Growing up, I was an average kid. I loved pizza and didn’t care for school much. I always found it easier to play in the backyard than to clean my room. A normal little boy.
However, to spend a few minutes with me would reveal my most noticeable characteristic. I stuttered badly. From my youngest memories, I stuttered. I still remember in first grade dreading the teacher to call my name for an oral reading. But she would, I’d start, and within seconds, I heard snickering and laughter. I became a somewhat quiet kid who didn’t communicate much or well.
So you can imagine my surprise at age of seventeen, when I was at an altar praying. Unlike others, I can’t say I’ve ever heard God’s audible voice. But the closest I came was that moment when I clearly sensed His presence and felt Him calling me to preach His word. His call was clear. My response was just as clear. For one of the first times in my life, I didn’t stutter as I turned to my Savior and said, “You’re nuts!”
“Are you kidding? Preachers … preach! No way!”
And so for the next thirteen years, I ran from His will for my life. Oh, I was loyal to my faith, just not to His call. In church, I was a youth leader, Sunday school teacher, usher, deacon, and elder. I was willing to do anything I could for the Lord except what He asked of me.
You see, when I stuttered, beyond fear what I felt most was stupid. I believed I was intellectually inferior because I couldn’t communicate verbally. This fear was paralyzing at times. Yet I noticed in the process of being a youth leader, Sunday school teacher, etc., that it seemed to be fading. God was doing a work in me even while I was running from His call. It wasn’t a coincidence that the first bible study I taught, in my twenties, was the book of Jonah.
By age thirty, I was married, had a young son, a home, a job, and a respected position in my church. Our life wasn’t perfect but we were a Christ centered family and lived in His blessings. But with all that I did, something was missing. I still felt I was falling short of some greater purpose. But I didn’t want to start a journey into ministry. I had a life. I was involved in many ministry efforts already.
“Wasn’t that enough?”
I’ll never forget the day. I worked in Manhattan. The days seemed more draining as this question hung over me. I’d convinced myself, regardless of how foolish I was to deny His call when younger, that now … I was too old. It was too late.
As I boarded the subway that evening, my thoughts were entirely consumed with the idea of becoming a preacher. As I persisted with my “too old” excuse, I looked up. I saw an advertisement overhead for a local college that targeted older folks, like me, urging them to return to school. It had a quote from George Eliot that read, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
I froze. I don’t know if Mr. Eliot ever intended to inspire people into ministry but, in that moment, all my excuses ceased. I spoke with my wife, who had known of the call on my life since we got married and was lovingly patient with me, and our pastor. I began preparing and, a few years later, His dream for me was realized.
Since then, I’ve spoken in eight different countries and to gatherings as large as seven hundred. I’ve been so blessed by people who’ve told me of how the Lord spoke through me and how eloquent they found me. At times, I’ve heard well meaning people say to me, “You’re such a naturally gifted speaker.”
When they do, I stop and correct them … because I’m not. I tell them that naturally, they’d never sit and listen to me. In myself, I have no ability to communicate orally. I tell them, “I’m not a naturally gifted speaker. I’m a supernaturally gifted speaker.” And then remind them that, with Christ, they can be a “supernaturally gifted” anything He wants.
I’m grateful that Jesus never gave up on me. I’m also grateful that at the advanced age of thirty, now twenty years ago, that it was not too late.
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