Saturday, August 9, 2014

Longevity in Ministry ~ Trusting in the Sufficiency and Sovereignty of God ~

Two weeks ago, I started a series that I'm hoping will be both a challenge and encouragement to you, based off of a sermon by the senior pastor at my sending churchBefore delving into my notes, however, I'd like to share a story of one of our scariest moments overseas... one of those times when our only hope was to trust in God, His sovereignty and particularly?  In His sufficiency.

The story centers around our precious Anna...


She was six years old, in her first full year of school at a local French language school, still young enough that we called her by her baby nickname (Anna-lu) and that she still cried when we dropped her off at school - before bravely trudging on in through the gate. Elsie Mae had recently joined the family... she was only a few weeks old... 

One afternoon, Anna came home from school's morning session telling us she didn't feel well. Over the course of our sieste that day, she continued to wilt. I was pretty sure she was running a fever and so we took her to the recording studio where Tim was working (and the air conditioner was running) to see if we could cool her down. She only ended up chilled and uncomfortable, curled up by her daddy's feet under the production desk, as far away from the AC as she could be.

I decided to take her to the doctor.

Once there, she promptly threw up all over the waiting room... which sent us to the front of the line. A blood test confirmed that she had malaria and our doctor immediately prescribed medication. I think it took three pharmacies to find it. Three days later, her prescription had run its course, but Anna wasn't acting as if she felt any better. It was so evident as we sat poolside, trying to entice her to drink a strawberry milkshake, that her treatment hadn't worked. I took her back to the doctor, where they agreed that she was clearly worse. They wanted to admit her to the clinic and start her on IV medications.

This was one of the better clinics, but it was still a far cry from medical care in a developed country. 
  • Mosquitoes (the bugs that carry malaria) buzzed around the room, 
  • paint on the walls was chipped and stained, 
  • doctor bedside manner did not feel gentle or compassionate, 
  • everyone rattled along in rapid fire French and my exhausted-caring-for-a-newborn brain struggled to keep up while catching and making sense of all the technical vocabulary, and 
  • the only place for me to sit was the stained and very worn-out mattress on the other cot in the room. 
The nurse did move in a TV... and we brought our own DVD player... We knew they cared and were doing the best they could for our little girl, yet she wasn't improving. In fact, she was lethargic, pale, and had lost 15 pounds - 25% of her body weight - in just a few days. Her doctors concluded we were not only dealing with a resistant strain of malaria, but also a resistant form of amoebic dysentery. 

The two most common causes of death for young children in W. Africa. 

Our little girl was sick with both of them. Yes, our Anna was one very sick little girl.

My hormone-befuddled brain did't quite grasp that reality of just how sick, however. I really felt we were doing the very best we could for our daughter... until our supervisors asked if we wanted them to begin arranging a medical evacuation.

It hit me like a ton of bricks that maybe we weren't... we had other alternatives... and that if we didn't make the "right" decision, we just might lose our Anna-lu... 

I think that is a very common way to look at choices and decisions. 

Either the decisions we make are right. Or they are wrong. If they are right, the results are what we wanted and hoped for. If we make a wrong choice or decision, however, there will be consequences to bear. That mentality neglects to consider that we serve a sovereign and sufficient God.

"Trusting [in] the sufficiency and sovereignty of God [means knowing and believing that] every day is a gift from God, Who IS the source of faithfulness." Remember that clich√© often heard in church circles?  Pray like everything depends on God; work like everything depends on you. For me, at least, it is easier to work like a mad-woman... and forget to pray. Especially as a mama. Especially as a mama who is also a missionary. Even especially more as a mama who is also a missionary and who lives off of the support and gracious gifts of others. In that sense, I live my life as a "practical atheist," a term my husband coined almost 20 years ago.

With that mentality, it is easy for me to work myself into nothing less than a frenzy.

It's a pretty quick and surefire recipe for a burnout disaster. I know. I've been there.

It's also easy to slip into the trap that if (and when) I remember to pray, God will work everything out just the way I'm asking Him to... and that if He doesn't, my prayers (i.e. my work) weren't sufficient.

But what does God say? God's Word teaches us that our responsibility is to trust in both His sovereignty and sufficiency.

Psalm 127 (from the EasyEnglish Bible) is pretty clear:

If the LORD does not build the house, the workers cannot do anything.
  There are men who watch (for danger).
  But if the LORD does not guard the city, they will be useless.
If you work all day for food, from early morning to late at night, you will get nothing.
  It is God who gives sleep. He gives it to the people that he loves.
Children are something that God gives.
  The fruit of your body is a gift (from him).
The sons of a young man are like arrows in the hand of a soldier.
The man with many of them will be very happy.
  He will not be ashamed when he meets his enemies in the city gates.

In these verses, the Psalmist instructs His people to remember that it was God Who saves, God Who preserves and protects, God Who provides, God Who presents us with anything and everything that is important and/or worthwhile: homes, food, family, well-being, safety, peace. In this Psalm, the name/title of "Lord" is used to refer to God. That is His covenant name, a covenant cut in sacrificial blood. The people promised to love and worship God alone. They agreed to obey Him. God promised to help those He calls His. Put simply, God's providence provides whatever it is that He knows that His people need. Even when we don't like His provision, it is still what He sovereignly knows to be best.

How can that be true?

