Missions: when God says “don’t go”

Now before you go accusing me of heresy for that title, please allow me to clarify. I fully believe that the heart of God is for people of every tribe, tongue, and nation, and that God’s ultimate mission is for the Gospel of Christ to be proclaimed to every people group so that all people can know the ultimate worth and glory of God. And I fully believe that God, in His grace, calls His people to join in this mission with everything they have.

But I hope that you will follow along as I share my story with you.

 

I grew up everywhere. That’s easier to say than listing out the 13 states / countries / continents that I’ve inhabited over the last 26 years of my life. Early on in my life I developed a deep appreciation and love for different cultures, people, and places. After college, during a summer in Uganda, I felt the call to ministry. At the time I thought (hoped) that that call would be in tandem with a call to overseas ministry. My hearts desire was to live overseas and teach the Word of God and disciple believers, so I went to seminary to gain a better theological foundation for my future ministry. As graduation neared, I pursued options to move overseas.

But, as is often the case, the Lord’s plan was very different than mine. He closed all the doors that I was looking at to go overseas and instead opened doors for me to move to Birmingham, Alabama, where I’ve lived for the last three years. And in the last three years of living in Birmingham, the Lord has graciously led me to surrender my dream of serving overseas.

I had assumed that because my desire was to go overseas and because the Lord’s heart is for the nations that, of course, He would allow me to go. But instead, He chose for me to stay so that He could do some refining in my heart. In staying, He slowly weeded out any selfishness in my desire to go, any part of my desire to go that was based in my love for adventure or travel or new cultures or people. In staying, He expanded my understanding of missions to be not just going to an overseas country to share the love of Christ, but rather leveraging any opportunity or situation to make disciples and share the gospel where I am.

Gradually, and at times painfully, He pried my dream of going overseas out of my hands and helped me to surrender it fully to Him.

And the funny thing is, when we truly surrender a dream, and I mean truly surrender a dream, the Lord has a beautiful way of twisting and turning and morphing it into something incredible. In my experience, 99.99% of the time His plan ends up being completely different than what we had planned. And usually it’s a lot harder than what we had planned. But bless the Lord, my experience has proven that His plan is often one that leads to incredible growth. It is a plan that may require deep trust and deep surrender. But trusting and obeying His plan leads to deep intimacy, deep satisfaction, and deep joy.

In my case He helped me to develop a deep passion for simply discipling and equipping believers wherever I am. And at the same time He showed me that my joy and satisfaction cannot come from my desires to serve Him, Godly as they may be. Instead my satisfaction MUST come 100% from him.

Your surrender might look a lot different than mine. It might look like surrendering the desire for comfort and convenience and allowing the Lord to lead you to live overseas. It might look like releasing a desire to live in a certain place or to have a certain job for the sake of obeying the Lord. It might look like changing your major from one that is financially stable to one that fits the calling God has on your life. Surrender is a difficult thing. It’s painful and it’s hard. But in my experience, it tills the ground of your heart for incredible growth.

 

And these things are easy to write, easy to read, easy to say. It’s a lot harder to live. To hold your heart continually in this posture of complete submission is difficult. And I’ll be the first to say I don’t do it well all the time. There are days where I feel a bitterness and a frustration that my plan didn’t get to happen. I feel jaded, like I’ve been jipped out of something I deserved. Thankfully the Lord is gracious to hold me through those fits of selfishness and remind me that He does in fact know what He’s doing.

Because, in fact, obedience has nothing to do with us and our desires and everything to do with God. Obedience is an acknowledgement that the Lord is of ultimate worth and therefore obedience to Him is of ultimate necessity. He’s got this whole thing planned out in a way that will ultimately bring Himself the most glory. So, I pray that we would have the faith to believe that He is good and the strength to obey His plan, however uncomfortable it is.

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