Every now and then I (Ray) think about what I might have become if I made different decisions about what to do with my life. Sometimes I get out my high school yearbook. I look at the place under my graduation photo where the students on the editorial staff predicted what I would become some day. They wrote ” Conductor of The Navy Band”. Well, they got it partly right, but there was never any hope of that actually happening. I never became the conductor of The Navy Band or any other band. But I did become a Navy Musician, attended the Navy School of Music, and played in three of the fleet bands. In civilian life I had hopes of making my living with music. But that never happened. I had some really good jobs and a college degree in Business Administration which I hoped would lead to positions with high level titles, power, and financial rewards. But none of that happened, either. However, at about age 47, a new hope was fulfilled. I had become an ordained elder – a pastor – in the United Methodist Church.
When I first heard God’s call for me to become a pastor. I had no hope for or interest in that, but for about ten years I kept hearing that call through various channels. I kept saying “no”, but God persisted until I finally said “yes”. At age 47, about 25 years after I left the Navy, I began the process that would lead to becoming an ordained elder, to serve as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. It had become clear that this was God’s plan and hope for me all along. Everything I had been and done so far had been preparation for this hope, which would be fulfilled.
During those 25 years, one thing that was always part of my life was music. Even though I knew that I would never become a professional musician, I still found ways to keep playing my saxophone as an amateur. For example, as a pastor I played in the praise bands we started at two of the churches I served. Someone at one of the churches told me they were surprised, and they thought it was kind of cool, that their pastor played the saxophone in church. Actually, I thought it was kind of cool, too.
Then I had another thought. I thought that what was even more cool, and what was really surprising, was not that this pastor played the saxophone, but that this saxophone player became a pastor. That’s not at all what my high school and Navy friends expected me to become. And as for me, it was the farthest thing from my mind, until God kept telling me about the hope He had for me, which eventually also became my hope.
The whole story of how this saxophone player became a pastor is too long to tell here. The short version is that God did it. All I had to do was say “yes” to God’s call to become a pastor. I didn’t want to say “yes”. It took me a long time to say “yes” – about 1o years. But eventually, I did say “yes” to God. I stopped making excuses. I eventually had enough faith to believe that this was always God’s hope and plan for me. And therefore, since God never asks anyone to do something they cannot do, I would somehow be able to do it. It became my hope. I knew God would provide everything I needed for that plan and hope to be fulfilled – time, finances, and the intellectual ability needed to get through seminary.
Sometimes I’m still amazed that God chose me to be a pastor- with or without a saxophone. I really shouldn’t be surprised though. After all, God chose a shepherd boy named David to be a king. A harem girl named Esther to be a queen. A fisherman named Peter to be the the Rock on which the church was built. A persecutor of Christians named Paul to be the greatest Christian missionary the world has ever known. So if God can do things like that with ordinary people like that, cetainly it’s no surprise that He can choose an ordinary saxophone player from Jersey City to be a pastor. Nevertheless, it still is amazing to me what God can do. And its still cool being a saxophone playing pastor.
All of this is to share with you what I have learned over the years, based on my own experience. I have come to believe that before we were born, God hoped for and knew what He wanted us to do with our lives. Call it God’s purpose or plan for you or call it whatever you want. God chose each of us for a purpose. There is a broad purpose that God has for everyone. That is, to do our part in working under God’s direction, even when we don’t realize that’s what we’re doing, participating with Him in fully establishing His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. If you don’t like the word kingdom, then think of it as a state of being in which all people exerience nothing but God’s love, peace, and joy. The details as to how God wants to use us (jobs, careers, talents, etc.) to accomplish this broad purpose usually change from time to time, as they did for me. During my lifetime, starting with my teen-age years, I have had at least eight distinct jobs and four careers, and God is not done with me yet.
One very important thing I have learned is the importance of discerning what God wants to do with your life. In a number of ways, God will let you know what that is. Then it’s up to you to decide if your repsonse is going to be “yes” or “no”. Of course, you can say “maybe” or “not now”, but that’s really a “no”. Say “yes” to whatever God is calling you and then just do it and be that person. The bottom line is that you can be whoever and whatever God wants you to be. Because God can and will give you everything you need to be and do what He wants you to be and do.
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site. This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.
May God be with you,
Patty and Ray