By 1985, I was spending more time in ministry than working on my real estate business. One day my pastor, also my weekly lunch buddy, said, "Pat, why don't you just sell your business and go into ministry full time. It's obvious that's what you love the most." I laughed. But it stuck with me.
Then in 1986, I started The Man in the Mirror Bible Study. That led to writing The Man in the Mirror which was published in 1989, followed by a growing number of speaking requests.
At the same time, my business spiraled into a severe crisis. During that dark night of the soul, God humbled my heart with refiner's fire. I had caught a bad case of "success sickness"--the disease of always wanting more, but never being happy when you get it. I needed to be broken. I needed God to start over with me. And that's exactly what happened. I couldn't get enough of His Word. My hunger to reach and disciple men just kept getting stronger and stronger.
In January 1991, I stepped into what I thought was a meeting to finalize the annual company budget. But my general manager and controller had met privately beforehand and decided to confront me. They said, "Pat, we both think you need to step back into the business full-time if we're going to prosper." I felt like I had been hit with a Taser.
I called Patsy and asked to come home and talk it over. As I was driving, my mind swirled with options and variables. But by the time I arrived home, it was clear we only had two options: leave ministry, or leave business. Or, to put it in a more positive light: go back into business full-time, or answer the call to ministry.
When I shared the news--and the options--with my wife she said, with uncharacteristic boldness, "Let's go for it!" So I decided to "drop my nets." It was a sweet moment. And the next few days of telling everyone--our pastor, attorney, staff, and vendors--were equally sweet. Apparently, they had all seen it coming before I had.
The calling is always sweet. Usually, when God calls a man, it's only after a long period of preparation, refining by fire, profound humbling, and a deep brokenness that leads to some meteoric growth. The end result? A grateful heart that longs to serve.
Often the call to serve can feel like a reward--an undeserved but deeply appreciated blessing. Other times, as in the case of Isaiah, we're flattened by the holiness of God (Isaiah 6). But in all cases, when it finally comes, the calling is sweet, sweet, sweet, beautifully illustrated in Ezekiel 3:1-3...
"And (God) said to me, 'Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.' So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, 'Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.' So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth."
Any man who has ever married knows how sweet it is at the beginning. Any man who has ever had children knows how sweet it is at the beginning. Any man who has ever been called to serve the Lord knows how sweet it is at the beginning. Nothing can compare to joy of hearing, "This is what I am calling you to do." There's nothing quite like hearing, "The job is yours."
But if the calling is always sweet, the people never make it easy. Nowhere is this more apparent than men's discipleship. Men are especially rebellious! And the wake of destruction they leave behind is staggering, as illustrated by the following story.
My father-in-law and I had lunch at a favorite spot. Our waitress, Abby (disguised name), seemed a little down so we struck up a conversation.
Abby's car wouldn't start and, not having much money, she was overwhelmed. She is 26 years old, a single mom giving her best to raise six and eight year old boys with no family in Orlando. The father of her children isn't in the picture--he's a bad actor. So there she was, left to raise two sons--sons with no father figure--by working for tips.
She went on to say that she has a younger brother who, also without a positive father figure, is on the cusp of becoming a bad actor too. So I told her about the work we do with men and gave her a copy of The Man in the Mirror for her brother. When we said grace over lunch, I invited her to join us, she did, and I sensed that God encouraged her heart.
As one of our leaders said, "A man is a hard thing to reach!" Jesus spoke extensively about how our callings would never be easy. For example, in the parable of the weeds, he told us that the sons of the devil are growing among us to make it difficult. He told us that people's hearts have grown cold, their ears can barely hear, and their eyes been closed. He told us that many would hate us because of his name. However he also told us to take heart, because even though in this world we will have troubles, he has overcome the world.
Our call to go minister to stiff-necked rebels is beautifully illustrated in Ezekiel 3:4-7...
"(God) then said to me: 'Son of man, go now to the house of Israel and speak my words to them.... But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate.'"
Let's face it. Serving the Lord comes at the end of a long courtship and a short honeymoon. Once we say, "I do," he throws up into the deep end of the pool. Once we say, "Here am I, Lord. Send me!" he immediately thrusts us onto the front lines of the battle. It is not at all unlike God to send us to minister to people who don't see their need.
So how do we survive?
Everything We Need
The calling is always sweet, and the people never make it easy. But when the Lord calls us to a mission, he will also provide everything we need to succeed in our task. Almost always, and especially for men's discipleship, that means we're going to need a thick skin and a hard head. Ezekiel 3:8-9 puts it like this...
"But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house."
This is especially true when it comes to discipling men. As one of our leaders said, "A man is a hard thing to reach!" Many days, don't you feel like you're trying to break up concrete? That's why God needs you to be a tough-minded, unflinching man with a forehead harder than flint and a mindset that says, in faith, "Whatever it takes."
Whatever It Takes
The story of Abby is a perfect example of why God wants us to disciple men. That's why we can never, and will never, tire or lose our passion to help evangelize and disciple men. The mission of "men's discipleship" is not only for the men, but also for all of the broken people, like Abby and her sons, left in their wake. Those men have no idea of the destructive cycles they are setting in motion that will potentially and probably devastate multiple generations for many decades to come.
That's why we must urgently do "whatever it takes" to help "every church disciple every man." Here is our charge in the words of Ezekiel 3:10-11...
"And he said to me, 'Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, "This is what the Sovereign Lord says," whether they listen or fail to listen.'"
This is the essence of "whatever it takes."
Listen carefully to your calling. Take it into your heart. Stiffen your resolve. Then go. Do the work. Whether they listen or not. By faith. From God's lips to your ears, "Whatever it takes."