“I’d Rather Be . . . .”

In January of 1966, I loaded my pregnant wife and our two toddlers into an old Volkswagen van and drove 6,600 kilometres (4,000 miles) from Edmonton, Alberta, to Wycliffe’s jungle survival training camp near the Guatemalan border in the south-eastern tip of Mexico.

Jack Reading in Canela village mid-1970s

Jack Reading in Canela Village mid-1970s

The Eye Opener
As part of our three-months-training, we were told to record everything we did each day for a week on 24-hour time sheets, marked off in 15 minutes segments. The totals at the end of that week staggered us. Of that week’s 168 hours, the number we spent in training sessions, private study, and assigned academic projects were amazingly few. Hours for recreation and entertainment were zero. The rest of our waking time was maxed out with chopping wood, hauling and boiling water, preparing food, washing clothes, and keeping the rain out of our makeshift shelter. Work, work, work, just to keep ourselves fed, clean, and minimally rested. I was deeply frustrated.

Not Much Has Changed
Today, more than fifty years later, I still get aggravated at how much time I need to spend in work other than what I want to do. If I had a bumper sticker it would read “I’d Rather be Writing.” No, I’m not chopping wood or hauling water. I do, however, resent the time I must spend in mastering the computer programs I need to keep me effective and organized in my writing and speaking ministry. Then there is the e-mail to keep up with, the book publishing and marketing, and financial records. Aaargh!

God’s Three-Point Plan—First Part
What is God’s plan for our ministry and work life? First, He has given each of us different embryonic talents and latent abilities which we develop through diligent practice. He also bestows spiritual gifts like faith, evangelism, insight or service. When we work within the area of our native abilities and spiritual gifts, we enjoy our work which motivates us to work at it more. Eventually, we become very good at it.

The apostle Paul urged Timothy “to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.” 2 Timothy 1:6 (NIV). God gave us our abilities and spiritual gifts and wants us to develop and use them fully in ways that make Him look good.

In my case, I’d rather be writing, or speaking to a group, or teaching at a seminar, or reading in order to increase my effectiveness in these ministries. But what comes along with that for all of us? All those little jobs that make us feel like we are a pair of pliers forced to do the work of wrenches or hammers. These jobs don’t fit us, we’re not good at them and we don’t enjoy doing them.

Second Part
God has made us unique, but He designed us to live inter-dependently, in partnerships as a community, each of us operating in the area of our strengths, not only meeting our own needs but reaching out to meet the needs of others. This directly contradicts our North American culture which glorifies rugged independence and the pride that comes when we can personally meet all our own needs. I remember when a fellow Wycliffe missionary who loved numbers did all my Brazilian accounting chores for me while I wrote Canela stories for her to tell on furlough.

Third Part
The third part of God’s plan deals with times when we are forced to work in an area of weakness when we feel like we are the wrong tool for the job. That’s when we need to pray, “Holy Spirit, please give me the power and self-discipline to do this job well.” It’s a prayer based on the rest of what Paul wrote Timothy, “. . . the Spirit God gave us . . . gives us power . . . and self-discipline” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV).

Work in the area of your native abilities as much as possible, work interdependently within a community, and trust God to give you the power and self-discipline to see you through every situation.

Working with His giftings, with His people, and together with Him. A good three-point plan!