This week, I pass a landmark in my ministry life. I will be walking through the graduation line to receive my Master’s Degree in Biblical studies. As happy as I am to make it to this point, it has surely been a long time coming…
After I finished my Bachelor’s degree as a religion major at a large Christian university, I went on to seminary like everybody said I should. But I was young and impatient, and skipped out of seminary after one semester to get a full-time position at a church. It seemed like the right thing to do then – of course I had my reasons and rationalizations – but the bottom line was I was just tired of waiting to get started.
“Short cuts” and “settling” are two of Satan’s most effective tools to sabotage our Christian lives. We see people who want love, but settle for the short cut of sex. They want fulfilling life’s work, but settle for the first job that will pay the rent. They want a good marriage, but just settle for a loveless relationship while somehow avoiding a divorce. We want our kids to love and serve Jesus, but settle for them just not getting pregnant or strung out on drugs.
I’ve known lots of people in the ministry who take short cuts as well. Right now you can search “ordination” on Google and find some website that will “ordain” you as a minister of the Gospel. Seriously…just look it up. I actually don’t remember much about my ordination council – it was so traumatic, sitting for over an hour being grilled by a grumpy group of church deacons, that my mind has mercifully wiped it from my memory banks! But it did actually mean something, that a church would look at my life and ministry and beliefs and put their stamp of approval on me that they could recognize God’s hand on my life. But a website – that means nothing. It’s just a worthless piece of paper.
I also know people who have basically “bought” their Master’s or Doctoral degree. Other helpful websites out there will bestow those honors on you for just “the body of knowledge you have acquired through your years of service”…in other words, for a healthy sum of money. The fact that these “seminaries” are not accredited and that no other institution of higher learning would recognize those degrees is no cause for alarm when all you are after is impressing a few clueless church members who don’t understand the difference.
What I keep learning in life is this: nothing of any real value comes quickly or easily. If there is no price to pay, the “pay off” at the end is worthless. But people still seem to think that maturity or wisdom can just be granted them by some sudden miracle…or by the prayer of their favorite TV preacher! They always look for the instantaneous healing and expect the sudden miracle, when God repeatedly insists upon a long, arduous process for most of the things in life that really matter.
I’ve found that one prayer rarely does it, because God’s goal is not to just grant that prayer – it is to get you continually on your knees, spending time with Him! He uses the things you want to change to get you depending on Him, coming to Him repeatedly, and getting to know Him extremely well in the process. The “process” – that’s it exactly…a long, drawn-out crucible, often chock-full of pain and frustration. So we come, we pray, we search God’s Word for an answer…and in the “process”, we get to know God pretty well…which was His goal all along!
So next time you’re tempted to look for a short cut…or to just “claim it in faith” over a habit that will honestly take months to break…or to settle for less than God’s very best for your life…get ready to strap yourself in for a long, bumpy ride. That’s because it is NEVER as easy as people make it out to be, and God is not interested in giving you a painless, easy, fast-food sort of success. It is a long haul, just like my Masters Degree which I’ll now be completing almost 27 years after leaving seminary. It has certainly been a long “process”, but from everything I’ve learned along the journey, trust me…it’s been more than worth it.