In the process of preparing to move to South America as a missionary, the one question that every single person has asked me through fundraising or simple conversation is, “Are you excited?” I couldn’t figure out for the longest time why that question bothered me so much. I felt weird saying “Yes” but at the same time the answer wasn’t “No”. It seemed like those were the only two possible answers, and neither really fit what I was feeling.
Throughout this whole process, I’m not sure that I could say I have ever been “excited” to begin this new phase. Other people I know have talked about being pumped up and ready to go, and I thought that there was something wrong with me. Last night I had the opportunity to talk with a friend who is currently serving in a similar position down in South America, and it was encouraging to hear him confirm many of the things that I had been thinking for a while.
Honestly, I believe that my feelings about this are irrelevant. In the past month I have been amazed at how quickly I can go from laughing hysterically to a mess of tears. I have been fired up and the next moment I was considerably discouraged. To me, the word “excited” brings the picture of a little kid at Christmastime being handed a present to unwrap. While I know that there are many fantastic things that God will do in the next two and a half years, I am also under no presumption that it will be a theme park experience.
In fact, I think it will be the opposite of a theme park experience. I know that it will be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life or could imagine doing. I know that there will be days when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and shut the world out forever. I know that I will go through many periods of time when I want to go home more than anything else. Yesterday I received an email from a fellow missionary that I had the opportunity of meeting while I was serving in the Dominican Republic, and she encouraged me to hold onto the call of God through everything that is to come. Sometimes that will be the only thing keeping me there. I wish that I had known this simple fact through the past couple missionary experiences that I had, because at times I misinterpreted the humungous struggle I was experiencing. I didn’t understand that the fact that I wanted to go home so badly was not because I wasn’t called to be a missionary; rather it was Satan trying to break me down, cause me to be ineffective, and ultimately to defeat someone who was Divinely placed there. My friend from South America said, “We are on the front lines of battle. This is war. That is the reality.”
I have dealt with spiritual warfare my entire life, but I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that in this past month I have faced more opposition than all the years I have been alive put together. There were moments when I literally almost gave up. The temptation is nearly constantly there. I also know that this is only the tip of the iceberg of what we will be experiencing once we reach the field, and I need to take seriously this next month and a half to prepare spiritually for what we will be doing.
Standing in front of the Sunday School classes I spoke with yesterday, it occurred to me how irrational God is. People have told me often, “You’re so much braver than I am.” If I could tell the truth, I am the biggest coward of them all. I see myself and think, “God, what on earth did you choose me for? What good could I possibly do You?” As much as I try to sell myself to those I will be serving under on the field or to those who are and will be supporting me financially, I realize that I am not the world’s most logical choice to do something like this. I recognize in myself the absolute inability to take on this level of responsibility and fight on the front lines of the war for souls. Left to my own devices and depending on my own strength, I will never make it. In fact, I would not have made it this far. I can claim nothing except the grace of God that has been preparing my heart and continues to work in me through all that is happening and all that is to come.
I am so thankful for the people in my life who are not afraid to tell it like it is. To be serving Christ in any capacity is not easy. In fact, that is a wimpy way of putting it. There’s no way to truly describe what it’s like. Jesus calls us to a life of total surrender. It’s not a question of what God will ask us to give up; but more a question of how we will respond to the call He has already placed on our lives to give Him everything. The thing about having a true and raw relationship with God is that He is always working in us to make us more like Him. Sometimes He comes in with a knife to cut away all that doesn’t belong in our lives; other times He sends in the fire. Sometimes we nearly drown in the cleansing flood. It is never comfortable, and what I love about Jesus is that He never pretended that it would be. He said up front what the cost would be. He said up front that following Him is not for sissies. He is looking for and seeking out people who are willing to leave it all behind. He challenges anyone who would come after Him to take up their cross. Much of our philosophy of the Christian faith and ministry comes from a more padded version of Christ’s call. The real Jesus left no room for question.
I was asked a couple questions yesterday about my qualifications such as speaking Spanish or past missionary experiences and I was able to answer positively and confidently. However, they resonated deeper inside of me a more serious question that I needed to answer: is there any qualification that could prepare me for this real-life spiritual war? Absolutely not. It is a reality check that anyone going into ministry needs to have. There is not a human on this planet that can come face to face with Satan and live. There is not a human, called or not, that can face the attacks that will come in ministry and be left standing. This battle is more serious than any of us take it, and we cannot afford to walk into the battlefield with our eyes closed. We cannot afford to be confident in ourselves or any ability we might think we have. When push comes to shove, we all become the scared kids hiding in the corner.
If you were to sit down with me and ask me, “What makes you think that you will be able to fulfill this contract in South America? Why do you think you can do it?” I would respond, “I don’t think I can.” This is the undiluted absolute truth. “Are you excited?” “No.”
With that said, I will share with you what it is that keeps me going. It is nothing other than the grace of God. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I have been called by Him to do this. It is only His grace that keeps me on many days from throwing my hands in the air and saying, “I give up! I’ve had enough!” I am terrified beyond belief when I think of all it is that God has called me to do, but it is His love for me and my love for Him that carries me through times of doubt and discouragement. I have surrendered my life completely to Christ without condition. I made Him a promise and I have pledged my loyalty to Him above anything or anyone else in this world. There is nothing that God cannot ask me to do because I know that there is nothing that is impossible for me to do with Him living and working through me.
The prayer that I have been praying is this, “Lord, strip away anything in my life that is not of You or from You. Take away my pride as I stand naked before You. If anything should stand in the way of total surrender to You, send it away as far as the East is from the West. Give me the strength and the courage to lay everything down at Your feet. Everything that I keep from You is sin, and in sin I cannot stand in Your presence. Do not shield from me the reality of what that means for my relationship with You. When times get difficult, it is You that will hold me together. Remind me of Your faithfulness. With the measure of love that You give me every day, may I return that love faithfully to You.”
Am I excited to move to South America to be a missionary? Excited is not the word. Perhaps I will use the phrase “full of joy”. I am filled with joy at the thought of living my life in obedience to God. I am filled with joy as every day I come to know God more, and I know that as I continue to be obedient to the things God asks of me, He reveals Himself more to me in incredible ways. I look forward to seeing what God can do with my little basket of five barley loaves and two small fish. I want more than anything else in life to bring Him glory in everything I say and do. By myself, I can’t even comprehend being able to give Him my life. It is His grace every day that gives me the strength to give Him more and more. It is His grace that gives me the courage to say, “Yes, I will follow You!” I pray that through all of this, I will never look to the left or to the right but keep my eyes on Christ. I pray that God would break down any pride in me that would say, “I’ve got this!” Without Him, I am utterly incapable. May I always transparently show Jesus who lives in me to the world. Lord, don’t let me get in the way.