On Monday, June 7, 2010, I took the biggest step yet in a journey that many of you know very little about – I turned in my two weeks notice. My family and my church family have known about this for quite some time, but I have had to keep it shielded from the rest of the world before I was ready. Now I’m ready to share. In short, I’ve discovered what it is I’m truly passionate about and I feel called to go into ministry. I’ve been accepted to the ACU Master of Divinity program and I’m moving out there to go to school full time. For the full story as to what caused this to happen, I’ve reproduced a slightly redacted version of the admissions essay which I wrote in September of 2009. My redactions have been for the sake of transitioning the piece from a “timely” admissions essay to a “timeless” blog post. The admissions essay should give you some idea of why I’m doing this and what’s driving it. After the essay I’ve added in the saga of my life over the last 9 months and how God has worked in amazing ways, teaching me a many things in the process.
From my youth I have known that I wanted to be in the ministry in some way, but what I felt was my calling and what I actually acted upon has been entirely different. I am now actively seeking to rectify this through admission into the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University.
As a young man I felt the pull of the Spirit to ministry and it reflected in everything I did. I participated in Leadership Training for Christ, particularly focusing on the Speech, Bible Reading, and Song Leading events. Speech was my favorite and I excelled at it so much so that by the time I entered middle school I was leagues ahead of my peers in public speaking. I was also known at the Christian school I attended as the “Bible nerd” – the one who knew the most about the Bible. By the time I was in high school I was leading chapel, giving lessons to my peers, and even preaching occasionally on Sunday evenings at my home congregation. The preacher at my church (Legacy Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, Texas, formerly known as Pipeline Road Church of Christ, Hurst Texas) even began to address me as “preacher” in an attempt to encourage me into ministry. All of this, however, was part of growing up with a family that went to church and believed in Jesus. Looking back, it’s easy to see that the faith was not my own, but was my parents’.
School was never challenging for me, and so I made mediocre grades (A’s and B’s). In high school I would do next period’s homework during the period before and still make good grades. I did just enough to get by and stay in the National Honor Society. After graduating high school in three years I decided to go to Oklahoma Christian University with a long-time friend. Once I arrived I had to choose between a Bible major or something else. I found out that ministers do not make as much money as many other secular jobs, and so I chose the major that looked interesting and I thought would make the most money – computer science. I’d like to call that a mistake, but I think God has used this for a greater purpose. The first year of college was difficult and I struggled with many of the lower-level courses. This was partially due to multiple factors. I had a terrible work ethic because I was never challenged in school previously and so I didn’t know how to study hard. It was also due to sheer laziness – no one was holding my hand anymore. And finally it was due to being entirely unmotivated. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’ve never had any real passion for computer science and I’ve since discovered that without a passion for what you do, it’s worthless to pursue it.
I decided to push on and call it perseverance. I was determined to show that I could make it through. I failed multiple courses but dutifully retook them and squeaked by. I can remember doubting being a computer science major and seriously considering changing to Bible at the end of my freshmen and sophomore years. At the end of my sophomore year I met Erin, the woman who would later be my wife. I realized that she wouldn’t want to be married to a slacker, so I tried to pull my ailing GPA out of the gutter. During my junior and senior years I did not make below a 3.0. By the time I was a junior, I stopped considering switching majors, feeling that I was too far invested in computer science to give up and that I needed to graduate so I could get married. Even with my efforts during my last two years, I graduated with a meager 2.84 GPA and it haunted me while trying to find a job. Thankfully, I was able to find a programming job and begin my new career. I was optimistic that finally my troubles were over. I did it, I graduated, and it was time to start moving up the corporate ladder.
After the newness of my job wore off, I realized one terrible thing: I found no joy in it. It also bothered me that my programmer friends at church all loved their jobs. For whatever reason, they were all extremely happy and I was not. My job was actually a very good one: nice office, flexible hours, relaxed dress code, a fair amount of independence, a supervisor who is a member of the church, etc. Everyone I talked to told me it was a fantastic job and yet I found nothing in it. So I started looking for another programming job that perhaps I would be happy at, but did not find anything. Each time that I interviewed for another job I would ask God to do His will and each time I would not get the job – something I questioned at the time, but looking back now it makes perfect sense.
