Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Great Things for God

A few days ago, I found myself pontificating in an email to a friend:
"I'm kinda of the opinion that Christendom tends to glorify roles it shouldn't--pastor, missionary, counselor--and glosses over what God values: a broken and contrite spirit, lives lived in quiet surrender and faithfulness. Exactly where did God tell us to do great things? I'm pretty sure that He told us to be faithful in the little things...oh, I see my soapbox came out again. Sorry about that... :-D"

I found it ironic that I should pen such words. Great Things For God was my mantra for the better part of two decades. But God held a different opinion, and He finally got me to sit still long enough to hear it.

I was somewhere around seven the first time I remember hearing one of those, "They want a missionary to come, but there is no one to send," stories. And in my heart, I echoed Isaiah, "I'll go! Send me!" From that point forward, whether with thrilling acceptance or self-focused rejection, going as a missionary became the central theme of my life. When walking with the Lord, I knew this to be my goal and my calling. When embracing my sin and self, I wanted nothing to do with it.

For twenty-plus years, this was the drumbeat to which my life marched. The experiences I sought (e.g., summer Bible club teacher, teaching ESL overseas short-term as a 'tent-maker'), the people with whom I spent time (e.g., missionaries), the education I pursued (Bible, education, ESL degrees)--even the mission-focused churches I joined--were all focused on preparing me for long-term ministry cross-culturally. Over the years, my focused narrowed, honing in on a certain region, a certain type of ministry, certain philosophies of ministry, certain sending agencies.

And then, in 1999, the movement stopped. There was no going, only waiting. And so I sat, apparently spinning my wheels, waiting for the plane to stop circling and land. And I waited... And I waited some more...

By the time 2004 rolled around, I had been waiting for 25 years. And I was tired of waiting. It was starting to seem like I was to be permanently located state-side, and I just felt I needed to know where to apply my energies. The question went something like this: Lord, I've been waiting a long time. Am I staying or am I going? I just need to know where to point my nose.

That evening, I continued in my regular place of study, reading from Ezekiel. And God said to me:
You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel--not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you.

And I literally choked. I gasped. And I knew with absolute certainty that God was answering my question. I was not being sent. I would not be going.

I cannot overstate the shock waves that went through my life. Absolutely everything in my life had been pointed toward going. What was I to do if I wasn't going? What did this mean?

I spent at least two years just trying to absorb this message, this change in direction. How was it possible I wasn't going? I was sure--and am to this day--that my calling overseas/to cross-cultural ministry was from the Lord. How could I both be called and not? It brought to mind Abraham, and the son of promise. Isaac was the son of promise, yet Abraham was called upon to kill him. How could he be both dead and the father of a nation? How could both be true? And yet they were. And so the same was true in my life. Called to go; told to stay.

Over the next several years, many, many lessons were spoken into my life in the absence of this vocation. Many misguided philosophies were unearthed and replaced. Many experiences reshaped my perspectives and even my desires. And into my life, God spoke quiet words, like:
*Was it for the place, the people, or for Me that you were going? (This is exact evolution of my motivations; the 'for Me' part came only after 2004.)
*In all the hours you've spent knocking on My door, asking me to change your circumstances, I've been working on changing you.
*I don't need you to do great things for Me, J. I am great, and I will show Myself mighty. I am calling you to be faithful.

Oh, how I still wrestle with this last one, at least in part. I have found peace in the knowledge that God doesn't need great things from me. In fact, I have found relief, as I am pretty sure I can't do great things anyway. But being faithful, day in and day out, in the little minutiae of life, in the mundane things in my world, this is where I am weak. If you ever need someone to tackle a project or to 'come to the rescue,' I am your woman. I am great in the exceptional moments of life. I am terrible at coming through day after day after day in the piddly details.

This, I might add, is the lesson I am learning in my weight-loss journey. I could easily fast for a day or two. But being consistent in reducing my caloric intake and adding exercise to my schedule regularly are much harder tasks. They require dying to self daily. They require faithfulness in everyday moments.

So here I sit, not going, but growing, learning how to be insignificant, a minutiae-managing pro. It is a lesson I must master, for though perhaps someday God will see fit to add something else to my plate, I will never need to stop being faithful. That is where my calling lies...in the daily.

So today, I'm not attempting great things for God; I'm just trying to be faithful. If anything great happens, you can be sure it was all Him.

* "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' --Matthew 25:21
* Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. --I Corinthians 4:2
* But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness... --Galatians 5:22
* Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. --Revelation 2:10


(c) 2008
Scriptures quoted from the NIV.


Rachel said...

Everytime I read your blogs, I think that you should write. You are so gifted in sharing your thoughts.

However I don't think I have heard the word pontificating before.

I am stuggling about what to write here. I think I just figured out why. Every thought that you have is so deep and personal. It always amazes me.

ShalomSeeker said...

You know, I have noticed that I get the fewest comments when I share something like this. I don't think fewer people are reading, it's just harder to know how to respond.

Thanks for commenting, though. And thank you for your compliments. Who knows what God has in store? :-)

Sarah said...

We definitely do glorify the wrong things in "christendom" :) very true.
I think you should title your book..."Deep Thoughts by J" :)
I, too, struggle with the daily dying to self...stupid self...always in the way!!!

Beth said...

Great post, J! This describes alot of us in some way or another!
You are right about the fact that we are reading even when we are not commenting! Sometimes I wanna read it a couple times first! Then comment! and yes, sometimes it is just so thought provoking...what do you say...you don't you think! That is what you do J! You make us think! Whew!

joyce said...

Thanks for filling in some gaps.

And I thought that rachel was your sister, as the picture I assumed was your nephew.

Tell Rachel, the more, the merrier. Welcome to the Williamson clan. We could make her an honorary member.

Wow--you and Uncle Bob are running neck and neck in the counter race thingy. Let's throw you over one-thousand. Email your sisters, and your brother.