There is a short-term mission trip truth that many of us understand: The one going on the mission trip usually receives way more than the people to whom we are hoping to minister. And that was true last summer when I visited some old friends of mine in Kenya. A team of women from my church went to teach at a women’s leadership conference and put on a medical clinic. It was fantastic.
If the Lord Wills
As we arrived, we started reconnecting with women I hadn’t seen for years. It felt a little like old home week! I was laughing and chatting with a friend of mine when I remembered something about her. This woman would rarely make a statement regarding her future without ending that sentence with the phrase: “If the Lord wills.” It was like her own personal punctuation mark.
She’ll say something like, “Sue, I will see you in the morning, if the Lord wills.” My friend is a farmer and lives her life a little more hand-to-mouth than some of us do. She lost her daughter tragically and has a deep faith in the Lord. She knows exactly what it feels like to pray for rain, food, clothing, and all the Matthew 6:25-33 things. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes forget that the Lord has a plan, a sovereign plan, and everything we have is from his hand.
One of the most difficult days for me since this whole crisis started last March was when I began to clear my calendar of upcoming events, both professional and personal. I mean, I wasn’t simply postponing things or rescheduling. I was removing them from existence. It hurt. Many of us have experienced grief and loss of many kinds during this season.
But as I was leaving Kenya last summer, this same friend said, predictably, “I pray to see you again soon, if the Lord wills.”
At that moment, I thought to myself, “Honestly, it’s pretty much up to me if I want to come back to Kenya.” I might not have said that out loud, but I said it in my heart. I mean, if I want to come back, I can make it happen. I’m an American. I have the time. Americans make things happen, right?
It was author Napoleon Hill who wrote, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.” I think that this subtle form of pride has revealed itself these last few months in my life. Maybe we’ve all believed Hill’s mantra to some extent. Maybe we’ve all believed it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s admirable to make plans, set goals, schedule trips, and have a deep desire to make appointments that fulfill expectations. But, here’s the rub: do I believe that God is bigger than my future? Do I believe that I can’t do anything I want? Do I believe that something can only happen if it is in the sovereign will of the Lord?
I imagine, like you, my plans have been in flux for far too long. It’s frustrating to not know what’s next. I don’t like people messing with my plans. And, as it turns out, I don’t really like it when God messes with my plans, either.
Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. James 4:14-16
I’ve always struggled with pride, but maybe I’ve lived my life in more arrogance than I ever imagined. On mission trips, we try to be flexible. We seem to pray more often than normal and consider God working in and through all things more consistently. We consider the mission the most important thing. We submit to local leadership a little more readily. If we don’t get to eat the food we want, there’s no whining. If a goat herd wakes me up in the middle of the night, I don’t complain too much but chalk it up as a story I’ll share upon my return. If our plans change, we recognize that our good Father has ordained every moment and guide our earthly expectations to rest in what the Lord has for us.
If I know all these things, why is it so difficult for me to rest in what he has for me in this crisis?
Maybe it’s because I think that I’m running this show. Maybe I don’t daily trust, like my farmer friend in Kenya, that every rain, every breath, every meal, every friend, every moment, and everything is a gift from a good Father who cares for me. Maybe I need a reminder that Matthew 6 is for me, too, and that the Lord of the Universe says that I am valuable to him (v. 26).
I hope, like my Kenyan friend, that I may know and trust that our Father, and only our good Father, is the one who can make things happen, if he wills. Not only is he in control of all things, but he also works all those things together for my good and my sanctification. And his love for me is deeper than I can know (Romans 8:28-39). These are the truths I need to rest in this year. Maybe you do too?
About the Author:
Sue Harris serves the congregation at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church (Birmingham) as the Women’s Ministry Director. She has a passion for spiritual formation as she earned her Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta in 2014. She served Mission to the World for nine years challenging PCA congregations in missions as well as serving missionaries on the field through encouragement, teaching and short-term teams. Previously, she spent 12 years as a college women’s basketball coach, earning her MBA at Texas Woman’s University.