My first job out of college was in retail sales. I hated it. No matter how much I knew about the product or how much I would reduce the price to entice a customer to buy, my sales figures never matched those of my colleagues. As much as I struggled on the sales floor, my other primary duty was an absolute nightmare. I had to design and implement both the window displays and the in-house sets that were to promote the latest and greatest items in the inventory. Of the many things that I am not, being a flashy attention-grabbing designer is near the top. You can imagine may trepidation whenever one of my regional managers showed up. He or she was never satisfied with what I had done, and usually with good reason. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the displays to look nice and improve sales, I just lacked that creative gift.
It has now been over twenty-five years since I left the world of retail sales, and I can honestly say I haven’t missed it one bit. The frustration of not being able to improve my skills finally caused me to look for work elsewhere.
I found my niche in the workplace as a painter. As you may have guessed, not as an artist, but rather a contractor. With training and a great mentor in the trade, I learned to be quick about my work and extremely neat. I relished the fact that I didn’t have to design anything, merely put the proper coating on it! This skill set allowed me to work in nuclear plants, factory settings and finally on a maintenance crew at a local college.
While working my 40 or more hours a week, I also slowly completed my schooling and training (though the training is always on-going) to follow the call God has put on my life to be a pastor.
That’s quite a way from retail sales you might be thinking, but consider this. I entered this stage of life with the enthusiastic approach of a new salesman because I now had the single best-ever product to promote: Jesus Christ! How could I miss with this material?
But miss I did. I realize I’m not the most gifted public speaker, but with abundant research and the occasional funny and applicable story from my past, I thought I would at a minimum be able to inspire folks to want more of this Jesus. Unfortunately, my preaching lacks the ability to really grab a hold of people.
Not to be discouraged, I approached small group leading and teaching with the conviction that if I took the time to really explain what we are studying from God’s Word, those in the group would dive in with me to plumb the deep truths of Scripture. Again, I experienced only a limited return on my investment of time and study.
Doubt in my pastoral abilities and the persistent voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t any better at pastoring that I was at selling had me once again wondering if I had better find something else to try. Maybe this unnamed something would finally be my ticket.
Before heading in a different direction, I decided to first to follow the advice I so often counsel with: Don’t make any big life changes without first earnestly praying about it. With a fair amount of self-pity, I approached the throne of grace with my tail between my legs, telling God I was pretty useless in this kingdom business and that He better open us some other way for me to serve Him.
I chose the term ‘throne of grace’ for a reason. It is exactly what I experienced! God in His unending grace listened to my pity-party. Once I got it all out, He simply let me know that it was my “sales” approach that needed changing. I came to realize I could talk a good game about what living life for Jesus meant, but these words are hollow unless they are backed up with living life as an example of what I was suggesting others do.
What freedom! What a release it is to live ministry instead of merely doing ministry. To wrap up the salesman analogy, I had to wear the product I was showing, not just talk about it. The practical application is simple, if not always easy. The love I feel toward God has to be evident in more places than just my office or prayer room. It must be the thing people remember about me after we have met or as we build a relationship. Wearing this love can/should take many forms, but a short list ought to always contain: patience, compassion, willingness to listen and to help (outside of my comfort zone), forgiveness and kindness, to name just a few.
In the short time since God has begun revealing this to me, He has allowed me to see tangible results as people are responding to Him through me in some new and powerful ways. I am deeply grateful to the Lord for His grace, gratified for the people who are growing in their faith and extremely pleased the old salesman has passed away.