Tonight is Diwali. And tomorrow…and for a little while after that. Until the firecrackers stop. The many people groups of this country have differing opinions on holidays. Right now it sounds like a happy warzone outside— if there is such a thing. Diwali is the festival of lights (with a good amount of idol worship thrown in). Mostly people give sweets, light candles for their pooja (worship of Hindu idols), and “burst crackers” in the streets. My husband is preaching tomorrow on “How can a good God allow suffering?” I hear him in the other room practicing his sermon, an ironic overtone to the Diwali crackers outside.
A Perfect Plan
I have a friend I met at the gym, a young Muslim woman. We went out for coffee the other night and had a great conversation about faith and doubt, all of which she initiated. She asked about my church, God’s character, suffering, and idol-worship. This, coffee included, is every missionary’s dream conversation. It seemed so natural to invite her to church. I don’t often advertise the fact that my husband is a pastor and that we are missionaries. We have to be careful about security here. Yet, this seemed worth the risk. I invited her and she said yes! She was going to come to church for the first time in her life and I couldn’t wait to introduce her to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I also couldn’t wait to watch as she heard the gospel proclaimed.
And then, one of her relatives passed away. My friend, Arshiya, had to go out of town for the weekend! Ugh, here I had her whole plan of salvation mapped out and God changed it. I thought it was all too perfect: the conversation at the coffee shop, a holiday weekend (but not her faith’s holiday), my husband preaching at church. I had her pegged as a Christian by Monday. OK, maybe not that optimistic but at least hearing the Gospel, getting real answers to her questions, and seeing a community of faith. I was so excited to seize this opportunity I thought God had laid before me. Now I felt disappointed, like God was missing out on this perfect plan, one I had laid out for Him.
Forgetting God’s Perfect Plan
It is truly exciting to be on the fire-cracking, idol-infested front lines of missions. However, my excitement is more often morphed into calculated causality (if I do this, then this will happen…you’re welcome, God). I grasp at control. I rejoice in my work for God, rather than God’s work in me. I forget what Jesus says in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Even though I looked like an ambassador for Christ, I acted as an owner of this friendship, maybe even of my friend’s future salvation. Here I thought God was allowing this relative to die and messing up all His plans for His future child…but (obvious now) it was my plan that was messed up. I love God’s sovereign grace, but somehow I had woven my agenda into the effectual calling part.
So, tomorrow my husband will preach. I’ll be teaching children’s church. Arshiya will be with her family, not hearing the Gospel and I wonder why. Why, when I had it all planned out? I know the answer. You probably do too. I suppose it’s the same answer my husband is giving in his sermon on suffering: “For God’s glory”. We’ve heard it as an easy answer in the mist of suffering, a trite condolence when friends don’t know what to say, or maybe even as a cop-out for the cornered preacher. Let’s be honest; “for God’s glory” is not the most comforting answer. Yet, it is the only answer that rightly humbles us and gives us hope.
Humility and Hope
If we really believe this, in a sovereign and good and glorious God, then doesn’t this strip away our illusions of control, our save-the-world-my-way missiology no matter where we live? Not only is God saying we don’t get control, but we never really had control. The glory of God brings us low; it humbles us. He reminds us that all this is not for our own glory and our own kingdom but for His. This humility is not fun but it’s the very thing we need.
Yet, doesn’t knowing this answer also give us hope? God is sovereign and working all things for His glory. His plan based on the solid rock of His promises; His love and His power. A missed sermon, no matter how perfect it seems to fit, will not stop the Kingdom of Heaven from coming. It will not stop the Holy Spirit from working in my friend’s heart or even mine. It’s not up to us. We are [merely] instruments in the [glorious, all-powerful, all-loving] Redeemer’s hands.
Lord, let me hear this answer as a welcome overtone, over the firecrackers and celebrations, over the sermons and conversations, over my own agenda. Let us hear this hopeful answer in humility to our “Why!?” in suffering or stubborn persistence in grasping for control as a welcome answer. Let it be a salve to our restless hearts and cause us to worship you, the Father of Lights.
Anne (not her real name) is serving on a church-planting team in South Asia with the PCA’s sending agency, MTW. She has a Masters of Religion from RTS, a patient introverted husband, three beautiful daughters, and a struggling apartment-balcony-garden.