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?
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.
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.
Busyness Driven by Desire to Please God-
Years ago I discovered a tension in my life and ministry. Not a tension between other people, but a tension inside of me, the tension between being still and being busy. Maybe you have felt it also. Because of my desire to hear God’s “well done”, I found myself busy doing for God. I desired to see God glorified through me, so I did, and did, and did. I was addicted to busyness.
I would like to say that I was trusting God for the results (because I felt that I was), but my actions told a different story. One indicator of this was that I felt guilty when I would stop working. If I wasn't doing something, I felt I was being lazy, unproductive and unfruitful. So I would fill up every empty spot with something. You know the drill.
My life showed what I really believed: that doing was the most important thing. I was more dependent on my actions for results than on God. If I was truly dependent on God for the results, then I would have spent more time alone with Jesus, more time in prayer and less time worrying about details while trying to "look busy”.
Busyness Driven by Desire for Productive Ministry-
I also desired a productive ministry. I discovered that I felt productive when I was extremely busy. It felt like I was so important to the ministry that I couldn’t slow down. I was always doing something, surely all that activity was productive!
A few years ago my wife had to have a potentially cancerous tumor in her neck removed. Hospital waiting rooms are a hard place, but the nearness of God is often most felt in those times. While I sat in the waiting room during her surgery I prayed and wrote in my journal. God brought peace and encouragement from His word.
That journal entry is the basis for this post.
Have you ever had a trial that overwhelmed your life?
You know the kind. When first faced with the trial, it is like a huge cliff in your path, stopping all forward momentum. Your life comes to a screeching halt and from your vantage point you see no way around it.
If you are like me, when you face trials you are quick to look at the whole problem. We never merely look at today’s problem; we look at tomorrow's, and then the next day, etc. As we look at the endless problems that could come our way we think, "I can’t continue”. We don’t feel that we have the strength to pass through our problem.
A few years ago the Lord allowed me to go through one of these trials. In the midst of it, God used the words of Jeremiah to instruct my heart and bring great comfort.
Jeremiah lived a hard life, filled with trials. He was utterly dismayed and didn’t know how he could continue (see Lamentations 3:1-20). But even in the midst of trials, he found hope. This same hope is available to us today.
Our family recently went through a time of uncertainty. While not going into the details, God used this trial to force us to rely 100% on God for our next steps. The situation was completely outside of our control, leaving us to have faith in: 1. God's plan and 2. God's timing.
Over the years, I have realized that there are 2 paths that fear usually takes. Whenever we are thrown into a trial that is outside of our control, it is an opportunity to live in faith or to live in fear.
Here are two paths that fear can take:
1.To fear something is to fear that God is not in control of that something.
2. To fear something is to fear that God’s will is not best for our life.
Fear that God is not in control:
1. The first kind of fear is rooted in trusting God’s complete sovereignty (His eternal plan and control over all that comes to pass). Most of us believe in our head that God is in control, but what happens when a trial comes? I find that my head and my heart are often vastly different.
This challenge from my college professor (Kelly O’Rear) has guided me for 19 years. Most Christians understand this conceptually, but few in practice. When God lays on our heart an opportunity to serve him, something as simple as sharing the gospel or something as life altering as going into foreign missions, our answer needs to be “yes”, not “I’ll try” or “I’ll do it if _____”.
“I’ll try”: The paths that God leads us down will involve difficulty and discomfort. There will be days we don’t enjoy the ministry. There will be days when other things sound more enticing. When we say “I’ll try”, what we mean is this: “if there comes a point when I am not comfortable or happy then I am taking control”. We haven’t surrendered complete control when we are just “trying it out”. God wants our answer to be “yes”, not “I’ll try”.
I’ll do it if _____”: When we put stipulations on our obedience we rarely take the first step to follow God’s leading. We are like the plane that never gets off the runway. If we only obey God’s leading when it fits into our plans, who is really in control? We are.