Jonathan Downie

Don’t Give Up in the Process

It was about six months into my PhD. I had a meeting with my supervisor and I had a secret. I knew that my original idea for my PhD research just wouldn’t work. I squirmed and I mumbled. I looked thoughtful and I stared at the table. It would be the best part of an hour before I could admit to him what was already obvious: I needed to change direction.

Whatever you are trying to do, whether it is raise children or start a church or kick a bad habit, you will likely face moments like that. There will be moments when nothing seems to be working, when it seems easier to give up – moments when it seems easier to try to mumble the right words than admit that you have hit a dead-end and need to try something else.

As Christians, we are all far too good at hiding under flowery theological words and empty platitudes. We feel awful because nothing is going right but in church, we smile and nod and mouth the words, even though the song is getting stuck in our throats. We shake hands and spit out a verse, even though what we really want to do is go find a rock to hide under.

I used to think that moments like that were the result of some kind of sin or some deep spiritual issue that needed healed. Whenever I felt like that, I would ask for some kind of deliverance prayer or stamp around the room shouting Scripture verses.

Now, I realise that sometimes, getting to that place is actually part of the process. And the worst thing we can do is to mistake a momentary stopping point for our final destination. Here’s another example.

When I first started my business, I thought that, since I had the qualifications to do the job, churches would be falling over themselves to invite me to teach them all about interpreting. I wrote to a few large international churches, and a few big ministries and even tried to follow-up with phone calls. Guess what happened next.

Yes, the response was a universal “no, thank you.” All of the letters and calls were very nice but all ended the same way. At that point, I still thought that progress meant going straight from finishing your training and getting a place at the top table.

Thankfully, God rarely works like that. He would prefer that we grow and mature and learn the people skills and character that undergird the job skills. As much as I hate the phrase, there is something to be said for the idea of “paying your dues”, learning in situations that aren’t ideal, so that you are ready for your dream to be fulfilled.

After eight years of translating and interpreting for a variety of agencies and companies and five years of hard work to finish a PhD, suddenly I am gaining contacts and credibility among people who interpret in churches and some who help churches in other ways. Things aren’t yet at the place where I dreamt they would be when I completed my professional degree but in some ways they are even better. We see the same thing in the Bible.

Very few people jumped from nobody to spiritual giant overnight. Before David became King, he was an outcast in Adullam, hanging out with the very kind of people his mother probably warned him about. Peter had to learn about forgiveness and the power of the Spirit before he could preach on Pentecost. Later, he had to receive the revelation of God’s love for everyone, Jew or gentile, before he could apply it to his own ministry. Even Jesus perhaps thought that he would go straight to being permanently in the Temple when he was 12 years old, only to go back home to His parents until it was time for Him to be baptised.

Growth and discipleship are processes. They are processes that rarely proceed in a straight line. What looks like a detour to a lonely cave in the wilderness could be the very place in which God trains you to be a King. What looks like a backward step in the process of gaining a PhD could turn out to be one of the most valuable lessons you will learn in the entire process.

To go back to the story I told at the start, within two more meetings, I had a brand new topic and it would be that topic that would form the core of my final thesis. That new topic would lead me to spend time in a multilingual church in Germany, write a book on interpreting, and be invited to talk in several different European countries. I might not have liked it but the pain of the process was worth the reward of the results. What process are you in today?

[Check out Jonathan’s own website at Integrity Languages.]