After not finding a different job, I sought higher education. I looked at masters programs in computer science and also in business administration – ways to move up. Both of these never panned out. Finally I found a program that merged computers with neuroscience that would allow me to go into the exciting field of neural prosthesis – prosthetics moved by the power of your thoughts alone. The transition from undergraduate computer science to graduate neuroscience was the most difficult academic experience of my life, but this time around I was determined to truly apply myself and so I set the goal of attaining and keeping a 4.0 GPA. As incredible and exciting as this field is, halfway through the program I participated in a research lab in which I realized that I had no passion for this either. Theoretically it sounded great, but practically I knew I would be unhappy at this too. By the time I was a couple semesters away from graduating I finally came to the realization that I didn’t want to do this either. My wife encouraged me to finish the degree since I was so close, so I graduated in December of 2009 with a Master of Science in Applied Cognition and Neuroscience with a 4.0 GPA.
During the middle of 2008 I was frustrated, unhappy, and becoming moreso daily. And so for the first time in my life I finally decided to ask God to lead me into the direction He wanted me to go – regardless of what that meant or where He would take me. I just wanted to find something I was passionate about. Not long after that I was given the opportunity to teach a Bible class at my home congregation (Prestoncrest Church of Christ) to a class of about 80 people. After teaching just one Sunday they liked the lesson so much that they asked me to come back and teach an entire quarter. I was excited by this and accepted their invitation. When I came back a month later to teach a lesson series the responses I got blew me away. Person after person asked me why I wasn’t in the ministry. It would have been easy to ignore if it was just one or two people being nice (I’ve experienced what that’s like), but this was almost the entire class telling me week after week to pursue ministry. I realized that God was answering my prayers by using these people as His lips to speak to me and soon I had other classes asking me to come and teach for them. Since that time (August 2008), I have been teaching nearly constantly and the response has been unanimous: go into ministry. This past summer (2009) I even offered an hour long lecture-style Tuesday night class called “The Jewish Context of the Bible” that had a regular attendance of over seventy. And as I have taught more and more I’ve realized that I love Biblical research and I’ve never felt more alive than when I teach Bible class. I discovered my passion: research and teaching on Second Temple Judaism and the historical context in which Jesus did his ministry.
And so feeling very humbled, I came back to the call of ministry I had felt all my life, but had pushed out of the way for my own selfish reasons. I sought counseling from ministers, trusted Bible professors from OC, friends, and most importantly, my wife. I was not only confirmed in my feelings but pointed towards the path of a Bible professor. So I began looking for a way to get from programmer to Bible professor. The first step I took was carefully laying out my goals, which are to get a Master of Divinity from the best school possible and then get my Ph.D. from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After deciding on my goals I looked for a way to get there. I asked many people where to go for the MDiv and I was told again and again to go to Abilene Christian University, so I decided that’s where I would go. Next I decided to get my feet wet in graduate Bible study and enrolled in Lubbock Christian University’s online graduate Hebrew course, which I made an ‘A’ in. I love Hebrew, and I love being able to read the Bible in its original language. If anything, taking this class has further ignited my passion for studying the Bible.
Finally making the decision to sell my house, quit my job, and go to ACU for graduate Bible has not been an easy decision, but I trust in God as He leads me. This is not a spur of the moment decision, but one that has been building my entire life. Looking back on my choices in college to major in computer science, I often feel regret, but I have recently seen something different. I firmly believe that if I had chosen to major in Bible from the start that I would not know what its like to be writhing in my spirit, burning for a passion in life. Having experienced pain at passionless work, it has given my true passion all the more meaning. I know what it’s like to be dead and to be alive.
Jeremiah 20:9 describes me:
“But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
I am weary of holding it in. Indeed, I cannot.
After I wrote the above essay, I was accepted into the Graduate School of Theology at ACU with a very generous scholarship, but the saga was just starting. I had the goals set, but now I had to actually make it happen. Erin and I immediately did a slough of home repairs and put our house onto the market in hopes to sell it and be moved so that I could start school full time during the Spring 2010 semester. We lifted up our prayers to God and asked that He do His will, on His time, and to give us patience while we waited. We’re not very good at patience, but I suppose that’s where the learning to trust comes into play.
The end of the year came and went, the house had not sold, and we looked back on it and wondered if it really was God’s plan to move us out to Abilene and for me to go to school out there full time. It was hard, scary, and felt like we were wandering around in the dark but we continued on, praying for God to lead us. I went ahead and took one graduate Bible class, Preaching Paul with Dr. Tim Sensing, so that the spring semester wouldn’t be a complete wash. Erin decided it was time to follow her own passions and began prepping to do a second-degree bachelor of nursing. Since she was an art major at OC there were quite a few prerequisites that she needed to take, so she enrolled in 19 hours of online courses (all her friends told her she was crazy, and she admitted it). And so as I took my one graduate course and worked full time, and Erin took 19 hours of undergraduate credit, we continued to try to sell the house which required it to be keep it in perfect condition because you never know when a potential buyer will want to do a showing. The entire semester was quite difficult.
