By Jeff Martin
During my first year of seminary, I began to look for a church that might need an aspiring minister with zero experience but ready and willing to serve. It seemed like all the seminary students were serving in some capacity in churches in and around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.
Many of the students worked part-time for rural churches that dotted the Texas and Oklahoma countryside hundreds of miles away. The churches would often provide a parsonage for the seminary students serving as pastors, youth pastors, education directors, children’s coordinators, and worship leaders. They would stay and faithfully serve on the weekends before heading back to school for studies during the week.
I thought that with all the churches in North Texas, I could surely find some position that would allow me to serve, get some much-needed experience, and make a little stipend on the side (which I desperately needed). Besides, I started to notice everyone sharing their weekend ministry stories on Monday mornings.
Lives were being changed for Jesus Christ every weekend. Marriages were being saved, youth were making professions of faith, revivals were being held, worship leaders were taking people to the throne of God, the sick and dying were being visited and prayed for by the church. God was on the move!
But I wasn’t there to see it. I had no ministry stories. It became harder and harder to hear about what God was doing through everyone around me. It felt like God had purposely put me on the sidelines and wouldn’t let me into the game.
Being a lifelong competitive athlete, this did not set well with me. It was like choosing kickball teams at recess in grade school. Two captains—normally the bigger, faster, stronger kid—make alternating picks from the pool of their classmates that want to play.
The number of prospective players dwindles quickly until there are only a few to choose from. The worst is to be chosen last. That kid feels of little value, and no kid wants that. This was how I was beginning to feel.
Maybe God didn’t see value in me. The other students actually were more talented and gifted in their ability to lead, speak, connect, and serve. Had I made a wrong choice to go to seminary? Had I really heard the call of God on my life into ministry? Doubt started to creep into my head and heart. In no time, the creep broke out into a full-on sprint.
In my current mental condition, I simply was not prepared for what God was about to reveal to me.
It was another sweltering Texas day in August. I remember seeing the heat waves rising off the blistering asphalt as I drove to work each afternoon. You could crack an egg on concrete and serve it over-easy in moments. It was absolutely miserable.
When I first started my job washing, cleaning, and fueling the seminary’s work trucks a year earlier, I arrived ready to do it with excellence. My blue industrial work shirt with my name stitched into the white label above the left pocket would be crisp and clean. I always had it tucked in so I wouldn’t appear sloppy. I had a pep in my step and a readiness to work hard, just like my dad had taught me and modeled with his own actions my whole life.
With each passing day that I couldn’t find a ministry position like everyone else, my gratefulness and desire to work hard at my job began to wane. I gave myself a new job title: “truck janitor.” It became increasingly difficult to drag myself to work. At the end of the evening, my clothes would be saturated with sweat. The heat had a way of sucking out a little bit of your soul with each passing hour.
I got to the point that I didn’t care if my shirt was tucked in or if I looked sharp. I still got my job done every day, but I was the only one there in the evenings, so why did I care how I looked?
My talks with God began to change. All I had anymore were questions. Why wouldn’t He put me in the game? Had I done something wrong? What was his plan for me? Why had he placed me on the corner of a dusty shelf, hidden away from all the action?
It seemed like I was surrounded with an army of gifted and talented ministers of the gospel actively making a massive difference in the world, and then there was me, the sweaty, blue-collar, truck janitor “changing the world” one clean truck at a time.
That soon changed.
It was another sweltering Texas day in August. I had dragged myself to the physical plant for another round of work. I looked nothing like a motivated employee. I was moping around. My jeans were dirty, my wrinkled shirt was untucked and smelled of yesterday’s sweat. My face looked ragged and worn out.
As I got out of my car, I walked over to a cinderblock wall, climbed on top of it and just looked at the sky. I had been reading about David in the Old Testament. I just finished the classic story of David and Goliath.
I had read the story many times, always focusing on the great combat scene and how David showed incredible courage, overcoming all odds and rallying all the men to unite in an overwhelming defeat of the Philistines. But there was a slight nuance in the story that had emerged for me. It was the narrative leading up to the great battle that caught my attention.
With the powerful Philistine army threatening the people of Israel, a call went out for all the young warriors of Israel to rise up and meet them in battle. There was an old man named Jesse who was from Bethlehem in Judah. He had eight sons. The three eldest joined the army of Israel. David was the youngest. While everyone around him was out fighting a great battle for Yahweh, David, the youngest of the brothers, was given the exciting job of herding sheep.
But he also had a part time gig as basically an Uber-eats driver delivering food for his brothers on the front line. He was then told to return to his isolated job of caring for his father’s herd of sheep. He did it faithfully. Making sure they had green pastures in which to feed, clean water from bubbling streams in the hills, and protection at night against predators like lions and bears as they slept.
As I was sitting on that wall and pondering the story of David, a realization slowly descended on me. I had been sitting with my back to the truck parking lot (I literally had a hard time looking at the trucks when I arrived each evening). I turned my sweaty head around and stared at the trucks. David had been given an assignment from God that was different than all the others who were fighting battles in the army of God.
His main assignment was to take care of sheep far away from the fight. The sheep had white wool and black hooves. As I gazed intently at the trucks sitting motionless in the parking lot, a burst of clarity overcame me. I clearly saw a group of all white trucks that had all black tires, the same color scheme as a herd of sheep.
This was a watershed moment for me. It was as if I suddenly woke up, rubbed my eyes and saw my surroundings clearly. This wasn’t just about a menial job cleaning a group of trucks. This was my herd of sheep that God had assigned to me! I needed to clean them, feed them gasoline, and put them to bed in the evening before locking up the complex to protect them from being vandalized or taken in the night.
I remember tears forming in my eyes as I realized how I had become so disenchanted and ungrateful with God’s assignment for me. He was shaping me into what He wanted me to be in his timing. I had been continually comparing myself with everyone out there on the front lines of ministry, which had led me to a severe lack of value in myself as well as the assignment God had given to me.
My immediate response was to ask God to forgive me for being so selfish. My next response was to tuck my shirt in. This was a simple move, but it was symbolic for me, similar to rolling your sleeves up to get to work. I only had short sleeves, so tucking my shirt in was the next best thing.
The change in perspective immediately affected everything for me inside and out. Outwardly, my clothes, posture, facial expression and pace changed. Inwardly, my joy, confidence, thankfulness, anticipation and my faith were all buoyed in an instant when I saw those trucks through a heavenly lens. They were my herd of sheep, and that was good enough, which meant I was good enough. A sense of freedom and calm descended on me.
I remember attacking my job that evening with a new zeal fueled by appreciation. This was my opportunity to express my thankfulness to the Lord by doing my job with excellence. Those trucks didn’t belong to the seminary; they belonged to God—no different than the small herd of sheep assigned to David thousands of years earlier.
My problem was that I had been focusing on my conditions instead of my convictions. If I truly believed that God valued me and had an assignment for me each day, my only option would be joy in what he had given me and entrusted to me to do each day. Whether it was winning souls or washing trucks, the conditions made no difference. Only faithfulness mattered.
That intersection with God on that hot Texas afternoon changed me. I’ve needed to be continually reminded of that truth time and time again, but God has always been patient and persistent with me. He valued me and it inspired me to give my best and own the part he had given me. This lesson would serve me well in the years to come, allowing me to see opportunities I otherwise would have missed.
JEFF MARTIN is a Fellowship of Christian Athletes executive director and founder of Fields of Faith. This article is excerpted from Empower: The 4 Keys to Leading a Volunteer Movement with permission from B&H Publishing.