Hebrews 12:1-3 New International Version (NIV)
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Matthew 14:25-33 ESV
25 And in the fourth watch of the night[c] he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind,[d] he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
For the past four mornings, we have sat under the teaching of Dr. Clive Burnard from the UK and we have been blessed – not because he is a thoughtful, authentic and well spoken preacher (though he is all of those things) – but because God has ordained for him to be here at this time. Because God has given him poignant, challenging and life-giving words to speak and because God has used him to remind every single one of us – translators, paid staff and support staff alike – that He still cares deeply for our hearts – even when we feel tired, lonely, and forgotten.
You see, regardless of where we are serving in ministry, we all become tired. We come to the end of ourselves. We come to the end of our own strength, our own will, our own abilities. And as we come to the end of ourselves, so very often, we feel like we’re going to sink. Little things feel like big things. Once achievable goals feel like insurmountable mountains. Readily remembered, God-given strengths are overshadowed by our weaknesses. Our close and loving Father feels distant and quiet.
Missionaries are no different. We are not super Christians. We don’t step into a new country, take off our glasses and magically turn from our ordinary selves into extraordinary beings. We are not somehow immune to the exhaustion from ministry spurred on by, what feels like, a somewhat inevitable reliance on self and the subsequent submerging into the sea of our situation that happens when our eyes aren’t fixed on Jesus. We are not immune to nor spared from these struggles and, we too, look at the wind and the waves so often, when we should be looking at the Savior.
This week we have heard many testimonies from translators and support staff alike. We have heard about what God has done in their lives amidst the struggles. We have heard them share about their ‘sinking’ moments and we have been encouraged by the way that God has lifted them up and carried them to safety as they fixed their eyes on Him. We have listened with awe, with reverence and with respect for the Savior we all share and the unique ways He engages us in His plan.
In all honesty, it has been a bit like living in the middle of Hebrews 11 but realizing that these are just real people that God has called. Real people who don’t always feel adequate. Real people who miss their kids, their grandkids, their parents and their friends. Real people who don’t always get along with one another. Real people who struggle to remember their purpose amidst tasks that often feel ordinary. Real people who endure the means but may not ever see the end. Real people who have committed multiple decades to the work of translating God’s word into a particular language but who have encountered countless obstacles along the way that have tested and strengthened their faith. Real people. Real struggles. Real faith and a real God who is really with them through it all.
You see, we go about our daily life and our struggles may be a bit different as missionaries in Papua New Guinea but they are also very much the same. In the end, so many of our struggles come down to the same thing: fear. Fear that God has left us. Fear that we are not enough. Fear that we are alone and fear that the wind and the waves are bigger than the God we know can keep us from sinking.
We know these are lies. We know that God is enough and we know that we are enough simply because of our association with and inheritance in Christ. We know that Satan would love nothing more than to incapacitate us with these lies and we know, and have been reminded, this week, that these are the very lies that Jesus quieted with His perfect love at work on the cross.
7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear 1 John 4:18
8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2
Yes, the wind and waves are real. Yes, we will be discouraged. Yes, there are real mountains and, at times they will block our view but, beyond all that, above all that, and inspire of all that, we will not sink if we fix our eyes on Christ.
For, as we look to our Savior, everything else comes into perspective and the impossibility of arriving safely on the other side of our current situation all of sudden seems, not only possible, but probable. We call out the truths that we possess because of who we are in Christ and, as we do so, our gaze lifts from the disappointments, discouragements and despair to the One who died to conquer death and who delights in seeing HIs children walk in the freedom of that defeat. To the One who allowed our disappointments to happen but who does not delight in our despair. To the One who designs multiple ways to call us out of our discouragement and remind us of the way He delights in our design because He makes no mistakes.
This is my God. This is the God of the translator to my left, the support worker to my right, the children in my home and the preacher who God sent to grab our attention in an authentic, God-honoring, life-giving way.
God is with us. He hasn’t left us and He will, absolutely, keep us from sinking. Praise God.