I realized that I would need a job while we were in Abilene because once Erin started the intensive 12-month second-degree bachelor of nursing program, she would not be able to work at all, and it would fall on me to support us during that time. Add on top of that our desire to stay out of as much school debt as possible, I needed a job. Getting a 40 hour per week job was daunting and the thought scared me. You mean I have to take 12 hours of graduate credit per semester (if I want to graduate in a “timely” (3 1/2 years) manner) and work 40+ hours per week? Not only is that extremely time-consuming and leaves less room for study, but also questions ran through my mind such as, “What if there’s a class in the middle of the morning or afternoon and I have to take it? What if I can’t convince my (probably) IT/programming employer to let me off in the middle of the day for a bible class?” It didn’t look pretty, but I continued to try my hardest to put all my trust in God.
In early February of 2010 my sister went out on a limb and connected me with Dr. Tim Coburn, the director of the school of Information Technology at ACU. He and I talked and he pointed me to some ideas for jobs since he has many connections there in the city. He also mentioned maybe being able to be an adjunct professor (since I have a masters) for their online masters program, but wasn’t sure if that would pan out. Not too much later I reconnected with an old friend who is doing her own graduate work at ACU and she suggested I look at the Human Resources site for ACU. It was there that I found a job which seemed perfect: Web and Electronic Media Specialist. I was highly qualified for everything except video editing, but that didn’t seem like a big deal to me, so I applied. What made the job seem perfect was that it was actually with ACU itself so I would make full-time salary plus benefits including health insurance and tuition assistance which would have taken care of what my scholarship didn’t cover. But it got better: I mentioned this to the Bible class that I was teaching at the time and one of the ladies said that it was her son who was the hiring manager! I thought it couldn’t get any better – I knew the guy’s mom! Surely he would be impressed by my (in my opinion) over-qualified resume and listen to his mom. To make it ever better, one of the board members of ACU goes to my church and so I asked him to recommend me, hoping that would carry some clout.
I didn’t get the job.
I was stunned. Everything seemed to be so absolutely perfect and from God Himself! How could I NOT get the job? I mean, I knew the guy’s mother for Pete’s sake! But after my initial shock was over I remembered that I had prayed for God’s will and not mine and decided that it must not have been God’s will. I thought, “Okay, God, I see you didn’t give me the perfect job….I don’t know why, but I trust you.” So I kept going, watching helplessly as the days passed by and still no word from the “Big Guy”.
In late March we received an offer for our house and we became very excited. They had an inspection and submitted their requests and gave us 24 hours to respond. We naturally wanted to price everything before we agreed to anything, so we told them that. They walked away from the contract and never gave us a reason. We even e-mailed their Realtor and told him we’d do it all, but they didn’t respond. We were incredibly discouraged and once again we were left wondering what God’s plan was.
April came around and after a discussion with my sister she put me on the prayer list for her Bible class on Sunday morning. That very evening someone approached her about a job opening at the local ABC affiliate as the Web Manager. This job also seemed perfect – full time employment with benefits and a job that could be done (somewhat) from home! She quickly passed it along to me and I applied. My query was returned very rapidly and I had a great phone interview. That afternoon after my phone interview I was e-mailed by them and asked to come out for an in-person interview. Wow! The in-person interview went very well and it seemed like God was moving to accomplish what we had asked. They originally said they would get back with me on a final decision in just a few days. I waited 5 days and then followed up with them – they had been overwhelmed with work and had not made a final decision. So I waited about 10 more days to call them again and got the same answer but reassurances that I was still being considered. Then I decided to just stop calling and again was left with the sinking feeling of failure. Why didn’t I get this job? What’s going on?
People reminded us that God is in control. You see, the troubling thing about handing it all over to God, is that you let go of the steering wheel and stop pretending like you don’t have a blindfold on. You don’t know what will happen in 5 seconds – I call that a blindfold. The main difference in handing it to God and trying to do it all yourself is acknowledging that you can’t see where it is you’re going.
The spring semester ended well; Erin and I both made a 4.0 GPA.
