Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hope, Faith, and Favor

Usually what keeps me going is having a number of moments where I stop and say, "Wow, this is why I am here!" Lately, however, I've been having a lot more moments where I stop and ask, "Wait, why am I here?" I was disheartened and discouraged with all my failings in my new roles and responsibilities. I'm finally starting to hear from God (something that has been hard my whole Christian life), but I never know it is God speaking until after I disregard what I heard, and then of course I have to suffer the consequences. Lots of stress. Frustration. Even things that used to give me joy felt like a burden.

Therefore I took a day off to hide, fast, pray, and really seek God's face. Did He really call me here, to this place, to do this work? Did I miss Him on His calling for my life? I always thought I would end up being an English-teaching missionary in Asia, how on earth did I find myself in charge of an orphanage in Africa? I was filled with doubt, exactly where the enemy wanted me.

Fortunately, it was an encouraging day with God. Somehow in the tears and surrender I was able to see through my hurts and into His heart. I learned three important lessons that day, about hope, faith, and favor.

My Bible bookmark was in Lamentations (odd, I wasn't reading Lamentations last time…), but this whole passage really spoke to my soul:

"Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, 'The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!'

The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.
And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline:

Let them sit alone in silence beneath the Lord's demands.
Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last.
Let them turn the other cheek to those who strike them and accept the insults of their enemies.

For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love.
For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow."

I couldn't help feeling these are promises spoken directly over my life. I believed them all as they washed over me like the fresh water of a waterfall, cleansing the wounds and washing off the dirt of the journey. There is hope! I can still dare to hope, knowing God is faithful, knowing His mercies begin afresh every morning.

Then I randomly started reading 1 Peter. Don't know why, I just felt like reading 1 Peter.

"I am writing to God's chosen people who are living as foreigners..." It's easy for me to skip over introductions and salutations and just get to the meat of the writing, but this time the salutation really hit me—it's written to me! I'm one of God's chosen people living as a foreigner in a strange land.

"God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ." These verses made me feel personally commissioned, and also said that I obeyed. I didn't miss my calling. I was specifically chosen for this place, this work, these people. I am walking in His will for me after all.

"So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world." Again, I felt like the whole book was written and preserved through the centuries just so I could read it this day and draw hope from it. There is a reason and a purpose for my trials. I need them to test and deepen my faith!

 "You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy." This is a tough ministry to be a part of for someone who has never experienced earth-shattering, powerful encounters with God (someone like me). During our mission school, people were having visions of heaven, seeing God face to face, seeing angels, getting knocked out flat by the Holy Spirit, and after a while of experiencing nothing personally I started wondering if I was even saved! This verse has kept me going. I have never experienced God in the strong ways other people seem to be able to, but I still trust Him. I guess somehow that makes my faith more blind and more precious to Him, even though I honestly would rather have the visions and experiences. Even though I don't see Him, He still sees me and cares that I keep going in spite of the lack of stupendous experiences.

Jon suggested I go through my mission school notes, so I did. I was hit afresh with a message of Heidi Baker about favor. We may think we want favor from God, but do we really know what we're asking for?

"Gabriel appeared to her and said, 'Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!' Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 'Don't be afraid, Mary,' the angel told her, 'for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!'"

Mary found favor with God, and it turned her life upside-down. I taught in a high school in the States for a while and had at least 1-2 pregnant girls in each class—it's not a big deal to us anymore to see girls pregnant out of wedlock, but in Mary's time it was the biggest shame imaginable. She could have been stoned for promiscuity and adultery. And it wasn't like she could hide her "favor" either—it was obvious to the world, humiliating, embarrassing, and shaming. And what a story to tell people! "No really, God made me pregnant! I'm still a virgin!" Right, Mary. If they had mental institutions back then they may have considered admitting her to one.

Not only that, but think of the responsibility to carry the Son of God. Ever since man sinned, God promised a Savior, a Messiah to set people free from the power of the mess they got themselves into. Now finally, thousands of years and hundreds of prophecies later, little Mary is chosen to be the channel to bring this Messiah into the world. I was feeling under-qualified and inadequate for my work here, I wonder how she felt? The favor brings a huge responsibility. And a choice. Mary could have said "no", she could have refused at the start or given up partway through. So many people are given a seed of favor, but the process of carrying that favor before the world can see the fruit is beyond difficult. Many people miscarry or abort it before seeing it through to fruition.

For me, God has shown me favor by placing me to be His hands, feet, heart, and love to 30 orphans in Africa. He promised to take care of the fatherless, and He chose me to be the channel through which He cares for these precious ones. It's hard, some days harder than I want to deal with—the kids have emotional scars that show themselves either in lashing out and fighting or clamming up and hiding, most of them are not saved, they have serious issues with disrespect, disobedience, dishonesty, they are demanding and rude, they have so many needs that I just feel like I can't meet, and some days I'm ready to abort this favor, pack up my bags, and go home. How can little me take on this huge responsibility? I dream of a beautiful children's center, where the kids love God and voluntarily spend time in prayer and worship, they get along with each other and put each other first, they share and are not selfish, they take on responsibilities and follow through without expecting payment, they speak the truth all the time, they pray for the sick and see miracles, they grow up to be powerful men of God and change the world around them, they are well prepared for life and are equipped to live their dreams to be car mechanics or doctors… It just seems like a long way to go to get to that point.

It's a matter of carrying the favor, and not miscarrying before all can see the fruit. I just need to live in hope of seeing God's mercies new every morning, faith that He has called me and will make me adequate for the work, and accept the favor along with the promise it brings, no matter how difficult the journey.