Why trust in His sufficiency and sovereignty?
  1. We should trust because even pagan kings recognize His sovereignty. Daniel 4 contains an amazing account of Nebuchadnezzar, one of the most powerful men to ever live. He concludes: "At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth... Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble."
  2. We should trust God because He is faithful. He proves Himself every day, every moment, every breath and every heartbeat. "Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds."(Psalm 36.5) "Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds." (Psalm 119.90) "The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I have hope in Him.;" ( Lamentations 3.22-24)
  3. We should trust because God does give faith to live and to die [and sometimes to watch those we love die] for His glory. This is such a hard thing. I love that God gives us faith to live. I love living. I love this life He's given. So what about those times when His choice as sovereign is that this life will be no longer? Does that mean He's no longer sovereign? Does that mean He's no longer sufficient? No. It means I -and those I call mine- are His to do with as He sees fit. I have the opportunity to choose trusting Him, regardless of what I feel or perceive.
  4. We should trust because Christ is building his church and we are privileged to join Him in His work. Jesus said to Peter, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16.18)" Jesus builds His church. Jesus' literal words are "I will build..." The Greek word translated build literally means to erect or construct upon a foundation a home or other edifice; figuratively, it means to edify by literally building someone up and helping them to stand firm... to be strong and sturdy. One of the key ideas as we approach ministry is to recognize that it isn't "MY" work... but rather it is God's work and He gives us opportunities to join with Him in what He is already doing. Thus, success depends on Him. Our job is obedience without worrying about results or effectiveness. That takes a huge burden off of our shoulders, a load the Lord never intended for those He has placed in international missions to carry. But, the other neat side of this idea is that God is also the One Who has uniquely equipped and prepared us to do the work He has set before us. He has "built us up" to be just the person He wants for such a time as the one before you.

Are you curious about "the rest of Anna's story?"

We didn't lose her. After nearly a week in the clinic, consistent IV treatment - lots of pokes, lots of liquids and lots of prayer, she slowly began to perk up and was clearly on the road to a full recovery. A month later, she'd regained all of that lost weight and it was easy to forget she'd been so sick.

I hope I never forget, though, the things God taught me during that time.
************************************
How are you seeing God's sovereignty at work where you are currently ministering?

How are you currently experiencing God's sufficiency where you are currently ministering?

Can you share a testimony of how God has grown your trust in His sovereignty and/or sufficiency?

************************************

Series: Longevity in Ministry
1. Just Think About a Horseshoe, 26/07/2014


Please note: 
Italicized words are from my notes or from the guided notes in the church bulletin
and are, to the best of my recall, actual content from the sermon.
The rest comes from my continued study and meditation prompted by that sermon.

To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.

3 comments:

  1. I love these two sections: "It's also easy to slip into the trap that if (and when) I remember to pray, God will work everything out just the way I'm asking Him to... and that if He doesn't, my prayers (i.e. my work) weren't sufficient." And "Either the decisions we make are right. Or they are wrong. If they are right, the results are what we wanted and hoped for. If we make a wrong choice or decision, however, there will be consequences to bear."
    They just really encapsulate a works-based mentality to life (dangerous to grace!). Yes, there may sometimes be consequences to our decisions, but it's too simplistic and too dependent upon us and our "power" to think that way. I almost wonder if those ways of thinking come from a wealthy North American mindset. If we make the right choices, we get what *we* want?? If we pray the right way, God is obligated to answer the way *we* want?? I don't think I see that in Scripture.
    I started learning this several years ago when I wanted a baby and didn't think it was happening fast enough and surely God loves babies so shouldn't He give me one faster? Except God is not a candy machine in the sky. It's not like I can just I put in the right prayer or verse, and He'll give me my desires on command. Pretty sure it doesn't work that way! But you're right, I think we think this way a lot, especially those of us who are materially wealthy and politically privileged. We mix up our Christianity with our surrounding culture.
    Well, anyway, that's enough blabbering for now :) ~Elizabeth

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oh... i love listening to friends blabber! so go right ahead! :-)

      i do think you are right. it is one of the things tim (my hubby) and i often discuss: that regardless of where we are in the world - whether people are trusting in several different religious systems all at the same time to try and keep God happy (i.e. going to the doctor, the traditional healer/witch doctor and then the Muslim priest and then giving the missos a try as well, like people often did in our part of W. Africa.. of we are westerners thinking that God answers our prayers when we pray right, give right, act right... or that we can depend on our jobs, our minds, our health, our country, our family...) separating our faith from the world in which we live... oh so hard, but it is also part of the beauty of this faith God has given.

      one of the phrases you used - God is obligated (in a tit for tat sort of sense is how you were talking)... to me? that, in another sense though, actually gets to the crux of one of the miracles of Who Jesus is and What He did/does... He has obligated Himself to us... not to do what I wish-how I ask-what I want, but to do all that He has promised He will do. That's a pretty amazing thought... the the God of the universe has obligated Himself to me in that far-better-than-anything-I-could-come-up-with way.

      Delete
    2. I laughed at the part where people try several different religious systems all at once! It's like that here, too. Let's just add more gods, it will cover our bases better. Add the Hindu gods, the Chinese ancestor worship, sacrifice for the Buddhist monks, attend Christian religious services as well. What's wrong with one more? Just goes to show how very different the worldviews are from believing Jesus is the only way, and that no man gets to the Father but by Him.

      Delete