We are rapidly approaching our departure for PNG. I’m still not telling the internet what day we are leaving. I will tell you that we are now counting down days, not weeks or months, D A Y S.
Because we love to leave these kinds of things to the last minute and because we honestly weren’t 100% sure we’d be returning until the last minute, we just sent out prayer cards to our friends, family, and supporters. Here is a picture of what we mailed out…
But this is what we probably should have sent out…
Just in case you didn’t know. That is a pancreas. And I feel like this is probably a truthful representation of the personality of my pancreas. It likes lots of attention and loves to be the star of the show. And whether or not we get to stay in the country and continue our ministry all depends on this temperamental organ that loves the spotlight, so needless to say, I’m a little nervous about our return. I’m just praying, hoping, begging, that we don’t get there and immediately have to turn around and come home.
I’ve told many people this and I just keep hearing that I need to “have faith” or that “Jesus will heal you” or that “God will take care of you because you are doing His work*.” I know all these phrases are meant to be encouraging. That people want me to feel like they are rooting for me, and I truly do appreciate it.
None of those things are an actual guarantee. I mean if everything will work out because we are doing “His work” why did I even get pancreatitis in the first place? Why have we been kept out of the work for so long? And I have “had faith” every single time we have gone to PNG, that the Lord would keep us there to finish the task He gave us.
It’s not that I don’t “have faith.” I have faith that no matter what happens He will be there to comfort us, guide us, and provide for us. I have faith that He will give us the strength to get through whatever it is we will face when we get over there. Whether it is staying and finishing on the projected timeline, or whether it is immediately turning around and coming back home.
It’s just that I don’t want to go through the hassle, heartache, and financial burden of the turning around and immediately coming back home.
So why go back?
This is a question I get a lot too. If I know that having to turn around and immediately come back home is a possibility and a possibility that I absolutely dread, then why risk it?
The answer is pretty simple. We risk it because He told us to. He told us to go back. He told us to go back with no guarantee that we will get to stay. But we told Him a long time ago that we would do whatever He said and go wherever He wanted, and we were so young and naive and zealous that we didn’t think to put any asterisks or loopholes on that promise. I mean, honestly, if I could have foreseen all that would happen I probably would have said something like, “Lord, I will go be a missionary and serve you wherever you send me, as long as you provide me with a guarantee that we won’t be bounced around a lot and have a lot of chaos and upheaval and health issues. I don’t mind isolation, or weird food, or ax murderers, but I really don’t handle transition well. So keep the transitions to a minimum and I’ll go wherever you send me.” Looking back, it was pretty dumb of me (and frankly very anti-American) to not include a fine print on my contract with God.
I mean… I’m so glad that I didn’t do that… you know… for my spiritual growth and maturity and humility… and everything else God has brought with all this “things not going my way” business. But sometimes my flesh just wants everything to be easy more than it wants to be “mature.”
Just being honest.
I do remind myself when the things continually refuse to go my way, that in the end I really do want the Lord to grow me and conform me to His image no matter how much I whine about it. And thankfully He knows that is truthfully what my heart wants most and ignores my grumbles that indicate otherwise.
But because of all this I have been thinking a lot about why we, as a body of believers, feel like we have to encourage people with the best possible outcome. Why we can’t say, “You know God may never heal you. He may make you fly back and forth from PNG to America one MILLION times, but whatever He does or allows, He won’t leave you alone in it. And He won’t waste it. So, yeah, everything might happen exactly OPPOSITE of the plan, or opposite of what you want the plan to be, but no matter what, God is faithful.” Why can’t we speak these words of truth into each others’ lives? I know similar phrases get spoken a lot after the fact. After everything goes wrong, this is what we usually hear, and they do help to encourage us. But I feel like they would be just as encouraging beforehand, because I wouldn’t feel like such a horrible Christian, much less missionary, when I doubt every word proclaimed to me that guarantees a positive outcome. When I hear these words too often, I feel like I’m seriously lacking in the faith department and that maybe everyone else is better at belief than me (and maybe all these people should be getting on that plane in my place).
But when you personally see and face trials and difficulty, sometimes it’s hard to have faith to expect good outcomes. And what do you know??? The Word of God has some perfect examples of His people responding exactly in this way.
Acts chapter 12 is a great one. Peter is put in prison by Herod and many of the believers were at home praying for his release. An angel comes to miraculously lead Peter out of prison. So, he goes on to a house where the believers were gathered and praying for him, the house of Mary, mother of John Mark, according to Acts 12: 12. The servant who went to the gate to let this visitor in didn’t even open it. She ran back to tell the others that she recognized Peter’s voice. The others didn’t believe her and said it must be his “angel,” or in other words, his ghost.
I’ve heard this story preached many times about how we should pray and BELIEVE. And look at these dumb early Christians who refused to see the answer to the prayers they were praying right in front of them.
But I never heard anyone preach on the first verses of the chapter. The verses that explain that James…the brother of John… the disciple… was arrested then executed by Herod, executed by the sword is what scripture describes. And it was such a big hit with the Jews that Herod had Peter arrested in order to execute him as well. These same believers also more than likely witnessed the stoning of Stephen. They watched people throw rocks at him until he died. I have no doubt they prayed just as fervently for Stephen and for James as they did for Peter. I’m sure it was easier to believe that the same thing happened to Peter rather than believe that the angel delivered him. Because in our tiny human understanding we immediately think, “Why save Peter and NOT Stephen or James?”
But that is a whole other blog post.
My point here is to say that once you see the prayer NOT answered in the way you were asking… once you see the people you love and are praying for executed… once you see the hard and horrific things happen in spite of all your faith and prayers, it becomes harder and harder to accept the miracle. It’s not that you’ve lost your faith in God to DO the miracle. It’s just that you think He is only allowing the difficult things and the suffering right now for whatever reason and you just have to get through it.
That’s where we’ve been for a long time I think. I don’t know if we even realized it until recently when we had a pretty big miracle come knocking at our door and we responded pretty much exactly like Mary’s household. We were actually terrified of this GOOD thing the Lord delivered right into our hands, like it was a ghost coming to warn us of impending doom.
It’s messed up I know. And we felt pretty guilty about the way we responded to this incredible thing the Lord had done for us. Thankfully, we got some help and encouragement throughout the process, but I think more than anything this story in Acts helped me realize that I wasn’t alone in my reaction or lack of faith. It helped me realize that there are a lot of trials and suffering in the Christian life, but God is faithful to give us the miraculous as well. He will give extravagantly even when we are expecting nothing but the sword or the stones.
So, as I look at my pancreas prayer card, and tremble with fear that things will not go our way wonder as we return to PNG, I will remember that sometimes God does do the miraculous. Sometimes He answers our prayers in exactly the way we want Him to. Sometimes it is Peter at the door and not just his ghost.
But I will also remember that He has been with us through all the trials and sufferings and has given us the grace and strength to get through it each time. So even if everything does go poorly we will be ok. He will make it ok.
*I could write an entire post about this phrase alone and all the examples in the Bible that are the exact opposite of this. In fact, I might write that one tomorrow. Or possibly next year. You never know. It keeps things exciting between us.