I have been blessed to serve 40 years in ministry, but I almost never got started. I was a shy church kid who was terrified to walk onto a stage with my Sunday school classmates and speak my name into a microphone. (No kidding; just my name!) My terror at speaking in front of people continued throughout my youth and into early adulthood.
Fortunately, when I was a young teen, a wise youth minister informed me one day that I would lead the devotion for a teen prayer breakfast the following week. I reluctantly complied (though I was not really given an option). I survived.
Two years later, as preparations were made for our teen youth group to lead an entire evening church service, the minister made clear to me that I would preach the sermon. (I don’t recall volunteering that time either!) On the afternoon before the service, I pleaded with my mother that she sit behind a tall person that evening so it wouldn’t make me nervous seeing her in the audience. That night I managed to race through a 14-minute message in about eight minutes, talking faster than an auctioneer on steroids.
Public speaking has not come naturally for me. Yet as a teen I still felt the prompting of the Lord toward ministry. During my first year in Bible college I was recruited to be part of a traveling quartet, which meant singing and speaking in front of lots of different congregations. Month after month I nervously presented my one and only sermon (from 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, because it talked about running a race, a subject I was comfortable with as a former high school runner).
At some point during my ministry training years I developed a special connection with Moses as I read about his fearful reluctance to answer God’s call, partly out of an insecurity about his speaking ability (Exodus 3:10). Then as I followed his amazing life journey through the book of Exodus and beyond, it finally sunk in that God might be able to somehow use me in his mission, too.
My trust grew as I reflected on God’s help and empowerment during each of my stumbling on-stage experiences as a fearful youth and college student. I learned that God is faithful.
At age 19 I was challenged to serve as a summer intern with a mission that made frequent trips behind the Iron Curtain into Eastern Europe, which was then still firmly under the oppressive rule of communist regimes. In six different nations I met strong believers who helped shape my life and develop my faith. I witnessed courage in the midst of persecution, contentment in the midst of hardship, joy in the midst of suffering, generosity in the midst of poverty, and faithfulness in the face of opposition.
I learned that God is faithful and sometimes intervenes in fascinating ways. In more than 25 border crossings over the two summers I saw how God could not only remove any imposing barrier, but also that he could calm any fearful heart with a peace beyond human understanding (Philippians 4:6, 7).
The greatest lesson in trust came as a result of our personal helplessness during each border crossing as we transported forbidden Christian materials. We prepared and packed carefully, and prayed fervently, but once we drove up to a check point with its gates, guard dogs, and armed border agents, we simply had to trust in God, instead of any clever actions on our part.
As guards rifled through our luggage, examined our vehicle, forced us to wait lengthy periods of time, and questioned us suspiciously, we could only stand by and watch God work, just as Moses called the people of God to do as they seemed trapped between the pursuing Egyptian army and the Red Sea (Exodus 14:13, 14).
Many times in the years since then, God has brought back those memories for me as I have prepared to speak in an intimidating setting, or initiate an uncomfortable conversation, or share a Bible truth with a skeptic, or walk into a home where a tragedy had just occurred. I have seen over and over that God is faithful.
We can trust God in the storms. We can trust him with our physical and spiritual needs. We can trust him with our career, our family, our crises, and our soul. We can trust him as we learn to face our fears head on. We can trust him to shine the brightest in our times of weakness.
Let’s continue serving faithfully and celebrate as God proves himself more and more. God is able.
Tom Claibourne celebrates God’s faithfulness with other believers at the Bethlehem Church of Christ near Winchester, Ohio.