Can You Hear Me Now?
"For we are God's worksmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
The only limitations I have are the ones I place on myself. Fortunately, God continually reminds me I'm not in charge. He allows me to whine along thinking I can't do certain things, but then He intervenes when I don't come around. This has happened numerous times, but one occasion was a particular eye-opener.
Like most churches, we have many ministries offering opportunities for our members to use their various talents. We have the choir, Habitat for Humanity, office helpers, the library, traffic control, hospitality, the prayer chain, the blanket ministry, loving meals... I could go on for pages listing the areas in which people share their gifts to spread the message of Jesus Christ's love.
In my volunteer work at church, I've been a teacher, a coordinator for selecting Sunday school curriculums, a member of the Outreach committee, a liaison for homeless programs, and again, I could keep going. One area, however, I've always shied away from is mission trips, the area that spreads the good news to nonbelievers. It's not that I think it's unimportant because I believe it is vital, especially with the onslaught against Christianity in today's world. I've just felt that my talents lay in other areas... that there are people who are better suited for witnessing in mission fields. My mind changed a few years ago when God spoke to me through what can only be described as a megaphone.
One Sunday we had a Mission Focus where all the opportunities available were talked about in the sermon. Members gave personal testimonies of what these experiences had meant to them. I listened to their stories and watched videos of the impact our church was making at home and abroad. After the service, the individual mission teams set up tables outside the sanctuary to show the many places where our church specifically was making a difference. I looked around, genuinely waiting to feel a call to stretch myself into this field. The nudge never came. I reentered the sanctuary and prayed at the altar. I prayed later that night asking forgiveness for not being a better messenger to individuals who've never learned about Jesus, but still no guilt or remorse tugged at my heart. I fell asleep with a peace that God must be happy with what I was doing.
Over the following weeks I went back to my normal routine, writing in the mornings, stopping midday for lunch and "to-do" list chores, and then returning to my office after the postman comes. One afternoon I pulled an envelope from my mail box, and because it was addressed and stamped by me, I knew it was a returned manuscript. It was indeed a returned piece, but the editor had hand-written a note saying how much she liked my writing. She explained that while she enjoyed the story, it wasn't right for her audience. Her publication was geared toward nonbelievers and lapsed Christians and given away free in her area at local coffeehouses and businesses. She asked if I might have something more appropriate. As I reread her note, I realized God had called me personally and directly to work in a mission field, an opportunity I had prayed for, but in the end I had envisioned my participation through a tunnel. His vision took in a 360 degree horizon. It took several tries before I was able to create a piece that worked for this editor, and since then she has used a few more of my stories. Writing for this audience continues to be a challenge, but through this experience I learned several things.
First, while I'd grown as a writer of spiritual stories, I'd also grown lazy in my craft. I had to relearn and stretch my writing muscles in new ways when branching out to this audience. God has blessed me by fulfilling a lifelong dream, but He expects me to constantly sharpen the skills I've "perfected." He intends for me to develop into a stronger and better writer by not only accepting new assignments but also actively be attuned to other ways in which I can use these skills. Success is a positive feeling, but the road to that destination is often rocky and filled with potholes and detours that test the patience. My relationship with God during this time of growth strengthened as well. Because I thought I'd learned my craft and savored the joys of seeing my work in print, I'd forgotten it was God's desire and doing, not mine.
Second, I consider being born into a Christian family my biggest blessing. I've always known Jesus Christ and had a relationship with God. As with the writing, I took this gift for granted and forgot that it was God's hand at work once more. When writing for an audience with little to no faith, I have to understand what it would be like to talk to someone who won't take what I'm saying for face value. I don't mean this in a judgmental way, but I mention it because it is a reality. I have to show, not tell how God has made a difference in my life. I have a long road to travel in this journey; it remains a struggle to write with this slant.
Last, I've been reintroduced to a verse I've quoted for years: "With man this impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26 (NIV). At the altar that morning, God answered my prayer, a prayer that was heartfelt and sincere, but I'd blocked the prayer's realization before I knelt on that first knee. God sent me a message through the United States Postal Service. He sent me to a mission field where I could witness without ever leaving my house, my office… or even getting up from my chair.