As you know from previous blog posts, I’ve spent a lot of time in the book of Nehemiah this first month of 2018. There’s no way I can claim to be anything like Nehemiah, but I see some similarities in our stories.
Let me explain.
I grew up in a home with a father who could lead anybody anywhere. For Dad, his leadership was a degree of skill and a significant amount of sheer inspiration. Dad was not afraid of anything. He had a passion for the local church and he inspired people to follow him to places they had never been. Dad was not manipulative--or at least intentionally manipulative. He honestly sensed he had heard from God about what his church should do and be. He had a way of convincing almost everyone around him to join him in a very compelling vision for the church.
Our little church in Tennessee had no idea what had hit them when my dad showed up as their pastor. They quickly fell in love with my mom, who dreamed of a quiet, simple life where her primary focus was her husband and children. Mom grew up in a fairly middle class family north of Cincinnati. Dad, on the other hand, grew up in a family that would never have been called “middle class.” Let me put it in blunt terms: the classification most appropriate for dad’s childhood was the word “poor.”
Dad had to work, even as a junior high school student. He worked and went to school while living at home, and he continued this pattern as a student at Anderson College in the mid-fifties. He worked to not only pay his way through school, but he also worked so he could send money home to help his parents make ends meet.
I never heard him complain about that. He never registered any type of unhappiness about his childhood or his parents. He always showed them love and respect.
I headed to Anderson College--now University--to pursue my music dream. I wanted to play music, write music, record music, arrange music, and work in the Christian music business. Bill and Gloria Gaither, lifelong friends of my parents, gave me a job the first day I arrived for class at Anderson College.
To say I loved this opportunity is a gross understatement. I would have eagerly dropped out of college at any moment to spend all my time in Alexandria, Indiana. It was Alexandria that housed the most significant writers and artists to ever appear on the Christian music scene. No one has surpassed what took place in this small Indiana town.
I loved everything about it. I loved every minute of it. I loved the warehouse, the sales department, the music, the hymnals, the bus, the concerts, the studio, the sheet music, the famous people who would walk through our cubicle-filled room and shake our hands.
What I did not realize at the time was that I had decided to prepare myself to serve my heroes. My music business degree would keep me on the front row of the most significant Christian music phenomena in the history of the genre. My music and worship degree would allow me to serve my dad should that be an option. The business part of my music degree would allow me to serve a church--perhaps my dad’s church--as an executive pastor.
Notice, though, that each of these roles was a behind-the-scenes role. And that is exactly where I wanted to be. Backstage. Unseen. Eager to help it all happen, but not eager to be near a stage or lights.
If you had asked me in 1981 if I wanted to be a leader, I would have replied, “not really.”
Then I had my Nehemiah moment.
Like Nehemiah, I had a front row seat to influence and power, both in the Christian music business and the church. Nehemiah was the cupbearer, which meant he was the king’s most trusted advisor. His primary responsibility was to taste the king’s wine before he did to make sure it was not poisoned. Quite a risky career path! But the benefits were amazing: he was a close friend to the king, with minimal dally responsibilities, and probably the most trusted and valued person in the king’s life (second only to the queen).
People were shocked when I moved to Oklahoma City to serve a very small church as their youth pastor and music minister. Nehemiah was called to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls around the city. I had no idea that I had been called to the privilege of leading our church where God does major work through us for our city.
Nehemiah went from being a prominent member of the king’s cabinet to being the construction manager of a wall building project. He made it into the Bible due to his construction career. If he had remained the king’s cupbearer, we would probably never have heard of him. But God decided to use Nehemiah to do something he didn’t know he could do: he went from pouring a few glasses of wine each day to organizing, managing, leading, and protecting one of the greatest construction projects of the Old Testament.
I went from my dreams of hanging out in the music business to leading a church and leading in ways I didn’t know I could. Even after 36 years, the leadership of Marty Grubbs can be messy.
But God saw something in me that I did not see in myself. God decided to use gifts I didn’t know I had. God decided to stretch me until I thought I’d break.
Nehemiah was called by God to build a wall. We will never know if he realized what he was capable of doing. But I can tell you for sure, as for me, I had no idea that I could in any way lead a church. I was called to lovingly lead a group of people who saw things in me I didn’t see in myself. And I still don’t. But it is what God had in mind.
I’d suggest you prepare yourself to be used by God in ways you think impossible. God may just wake you up one day and “nudge” you to consider something frightening and intimidating. He may knock you out of your comfort zone to use you in ways you never thought possible. But take it from me: when that happens, it may be a good time to hit your knees in prayer, seek the counsel of people you trust, and prepare yourself to be stretched.
It may not be a wall around a city. It may not be a church. But whatever it is, it will be something you don’t think you can do, or something you may not want to do.
If God is in it, you can’t stop it--and I’d suggest you not resist it. You may just be in for the ride of your life, on a journey that scares you half to death and stretches you in ways that are both terrifying and exhilarating. That requires a great deal of faith and an open mind.
God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with Him. I’ve finally learned that whatever He wants to do with me is far better than what I had planned.