Saturday, August 13, 2011

Following the Voice of God--a Letter to My Granddaughters

Dear Granddaughters,
Now you have both graduated from your universities and taking the bold step forward of following God’s call on your lives.  You are off to Rhema Bible Training Center.  Just before you left, you both seem to be concerned that your Papa would not understand your brave decision.  So, I am sending you this history of my own lifetime of following God
in hopes that it will reassure you that I understand better than anyone.

One good thing about getting old is that you get to look back and see clearly the incredible way He leads.  Now I can also see that during each turning point, I could never have dreamed how well it would work out.

When I was in high school, the war was on and many of those who had graduated earlier had already been killed in the war.  For that reason none of us young males planned a future, expecting we could very well not have one.  I enlisted at age 17 and was called up the next year.

In the service, we had no idea when the war would end.  Suddenly, one day, it’s over.  There I was sitting in the barracks with out a single idea of a future. Home life now would be boring, so for more adventure, I took off in the Merchant Marines.  But, I was horribly seasick as soon as the ship began to move.  So, after several trips to Europe, I knew that could not be my career.

For more adventure, my best friend and I bought a surplus Army plane and began to fly for his father who had a hunting lodge in the Laurentian mountains of Canada.

One day, sitting on the front steps of the cabin, for the first time, I heard what was almost an audible voice and which I can still hear inside me today.   I heard the voice of God! He said
“Donald I want you to be a psychologist.”  At that point, all I knew about psychology was some books I had read in the Air Force camp library.  An older soldier had taught me that if you wanted to goof off and not get caught when they wanted a work detail, hide in the library.  They easily found you in the PX or the theater but they never thought of the library.

Immediately after God spoke to me, I agreed to sell my half of the airplane, and leaving my friend in Canada, I came home and immediately enrolled in George Washington University.  Of course, I learned quickly that to be a psychologist required a doctorate and all I had was two and one half years of the GI bill.  Somehow though, in those days when I knew next to nothing about how God worked, I knew I was going to be all right.  I lived in converted army barracks and waited tables (I had learned that if you work in restaurants you get fed.  So I always did that.)

After graduation, with only a BA, I didn’t know what to do next.  Because I suffered excruciating terror at speaking in public, I attended the Dale Carnegie class.  I overcame enough of my fear that I became a poster boy for the course, so they hired me.  That was exciting because being in Washington, D.C., we had congressmen and governors and other important officials in the course.

Besides giving speeches for public groups, I also began to deliver a few youth sermons at the church.  One day on the way to work, I heard that voice again: “I want you to be a minister!”  I quickly exchanged buses and went to see my pastor.  My pastor was Dr.  Ed Pruden who was pastor of the important First Baptist Church which had President Truman in the congregation.

I blurted out to this incredibly important preacher that God had just spoken to me to become a minister.  His response was: “I know.  We have been waiting for you.   We would like for you to attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.”  At that time, I did not know that because of the men coming home from war, the seminaries had years of waiting lists.  Also, my Aunt Virginia who was the Bursar at Wake Forest College on the same campus as Southeastern Seminary informed me immediately I could not get in because there was no housing for new students.  Dr.  Pruden said not to worry, he was on the boards of several of them.  In less than a month, bumped to the front of the line,  I was on my way to Wake Forest North Carolina to the seminary.  Once again I was living in converted army barracks.   I was actually so green that I wrote on my application “Babtist” instead of “Baptist.”  I thought I would be disqualified right then, but the registrar thought it was hilarious and told me I was not the first.

By that time, I was beginning my family so I had to support myself with restaurant and store work plus song leader at a big rural church.  Finally, I begin to get a few calls to supply preach.   During my Sophomore year, a good friend asked me to ride with him to his church which was about an hour away.

As I sat in the pew while he preached, a strange new sensation came to me.  “I want to be pastor of this church.”  Obviously that was impossible as my friend was the happy preacher there.   But then,  a few months later, I heard that he had been called elsewhere and because my name came up next on the supply list, the seminary sent me up one Sunday to fill in.

After I preached, the chairman of the board of deacons stopped me at the door and said: “Brother Clark I hope you don’t mind waiting out front as we have some church business to take care of.  Then we will be taking you to dinner.”

I was about to learn that God was now shifting me to a new way of directing me! When they came back out, they said, “We just voted and want you to come be our pastor.”  I don’t have to tell you what that did to and for me.  Later, I was to read in Katherine Marshall’s famous book “A Man Called Peter” where Peter Marshall says to her, “Katherine, you know, God plants a desire in your heart and then he fulfills it.”

While in seminary I fell in love with my Professor of Pastoral Care, so at graduation, I applied to the Department of Pastoral Counseling at Baptist Hospital in Winston Salem.  Once again, I did not realize that there were a ton of applications for just five openings.  Once again, I am moved to the front and was even given an internship.

Now I was learning another way that God communicates with me.  I apply for what seems the next step and all the lights on the railroad track turn green!

The director of pastoral care became like a father to me and soon I was traveling with him and doing pastoral care of ministers at the seminary as well as working as chaplain and teacher at the hospital.  Again, I am living in converted army barracks.  After a year I became a Resident and now moved out of the barracks to the first nice place we had lived in–the Residents’ apartments.