God’s Plan Comes Together
I would frequently confide in the graduate Bible director of student services, Russell Kirby, about my fears. Would God pull through for me before the fall semester? Would I get a job in Abilene or would I have to work as a pizza delivery man just to squeak by? Would we be able to sell our house? Or would we have to leave for Abilene still tied down to our house, trying to pay rent in Abilene and mortgage in north Dallas? Russell’s wisdom helped me through days where it was easy to give in to my fears and all the while it still bothered me that a full time job would make succeeding in 12 hours of graduate Bible very difficult.
On May 17th, 2010, God’s plan started to come together. Dr. Coburn e-mailed me and asked if I had been able to find employment, and if not, he had a class for which he needed an adjunct professor. The class was Introduction to Programming this fall for undergraduate students. I leaped at the chance! A few weeks later he had a second class for me, Programming I. I was blown away! You mean I want to be a professor (albeit, of Bible) and I get to teach at the college level right now? That’s incredible! Even more incredible to me was how God used the masters degree that I had thought may have been a “waste” in order to secure me a job. I didn’t know it when I started that program or even during the program, but God had a plan and purpose for my masters degree.
Meanwhile, some ladies in the Bible class I was teaching in (Hearts in Action, and interestingly enough, the very first class that I taught back in 2008, the ones that gave me my start) decided to use their talents to help us sell our house. Without being asked or paid they donated their time and money to redecorating our entire house, including painting the front and redoing the gardens. After about a week of hard work they were finished and the house looked amazing! Erin and I were so touched by their service that we switched our Realtor over to one of the ladies who helped us. The very first weekend it was on the market we had two showings from the same person and now we have a contract on the house, closing June 28.
Back on the job front, I was rejoicing but I knew that two adjunct teaching positions was not enough to support us for the entire semester. It was then that I was approached by Joey Griffin, Vice President of Eastern European Mission (EEM), to do all of their web work. I had interviewed with EEM in 2009 for the same position but due to the economy and the totally contribution-based budget of EEM, they felt they couldn’t bring me on at that time. This time, though, they were ready. They asked me to come on board full time for the summer in order to get the bulk of the website reworks finished and I agreed to it. I would work full time for the summer and then drop down to part time maintenance mode during the school year. When this piece fell into place it was perfect.
As it turned out, God’s plan for us was way better than we ever dreamed. The jobs that I thought would be “perfect” would have required me to be in an office for 40+ hours per week and would not have been very flexible around my own graduate Bible classes. As an adjunct professor at ACU, I would be off from work when I was off from school which gives me more time to study. Add in the EEM job which can be done 100% from home and I’m not working 40+ hours per week, I’m not trying to work my school around my job, and I have real vacation time (not this measly two weeks a year garbage which the corporate world uses…frankly, I don’t know how anyone gets by on that, but that’s another rant). I am amazed, floored, captivated, shocked, and awed at how God has taken care of us.
Finally it was time to resign from my job. The decision weighed heavily on me because up until this point I could have backed out of it all, but once I resigned I was committed. And so on Monday, June 7th, I walked into my boss’ office, shut the door, and handed him my letter of resignation. My hands were practically shaking. My letter was short and in it I wanted to let him know that while working the last four years for him has been an enjoyable experience, programming just isn’t my passion and I don’t see myself doing it for the next 30-40 years of my life. The great thing about having a Christian boss is that he was 100% behind me. He said, “Well, I hate to lose you, but if I had to lose you to anything, this is the best thing I can think of.” Hearing this from him took a huge weight off of my shoulders and has made the follow days very relaxed, easy going, and in general very pleasant. Up until this point, everything was theoretical, but now it’s finally all happening. I’m really doing it, and it feels GREAT!
So that’s where I’m at, and that’s the story I’ve been dying to share with everyone. Before the fall semester starts there are still some things for God to move into place, such as where we will live once we get there. But I trust that all of that will be taken care of. I’ve been shown first-hand how God works, and I’m trying to imprint it onto my mind so that in the future, when I don’t know what’s going to happen and I feel like I’m wandering in the dark, I can remember how we trusted God and He took care of everything.
Hello, my name is James Prather. I’m a full time graduate student of Bible at ACU, I’m an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at ACU, and I’m the Web Manager for Easter European Mission. I am training to become a Bible professor focusing in Second Temple Judaism. God is leading me even still and I’m excited to see what his plan is for me, where I’ll go, and what I’ll do to expand His kingdom. This is my life…and I love it.
Peace to you,