I write this with a heavy heart for our many friends who, as I write, are boarding flights to evacuate Tanzania. I write for the missionaries in Europe and around the world whose ministries and lives have been put on lockdown; for the students whose graduations are canceled; for those whose jobs and income have become impossible because of lockdown; and for the many other thousands of lives that have been shaken.
When troubles come, it is ok to mourn the loss of hopes and dreams. As parents, it is also ok to let our kids be sad over how their lives are changing. Our hearts need to go through the grieving process. The Psalmist regularly laments and cries out to God in grief. “Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan” (Ps. 55:1-2) God doesn’t silence our cries or ignore our tears. He bottles them. “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Ps. 56:8) There is a healthy time for lamenting and grief; it is the first step in confronting loss so that we can reach out to God. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Ps. 30:5) Let our mourning turn us towards God, not away from Him.
Like Job, many may be wondering in their heart “Why Lord?”. For Job, God didn’t reveal the reason; He revealed Himself. For many that are struggling with loss, grief, and disappointment while trying to make sense of their world: God may not reveal the answer, but He does promise to reveal himself. “If you seek him, he will be found by you”. (1 Chron. 28:9)
Here are 4 ways that God has revealed Himself in His word that have encouraged me through disappointment and loss. I pray that they will encourage and strengthen your heart as well!
As COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly, how will we respond? Trials test the theology of our heart. While our mind may know that we can completely trust God, our heart is often a few steps behind. The theology in my head hasn’t changed since leaving for the mission field. However, my heart theology of peace and confident trust in God has changed immensely and needs continual growth.
God revealed many fears in my heart as we ministered to AIDS hospice patients in South Africa. At that time, South Africa was the AIDS hotspot of the world. The people we ministered to often had TB or MDR TB (Multiple Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis) which is highly contagious and hard to treat. Our health was constantly at risk. When faced with potential threats to our health, how would I respond?
I have often said that God took me to Africa for 11 years because He needed to teach me patience. I’m sure this wasn’t the only reason, but it was one of the biggest things He did in me. Missions provides ample opportunities for frustration: redundant visa paperwork, laws that randomly change, gridlock traffic, confusing cultural customs, shopping at 5 stores for basic groceries, endless lines, nothing working, etc.
It is easy to begin to think that if life was easier then I wouldn’t get impatient, frustrated or angry. When this happens I begin to long for comfort and lack of problems. But in all of my frustrations, the events aren’t the real problem. The events are simply God’s tool to reveal my heart. Like fire placed under gold to heat it up and refine the impurities when they rise to the surface, God uses difficult circumstances to refine my heart. When I face a difficult situation and become impatient, frustrated or angry, it reveals what is in my heart. It allows me to see that I am not as patient as I imagined!
Here are some perspectives that God has challenged my heart with to help battle frustration. I pray that they will be a help to you as well.
As we serve the Lord in ministry, we are going to face problems. Lots of them. Learning to destress is vital for our quality of life. However, there’s an even greater reason for learning to destress. When we face problems, others are watching. How we deal with stress either makes God look strong …or makes Him look weak.
When problems arise, my natural, emotional response is to worry. My tendency is to stress about how things are going to turn out. But what does this communicate about God? While I may be trusting Him with my eternal salvation, when I worry I am not trusting Him with my daily problems. When I worry and stress, I miss opportunities to glorify God.
Problems are opportunities to respond in faith or fear. Opportunities to worship or worry. If I respond in faith, it shows that God can be trusted because He is bigger than the problem. If I respond in fear or worry, it shows that God can’t be trusted because the problem is outside of God’s control or concern. My head may be trusting God, but when I worry my heart is not.
I have a lot of room for growth in this area, but here are a few things that God has challenged me with. I hope they are a blessing as you seek to become a servant after God’s own heart.
We all know one. The photobomber. They lurk among us waiting to strike. With precision timing, they lunge from the shadows just before the camera’s flash. Not content to stay on the sidelines, they want to draw attention to themselves.
Most photobombers are just extending their childhood role as class clown and everyone gets a laugh… the first time. But what about those persistent photobombers? You know, the ones who won’t quit? You want a nice photo but they keep getting in the way. After a few ruined photos, you look directly at them and say: “STOP PHOTOBOMBING!”
I think God feels like this every day.
WE are photobombing God.
He is putting His glory on display for the world to see and we get in the way! Sure, God is still in the picture, but the picture is tainted. We aren’t supposed to be the center of attention, God is.
But God isn’t laughing. We are the photobombers that won’t quit. Day after day we keep grabbing a little attention here and there. We want others to notice us and what we do.
Part 1: God’s Heart Search
What do you long for in life & ministry?
My heart longs to bear spiritual fruit for the glory of God. I desire my life and ministry to be useful to God and count for eternity! My heart cries out with Moses:
“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Ps. 90:17)
I don’t want a wasted life. At the end of this age, with life behind me and eternity before me, someone waits. My Master.
