own weakness and fallibility is an important part of the preparation. It promotes humility. It also allows us to talk to people who are also struggling and be able to share something of value. Our experiences of grief and suffering enable us to be compassionate in the face of all of the grief and suffering in the world. If we are called on imitate Christ, our own experiences of pain and suffering opens us to share in some small way in Christ's work of bearing and bearing witness to all the suffering of the world. Christ is pictured as the wounded healer and the suffering servant and we also find that our wounds can be a source of healing to others.
In his introduction Barclay says, “For what I have written comes more from my heart than from my head; what I have heard with the ears of my soul and seen with my inward eyes and my hands have handled of the Word of Life, and what hath been inwardly manifested to me of the things of God, that I do declare.” He is in turn referring back to 1 John 1:1-3. As we have seen earlier, Quakers claimed to have the same prophetic ministry that the apostles had. This apostolic ministry is based on the personal experience of God and Christ. For the apostles, it was direct and outward while Jesus was alive and direct and inward after Pentecost. For everyone since, it has been direct and inward but it is the same personal knowledge of God. It is the same personal teaching and guidance as we learn to follow God's ways and forsake the ways of the world. This teaching and guidance converts and regenerates us. It also gives us our ministry. We can only minister from what we know from our own experience. This includes the pain and desolation that comes as we are transformed but it also includes the joy and peace the comes as well. We get to swim in both the ocean of darkness and the ocean of light and our messages, in season, come from both experiences.
Blessings to all,