After twenty-two years of formal education, including a Masters of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy from seminary, and more than 20 years of pastoral experience, I have discovered three unknown things that I needed from the start: a calf, a donkey, and a heifer. Three beautiful stories in the Bible and many experiences taught me this reality. You may need them as well.
First, a calf is needed if you are going to do ministry long-term. The story is found in Luke 15. The Father has a young son who rebels against the will and ways of his house and his heart. He tells his father that he wishes that he were dead and his inheritance already divided. The father divides his inheritance to his two sons, thereby giving the younger son that which he desired. The son takes his riches and journeys into a far country, living away from the father’s heart and father’s home. I have seen this in the lives of many saints of God. The child was raised right. The parents sacrificed and loved. The home life adored with grace, abundance, and affection. Yet, the young one rebels, jettisons the family for a new way of living in the far country. As a pastor, you walk this journey with each family and at times in your own home. What should you do? You need a calf. The father took a calf and began to fatten the calf. The calf represented hope. The calf stated that the rebellion, separation, and brokenness of today is not the inevitable reality of tomorrow. Prodigals do come home. In your heart begin to fatten a calf. In your mind begin to look over the pen where the calf is fattening down the road for the prodigal to come home. Do not give up hope. The calf represents trust in the Lord.
Second, a heifer is needed for long-term effectiveness. The story is of Samuel, King Saul, and a young David. Samuel is grieving over Saul because the Lord has rejected him as king. Saul disobeyed the Lord and the consequences could not be avoided. Samuel could not get over it. The Lord asked Samuel “How long will you grieve for Saul seeing that I have rejected him?” The Lord asked how long. In ministry, once anointed and God blessed servants fall away causing grief in our souls. The grief must not be allowed to overwhelm your heart and ministry. The person must be dealt with, replacements must be selected, and the people of God must be served. Samuel had a new direction toward a new person. God told him to fill his horn with oil and go to Bethlehem. Samuel told the Lord that he could not do it. Samuel’s reluctance was based upon the carnality of Saul. Samuel knew that Saul would kill him upon discovering what Samuel did. Therefore the Lord instructed Samuel to take a heifer. The heifer represented skill and finesse in handling a sensitive matter with faithfulness and prudence. Pastoral leadership demands shepherding of people by protecting them from the threats that they do not even see and guiding them to the healthy places to feed. Many pastors and leaders have to handle broken leaders and the fall-out of their broken ministries. Take a heifer with you.
Third, a donkey must be at the ready for any servant of the Lord to hear well done. The story is of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. Abraham waited until he was 100 years old for the son of promise, Isaac. Shortly after Isaac entered adulthood, the Lord called Abraham to take Isaac and sacrifice him at Mt. Moriah. God called Abraham to sacrifice his legacy, his blessing, and his own family to serve. Abraham saddled a donkey. Abraham obeyed quickly. He trusted God without hesitation. The wait for the blessings did not make him cling to the success or the blessing. The long wait and exhausting journey caused him to have a donkey close by for whatever the Lord said to do next. God tests faithful leaders even after they have reached the top of their ministry. Keep a donkey ready.