A few years ago, I attended a mission conference with my sister. As we listened to the stories of brothers and sisters far and wide, I was incredibly moved by their stories of perseverance and obedience and couldn’t wait for my own chance to get out on the field with them. Eventually it came to the time in the meeting for the offering basket to be passed around. As the ushers came forward, the leader prayed over what was to be collected and suddenly I felt an overwhelming conviction to give a certain number, one that was quite high for my bank account at the time. Panicked, I rushed to rationalize my way out of the situation: I was a freshly-graduated student who barely had any money, and not only that, I was setting things up to head overseas myself in the next few months. I needed all that money, and for kingdom work at that! No, no, surely God recognized that I needed to be realistic and responsible. So, I ignored the nudging feeling whispering in the back of my head and let the offering bag pass by.
Several months later I was across Canada, completing training for that overseas experience and wrapped up in all the preparation it entailed. My mission-conference-offering-refusal was long forgotten; after all, I was actually going on mission, wasn’t that holier or better somehow anyway? However, one day I called my sister who, at the time, was planning to head overseas herself for a study exchange. Almost in passing, she casually mentioned, “Oh, something kind of cool happened to me today.”
“Hmm, what?” I asked, half-listening as I puttered around my room.
“Well, one night when we were at the mission conference together, I felt really convicted to give $700. I knew I could really use that money for this semester, but I couldn’t say no, so I gave the money anyway. A while before that, I’d applied for a grant for the exchange, and they said the maximum amount that a person could receive was $1200, and that I had been approved for $1000. But today I got the money, and somehow out of the blue they decided to change my amount to $1700.”
I don’t think I was able to say anything in reply.
I can’t remember for sure, I might have mumbled something, but what I do remember is how stupid I felt, how embarrassed and ashamed and humbled I was as the memory of that night came flooding back and the smallness of my faith and stubborn self-dependence of my heart was suddenly made unbearably clear.
I don’t share this story to give anyone any kind of health-and-wealth ideas; heaven quite literally knows I could just as quickly share another story where I knew there was something very precious that I had to give up for the sake of my faith, and in that case I did not receive anything material in return. That sacrifice took years to recover from, and I still find myself “without” in that area of life. But while God did not give me something in return for what He asked of me in that circumstance, what He did give me was far better and far more valuable: Himself.
And that’s what I think was most valuable in my sister’s case as well. While the $700 gift was helpful on a practical level, the greatest blessing in the situation was that she got to see God actually being God in her own life, showing real attention to her and acting tangibly in her circumstances. Yet I wonder, in our Western lives with insurance, savings accounts, apps to track our schedules, watches to track our health, and plans A, B, C, and D for every eventuality, how often do we give God the chance to really be God? To show Himself mighty, the Healer, the Rescuer, the Provider, the Lord over every tiny detail, over every massive obstacle? Even when I decided to become a missionary myself, it was on my own plan, something I had worked out and had fully under control before I hopped on a plane and went. My faith was just as much in my own planning and the people I knew would be behind me as it was in my God. Obviously there’s a sense in which this isn’t all bad; I do believe Proverbs and some of Paul’s letters make it clear that we are to be good stewards of the resources and opportunities God gives us, and part of being good examples of integrity to the outside world involves us being wise and responsible about our actions and plans. However, we can’t ultimately let our trust and faith transfer from our unfailing, all-knowing God over to our fallible savings accounts and imperfect self-ordained plans in the process.
I wonder if this is what is stopping some of us from witnessing the reality of God in our lives in ways that seem present in the lives of others. If God asked something crazy of you tomorrow, would you ignore the calling as I did that day as the offering bag passed me by on that church pew? Would you be kept up at night if you didn’t have any safety nets in place? If God put you in a place where you had only Him and Him alone to trust, would you be able to handle it?
What miracles are to be done when everything is safe and sound? How is God to act and show His power when we have everything under our own control? Do we listen for His leading, watch for His directing, wait on His guiding, or are we too wrapped up and busy with our own plans for His kingdom to notice what He has to say about them?
Do you prioritize your safety nets over His purpose for you? Do your own ideas for God’s work keep you from His? Is He whispering a melody in your ear that you’re tuning out? Has He been pressing something on your heart that you’re pushing away?
Often we fear punishment for disobedience, but my biggest hurt from that day I ignored God’s call to give wasn’t any punishment, it was the regret and sadness I felt as I realized I had willfully pushed aside the opportunity God had offered me to see Him at work. It made me wonder how many other opportunities to see God be God that I had missed out in all my other acts of disobedience and distrust over the years. It’s a feeling I’ve reminded myself of countless times in the years since, knowing no earthly loss is comparable to the weight of disobeying the perfect, holy God and missing out on being whatever part of His perfect Kingdom plan that He’s ordained for me. There have been situations that have sorely tested this idea, but I’m glad to say that, while some losses admittedly are painful and confusing for far longer than I would like them to be, I now have enough past experience of His faithfulness to look back on and praise God in advance of the healing, in advance of events making sense, in advance of any sort of clear benefit coming out of the situation. We live for His delight, we delight in His pleasure, and we persevere knowing His perfect sovereignty, perfect love for us, and eternal victory over all broken things. Knowing all this, I can hear His directing and, whatever it is, react with abounding joy and thankfulness that He has shared Himself and His work with me, regardless of the cost. When we let God be God, anything we give up can hardly even be called a cost; any loss isn’t even worth mentioning in comparison with the unimaginable eternal bounty He blesses and shares with us in return.
- - - C.J. Hinz is a proud Saskatchewan born-and-raised girl that has spent almost all of her adult life away from the place. She currently spends her time between her home province and the U.K., where she teaches, writes, and generally semi-successfully tries to adult. She shares her mistakes, adventures, and progress in life and faith at her blog, theeasyyoke.com