Listening for the Promise

People - Browns, ChaplainMy favourite words spoken in the Bible by a mortal came from young Samuel: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10, NIV). Samuel was on the receiving end of “a word” from the Lord concerning the future.

I believe the Lord’s promise given in Ps. 32:8, NIV: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you and watch over you.” I also believe that to receive God’s promised instruction and counsel requires diligently coming into His presence, communing with God continually by praying and listening.

When I was called to be a Fellowship Chaplaincy Services (FCS) chaplain in 2005, I was a good deal older than Samuel but my dependency upon God was every bit as childlike. I needed a word from the Lord as I headed into full-time ministry at age 52 with no clue what form of chaplaincy I was being called to, nor how I would receive an income to help support my family.

It wasn’t my plan in 2001 to attend Heritage Theological Seminary in Cambridge full-time. It was the Lord’s idea. I was in seminary for nearly two weeks before I figured out what a Master of Divinity degree was and where it might lead. I remember being asked repeatedly in my first few weeks at Heritage: “What are you going to specialize in…pastoral, spiritual formation, counselling, chaplaincy?” My reply each time was: “I don’t know. It wasn’t my idea to come here. You’ll have to give me time to pray and see what the Lord wants me to do.”

Halfway through my three-year seminary journey and after much prayer, I clearly felt the Lord direct me to specialize in chaplaincy. Amazingly, my courses taken to that point lined up perfectly with the chaplaincy track even though I had not selected them with that intention.

As I continued to pray and seek the Lord about my preparation, I had no clear understanding of the ministry options available within chaplaincy. I had never met a chaplain nor even read about a chaplain apart from a biography of Oswald Chambers that described his short stint as a military chaplain in World War I. After months of prayer, I felt the Lord say to me that I was to become a “non-traditional, non-institutional” chaplain. Frankly, I didn’t know what to make of that bit of puzzling information, so I simply continued to pray and listen.

I have been serving the Lord full-time now for seven years as an FCS community chaplain. And just as He promised me, I am indeed a “non-traditional, non-institutional” chaplain. I generate my own financial support and serve isolated people within an approximately 200 km. radius of my home in Cambridge. The people I meet with are “isolated” due to mental and emotional issues, physical limitations, substance abuse, imprisonment, poverty, etc.

I believe that Christianity is essentially a “hearing test.” While it is imperative to read the Bible regularly (ideally daily) as an essential foundation for hearing and obeying the Lord, it is also necessary to be able to discern and receive guidance from the Holy Spirit. After all, how can a follower of Christ fully obey God unless he or she can hear the Lord’s personalized commands while navigating through the complexities of everyday life?

Serving the Lord as an FCS community chaplain has been a challenging experience that sometimes stretches me beyond what I think I can bear. However, the Lord has been entirely faithful in enabling, empowering and financing me to carry out my ministry assignment.

God has been kind to me and has always kept His promise, showing me the way to go as I pray daily and wait for His voice. That's why I take great delight in those wonderful words: “Speak, your servant is listening.”