Resistance & Flexibility
A couple of days ago I wrote about a vision that God had given me when we first felt Him leading us to Ethiopia. While it was a powerful vision it was still difficult to follow Him into the unknown. I did not have the grid work to consider that God would lead us to start a ministry that was working directly with those who are voiceless and vulnerable. Rather, I still thought that I knew the way forward.
After having the vision, I still had some hang ups about what this Ethiopian adventure was going to look like. I had 3 good reasons to not go to Ethiopia, so I felt that God was going to have to remove these obstacles . These three things were:
1. I didn’t want to have to become fluent in Amharic.
2. I needed something practical to put my hand to.
Along the way the need for an English speaking church was identified, so I gave Ethiopia a second glance. We could go to Ethiopia and I could still have a lot of control. I wouldn’t have to learn Amharic – Amen. I had some skills in church planting that perhaps could be transferrable – Check! Money was still an issue, but I was willing to half trust God on that one. Two out of three wasn’t bad odds, so off we went…excited to be serving a people & movement that we loved.
Now, if I had known the flexibility that God was going to call us to, I am pretty sure that I would have resisted a bit harder. He was gracious to us and did not let us see the whole picture that was going to unfold over the coming months. Over the next 6 months we struggled significantly as we had difficulty connecting with leaders on the ground and as we started to see that the idea for new church was not shared among all of the players. In front of my eyes My dream evaporated and I hit bottom. What now? We had sold everything to move to Ethiopia and there wasn’t anything to go back to and no backup plan. We felt on the edge and uncertain of what to do next.
Unconvinced that we should return to the US, we started to revisit what God had initially put in our hearts. We again realized was that He had put the poor and children in our hearts and He was calling us to them. I had tried the easy way out, the familiar path – and now we were back in front of The Lord asking Him for His directives, rather than my own. I began to see that God was calling me to a new level of flexibility. He was calling me to the place of moving into a territory of great fear and anxiety for me as I faced the potential for failure as well as a redefinition of who I am and what I am made for. I had been pastoring for long enough that my identity was wrapped around that role. And, now it had to die. I had to die.
Now I was faced with explaining to our supporters that we no longer would be planting a church, but instead would be working with the poor and children – whatever that meant. We took very tentative steps, trying to feel our way along.
But, God met us in the middle of it. We started to see His heart for the poor and the vulnerable. He started to break our hearts with the cause of the vulnerable families who live right on the edge. He brought to our attention the single moms who go to desperate lengths to keep their children, yet many times because of circumstances and systems can’t make it happen. He pricked our hearts with young children who could grow into health and wholeness and come to know Jesus if someone would just come alongside and walk with them, thereby becoming change within their community. And that was the beginning of this amazing journey that we find ourselves on.
As I look back I see that God in His mercy empowered us to become flexible within a situation that was very difficult and trying – full of misunderstanding and being misunderstood. But, I see that ultimately He was calling us to more than flexibility – He was calling us to death. As Bonhoeffer put it, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” He called me to the place of dying to my self, my plans, my security, my identity, my future and my role – to be raised into life for what He had in store.
The words of Galatians 2:20 come to mind – a verse that was one of the first ones I learned when I started to follow Jesus, yet a verse that is continually coming into a fuller understanding to me – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave Himself for me.” An interesting thought that while I have been crucified with Christ and no longer live, I still am in the process of continually dying to myself – so that He, in His risen power and glory – might live through me and make Himself known. The slow painful death of a sojourner – dying to the security and power that this world has to offer so that Jesus may make Himself known as the only True security and power in the universe.
Will you join me in dying? Jesus, in your mercy, may we continue to die to ourselves and be raised to true resurrected life in you – a life that we live by faith in response to You.