As the time of my study was ending, a student of mine who was Appalachian State University Campus Student Worker, invited me to visit in Boone.  This is the gospel truth.  Before lunch, he had me registered in the Master’s Counseling Program, obtained an internship in the ASU counseling center, and found me a cute little house.  Green lights all the way!
At ASU, I taught and counseled and obtained my Master’s degree.  At that point, God began to add another way of leading.  I won’t go into the details, but it is a cute God that can do what he did.  He let them lose a letter with a job offer which would have been a dead end to my career.  Then he opened the door to a residence hall position and admission to the doctoral program at the University of Florida in Counseling.

At graduation what I now wanted was to be back in my original call as a psychologist and at the same time keep serving in the Baptist church.  So, God opened the door to a little Baptist College in Mississippi and it was perfect.

Unfortunately, the civil unrest of desegregation broke out and because I had been secretly meeting with the Freedom Riders at a Black college, I began to get alarmed for the family.  When dead  bodies began to show up, I said to them one day “We have got to get out of Mississippi.”  The telephone rings: “Would you be interested in coming to Kentucky?” It was my major professor from ASU.  I said yes so fast, I got a little embarrassed.  You were suppose to be a little coy in those situations asking about salary etc.

Kentucky was wonderful.  (There I married Suzannah, the most powerful woman I ever met.  But how God worked that out is another story.)   Because we were adventurous souls, when we heard they were recruiting for the Peace Corps, I applied along with many others all across the country.  Again, I was put at the head of the line, and practically overnight we were in Honduras.

Those were happy days.  Then the tour of duty was over and we had to decide what to do next.   One morning sitting in bed, I said “Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to Boone.  Suzannah, you could finish your undergraduate degree that I had interrupted and I could teach at a school I loved.

That day was a Sunday, and I went into the office to do a little work.  Mail did not come on Sundays, however there in my box was a letter!  It was from the chairman of the Psychology Department asking if I would like to come to ASU and teach!  We had not even applied!  And, to this day no one knows how the letter got in my mail box!

Now God was upping the amperage!  That event was my first supernatural manifestation!
However, after happy years at ASU, I got bored.  A job was offered in Hawaii, the most beautiful place we had ever been.  We sent Suzannah to sign the contract.  Meanwhile, I was getting physically ill.  Everything physical that was happening to me should have been screaming No!  But I was trying to override my feelings because I wanted so badly to be in Hawaii.

Then, God did a new kind of supernatural event.  God seated a contract lawyer next to Suzannah on the plane.  The lawyer offered to go over the contract we were going to sign.  She slashed with her pen all over it saying “No!  You don’t want to do that!”  And finally convincing Suzannah we were getting a very bad deal.

I called the ASU president at five o’clock in the next morning (he was an early riser).  He informed me that at 7:00 a.m. that very day, my position was to be advertised and that if I had not called, I would have had to reapply along with hundreds of other applicants.  Of course I would no longer have tenure. 

Not too long after that, the man we were about to sign a contract closed his company and disappeared.  It was almost food stamps for us. So I learned another way to hear from God (We will always wonder if Suzannah’s seat mate was actually an angel.)

You may have heard of the story of how after I received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I almost went to be head of chaplains at Oral Roberts new hospital and how, just as we were about to sign, God yelled inside of both of us “NO!”  (Another new way) We both sensed it at the same time.  That night we put out our first fleece, opening the Bible and pointing at a Scripture.  I won’t go into detail, but the Scripture yelled at us so loudly we can still hear it.  It confirmed our no.  Today, as you know, the hospital is gone and because I would have lost my tenure at ASU and because by that time jobs were getting scarcer, we could now be living on food stamps.

Later, we were asking a prophetess, what in the world was that experience all about as we actually thought we were following Him.  Everything had been green lights.  We had favor with everyone.  Then He yells Stop!  The prophetess informed us that it had been a test.   Will we keep pushing in the natural because we had begun to want the job so badly?  Or, would we obey God.   God knew the hospital’s future.  It is gone.   He was training us to be disciplined so completely that we could hear Him and do only what He said at the moment without explanation. 

During this same period, Suzannah and I were driving to Myrtle Beach.  Just as we were passing over a short bridge, I heard the voice again “I want you to become a priest.”  Putting my hand on Suzannah's arm,  and with a serious tone, I said God is speaking to me again.  I began to tell her what I was hearing when she stopped me saying:   "In a dream last night I said to you "Just get on with it." (a new way-- confirming through my wife’s dreams) but I did not want to say anything until He spoke to you."

When we returned to Boone, I went straight to my Episcopal priest.  Because I had a full time position at the University, and because the position of Deacon is also an ordained ministry, I thought that had to be what God meant.  My priest said “No, you should become a priest.”  And, once again green lights.  Within a year, I was ordained as a priest.  I was not even asked to return to seminary as many in my situation were having to do. 

So, know that your Nana and I are very excited for you both.  Perhaps if you pray for us, God might say “Now that the two of you are retired: “Go to Rhema!”  Who knows?  By the way, your Nana’s life of hearing from God has been equally awesome, but she likes to tell her own stories. 

Love, Papa

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