His first words will ring in my ears for all eternity. I long to hear these words: “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21)! This will be my soul’s treasure and joy. I want “Well Done” ringing in my ears for all eternity!
But this fear haunted me: “What if I fail?” What if the life I thought was pleasing isn’t actually pleasing to my Master? What if God says: “I had so much more that I wanted to use you for. If only you had trusted me…”
Because of the potential to fail, I want to know if I am on course to obtain the prize. Marathon runners check their times at mile markers to ensure they are on pace to finish well. That is what I want to do. If I am off course I want to know now while adjustments can be made. If I wait, it will be too late.
So what should I do? Do I simply try to run harder and hope for the best, or is there a better way?
Paul shows us a better way. He tells us to “run that you may obtain” the prize. There is a way to run and a way not to run. Paul ran with a desire to win. But he ran with more than desire. He also did “not run aimlessly” (1 Cor. 9:26). In other words, Paul didn’t simply run harder, he ran in the right direction.
To help me find that direction I began to ask this question:
“Why did God use some people more than others?”
How do I know what to decide?
How do I know when to decide?
In life and ministry we often come to a crossroads where we must make a decision that will affect the rest of our lives. You know the kind. . . the ones that simultaneously fill you with excitement and fear. They are the ones that keep you awake at night analyzing every variable.
I have come to many crossroads where I faced life altering ministry decisions. “Should I go into missions?” “Which ministry?” “Should I change ministry/location?” “Should I have a tall or grande coffee?” (Just making sure you’re still with me.) Each of these decisions would affect the rest of my life and my family.
I wish there was a quick and easy formula to find God’s will, but there isn’t. It takes a lot of time in prayer.
However, I have found that I typically ask myself many questions before choosing a path. During our transition from Tanzania to Portugal, I wrote these questions down to help me with future decisions and to share with others.
These questions are not a formula to follow, but a path to follow day by day. Sometimes, it takes me weeks or months to work through them. They help me examine my heart to see if I am walking close to Jesus and being led by the Holy Spirit or if I am drifting. The order is not inspired, but I wait until I can answer “yes” on each question before proceeding with a ministry decision. Once I have answered “yes”, I act. It is too easy to hide behind unknowns. If I know what God has called me to do, I need to step out in faith and trust Him to work out the unknowns. If He planned the path, He also planned the details.
I hope these questions will be beneficial to you as you seek to follow God.
How do I know which decision is right?
Which path should I take?
In life and ministry we often come to a crossroads. A decision that will forever change our life. One path seams easier. The other path is blocked by fear. Choosing a path can be confusing and frightening. It can leave us endlessly analyzing each decision.
Over the years, I have faced many fearful decisions: starting an AIDS ministry in South Africa, opening an AIDS care home, beginning to train Zulu pastors, and taking the Regional Director role in East Africa. Looking back, I see a pattern in the decision making process. I had a list of questions I asked myself, but I usually got stuck on this: Will I take the path marked FEAR?
In many parts of life, avoiding fear is wise. Fear keeps me from playing hopscotch in traffic and jumping rope with cobras. It keeps me safe.
But what about following God? When God calls me to follow, it’s not to safety, it’s to faith. Faith by its very nature means stepping out beyond my ability and control. This causes me to feel anxious and fearful because I am not in control. This initial feeling of fear is normal. As much as I don’t like the feeling of fear, I am learning that it can actually help me see which path God wants me to take.
How do I know which decision is right?
Take the path marked FEAR.
Walk towards fear, not away from it.
How can I find peace?
If I am serving God, shouldn't God make my life easier, not harder?
I have always wanted my life to glorify God - to live a life that shows God’s infinite power and worth so that He gets all the praise, not me. In fact, this was the main reason I went into missions. The Bible is filled with stories of people who God used to show His power. Reading these stories, my heart says “Lord, use me for your glory, show your power through me!”. Maybe you can relate.
But here is something I missed (or maybe I secretly hoped that I would be the exception): When God used people to show His power- did He use comfort or trials?
They are God’s most used tool.
Think about the stories from the Bible of people God used. He entrusted Job, Joseph, Daniel, Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul and many others with major trials. Most of the people we remember faced great trials. In fact, we remember them because of how they faced their trials. Had they never faced a major trial, we probably wouldn’t know their name.
This has massive implications on our life if we desire to be used by God for His glory. Last time I checked, the Trinity hasn’t announced a change in strategy. God still uses trials. God still uses storms.
So my reality check was this: If I want to be used by God for His glory…I must be prepared for trials. God entrusts us with Trials. Lots of them. Paul said that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”. (Acts 14:22)
Do you want to be used by God? It’s worth it, but it isn’t easy. If we want to be used by God for His glory, we will be entrusted with trials.
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