Sometimes when and where you read a book means almost as much as what is in the book. Although the what in Work of Heart is pretty significant, the time and place in life when I read it made the book so much more valuable.
I was in the middle of my lowest point ever in ministry. Thinking strongly about packing up and “going home” back to America. But we had committed to being part of a Luis Palau evangelism outreach with several other churches in town, and as a part of that, we rented a couple of rooms in the center for a prayer vigil leading up to the campaign. We always had someone there, on duty, while people came and prayed. I needed something to read during my shift – so I picked up this book that my supervisor had given me a few months earlier. Am I glad I did!!
Reading this book, during a time like that – a low point, but also a spiritual retreat time – made the message much more meaningful, and allowed me to work through the questions the author includes for personal growth.
Here are my three best thoughts in the book:
1. The call we are discussing as a heart-shaping subplot in the leader’s story is the specialized and specific setting aside by God to some special lifelong task in His kingdom. . . The call is not invented, it is revealed. . . The point is this: it is tough enough to serve as a Christian leader with a call. Without it, the choice constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. (98-99)
I had struggled with understanding my call to Poland. I thought I was to come as a church-planter, but church-planting was so tough, and I, at least then, gave up after the first failure. Meanwhile, some elements of planting a church had no appeal for me. I think I had tried to invent a call – but based it more on a need, than on the way God had gifted me. This book was extremely helpful, beyond even the chapter on call, in helping me come to grips with this. It led to a crisis, where I almost left Poland, but we needed to go through that to come to an assurance of God’s leading.
2. Commonplace: Discovering that the ordinary is extra-ordinary. Habits: look for God, keep learning, say yes to God, stay grateful. (175-186)
Seeing God in the commonplace was probably what helped us survive the crisis we faced. When my ministry partner had an affair, when our church plant fizzled, when the dollar dropped by 50% – all at the same time – some of these reminders here helped us survive, and eventually see God’s leading.
3. The reflection questions from the conclusion. I worked through all of these, reflecting on most of them with my wife, and they really helped me see myself, my world, my heart and my call. (188-192)
As I mentioned, working through these reflection questions was so helpful. I had never done anything like that, and I’m so glad I did. I’m very grateful to my supervisor for giving me this book, and I would have to say it was one of the most positive influences in my life – ever. I’ve shared ideas and questions from this book with Polish leaders that I mentor, as well.
Personal follow-up note: I had a class with Dr. McNeal at Columbia. During a break, I told him that this book had saved me in ministry. His response? Not just “thanks” or “praise God.” He said (without really knowing me) “you are worth it.” I got a lot out of the class, but to be honest, it’s those four words that I will remember the longest.
You can buy a revised version of Work of Heart here: Work of Heart at Amazon