God Makes the Seed Grow

Maybe you’ve heard this one before: “Two Pastors, an Elder, and a new(ish) Christian guy walk into a diner…”

No? You haven’t? Fortunately, it’s not the beginning of a bad church joke, but a potential starting place in the story of God patiently calling, then partnering, and even now equipping one of his stiff-necked children out of his wandering, into rest through repentance, for the works God has already prepared.

Roughly sixteen years ago, I was the “new” Christian walking into the Sunrise Café. I don’t recall what I ordered that day, but I remember the topic of conversation. Three mature Christian men wanted to encourage me and ask me, “Luke, have you ever considered seminary?”

“No,” I said, because I hadn’t thought of seminary… ever. Why would I? You could say I’d just merged onto the interstate of life. I was married, just exiting the newlywed phase, and was launching a career while remodeling our first house (a classic one-and-a-half story 1922 bungalow) on nights and weekends. Seminary would have been a disruption to the American dream I was just beginning to enjoy. Furthermore, seminary was for “other” people, not me.

The status of my faith background and experiences was “nominal.” I knew something of church culture and lingo, and I had received regular punches on my imaginary church-attendance ticket. But did I know Christ crucified for me? A year prior to this particular breakfast meeting, my wife, Lauren, and I had come to know Jesus in that very way! God had orchestrated people and events to bring us through the doors of what is now Emmaus Road Church (DeWitt, Iowa). There we heard words of life with “ears that could hear” and we received grace, which drew us to saving faith.

At the Sunrise Café breakfast, each of the men shared the character traits and spiritual giftings they believed were manifest in me. They simply wanted to encourage me to consider, in prayer, whether God might be calling me to vocational ministry. I listened with sincerity and appreciation and did spend time considering as they’d asked me to.

The conclusion I came to was: No, I wasn’t being called. I could cite numerous reasons, ranging from the very practical and the biblical, to the speculative, and certainly leaning well into the selfish. Regardless, God wasted no time growing a deeper faith within Lauren and me while also growing our family. He has used many people from many places over a period of many years to continue to accomplish his purposes in our lives. Various people have spoken “encouraging” things to me, echoing some of what I heard at the Sunrise Café breakfast: “You should go to seminary!” “Have you ever considered being a pastor?” “So, Luke… when are you going to seminary?”

It should have been encouraging, but I didn’t have any sense of a call. I didn’t see myself in that role, nor desire it: “I… I… I… Me… Me… Me… Mine!” Are you sensing that I was not interested? Even my wife sincerely and lovingly encouraged me that God might be calling. We both clearly remember a moment when I declared, in frustration and with finality, “I don’t sense any call! I fully believe that if God really wants me to go to seminary (and/or become a pastor), he’ll get me there… he can make my circumstances as miserable as necessary to push me toward seminary, if that’s what he wants!” Was this born out of a rock-solid theology? No. Yet, it did play out pretty much like that. (Spoiler alert!)

God was not deterred. He worked, one step at a time, to bring me to the state where I would hear him, listen, and respond. He closed and opened doors in the arenas of vocation, residence, finances, friends, and community. He sustained my family through some major periods of transition while also allowing us to struggle, substantially at times, in my search for purpose and fulfillment. In my own hidden struggle, God allowed my self-sufficiency to lead to its logical conclusion. Over a period of a decade or more, my own desires and pursuits led to ever-darkening dead-ends, while I progressively lost interest in various aspects of my daily rhythm of life, which had become something of a pretty terrible routine. While I loved my wife, kids, and the life I’d been blessed with, the American dream wasn’t as fulfilling as I’d imagined it would be.

Unexpectedly, the morning of May 25, 2022, God lifted me out of the miry clay I’d been tiredly trudging though. How? He sent me an email! (By way of Dr. David Veum, Lutheran Brethren Seminary President, and persistent encourager.) In it, he told me how he’d composed his message about a week prior, but he hadn’t sent it. I believe the Holy Spirit prompted him to wait to click “send” until 9:46 p.m. that Tuesday evening, knowing the next morning is when I would be “ready.” Dr. Veum’s email included a very basic observation—the harvest remains plentiful, but new workers are few. In other words, for God’s Church to grow, the world needs more pastors, evangelists, missionaries.

Immediately, the Spirit prompted me into God’s Word through a mental picture of me as Jonah. While reading Jonah, God exposed me. And I was crushed. Yet he was gentle and quickly sent me a second mental image, which sent me to John’s Gospel. In John 6, after some difficult teaching, people were turning away from following Jesus. When the Twelve were asked if they also wanted to go away, Peter’s reply was my reply—and I knew it was true. “Where else would I go? To whom else could I turn?” God, in his great grace, spoke his calling to me that morning through both texts—so clearly that even I couldn’t miss it! I knew Jesus alone has the words of eternal life, and that Word is what I needed to study to prepare for the work God created me to do. I still don’t know what that work will look like, but I knew then I needed intense and intentional time with the Lord, which is why I’m now a student at LBS.

So what is the point of all of this? In a different context, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Isn’t this a picture of partnering? I couldn’t begin to list the names of all those who either planted or watered the seeds of my life in Christ. Certainly, some people stand out, for they frequently tended to me as I’ve grown. The Lord knows who they are and so do I. More important than the mention of their names is the recognition of their attentiveness, faithfulness, and intentionality. Some of them, upon seeing some gifting from the Lord in me, sought to help me see it by naming and encouraging it. A few of them followed up (even pursued me!), risking the possible sting of rejection. Still others have partnered physically, spiritually, and/or emotionally. All of them either planted or watered, knowingly or unknowingly, and trusted God to do what only God can do.

Look around, Church, and see! Who near you has spiritual gifts you can sincerely affirm? This doesn’t have to be forced and ought not to be fake or strained. Take risks and plant seeds, in the young and the not-so-young. Be faithful to water seeds you come across, and take time to tend young seedlings, and even the more developed plants that others have planted. Listen, pray, and speak words of life, knowing God is at work and he alone brings the increase.

Luke Frobish is a first-year seminarian at Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

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