For the past few weeks, I have been looking back at all the ways God has acted in my life and am amazed at all the ways I have failed and yet God has done greater than I could have imagined. One particular instance I want to share:
A few years back, my wife Alise led a short term missions team of five people from Southern California on a trip to the Philippines. It was one of my first mission experiences and I had high expectations; I was close to graduating with a Master’s in Theological Studies so in my head I was going to bring some powerful messages and to “win” people over for Christ. This was to be my first opportunity to preach and it was going to be great! Our “home base” was a national church and over the course of a week each member of the team took turns giving messages and testimonies. Truth be told, I was already a little frustrated; I was hoping to preach to people who did not know Christ instead of a church of people who were already following. On our last three days we were going to go to a remote village up in the hills with a bunch of the church leaders and members of the Filipino church. We were the featured attraction because many people have never left the island and Americans were interesting enough to be a draw. We held a worship service on the first two nights and on my first opportunity to preach I must have put half the audience to sleep. On the third night was our final service and we were going to finish with a big altar call. This was it! We gave a message and at the end we invited the village to come up for prayer and to give their life to Christ – it felt like we were praying for hours as over a hundred people came up! Sounds great right? Except that when our team talked about it afterwards we realized not a single person wanted to accept Christ as their Savior, not a single person wanted to repent, not a single person wanted to follow Jesus. They wanted to be healed of back pains, or to make more money, or have more prosperous crops. Now, at least people were open enough for prayer but it was definitely not what we hoped.
When we were at the airport waiting for our flight home we met another group of missionaries from Kansas. They told us they held an evangelistic concert and at their altar call, about 1000 people decided to put their faith in Christ! Our little team of five was demoralized. That was exactly the type of thing we were expecting to do. To be the heroes. To be great fishers of men. We felt like failures.
Thankfully, my wife was leading the trip. She reminded us that God was already at work in that village and we had no idea how God could use anything we did. It was our expectations which were out of perspective instead of accepting what God was doing.
I did not give a powerful message, but that was not my failure. I did not bring anyone to faith in Christ, but that was not my failure. My failure was in my attitude – thinking that people would be saved because of words I spoke or actions I took. I came home humbled.
In reading the Old Testament, we see that same theme over and over again don’t we? Someone thinks that their actions or words make them a savior. Then they fail spectacularly. But God shows grace and uses what they did and does something much greater than they ever had hoped.
A year after we visited the Philippines, my wife received a message from one of her friends at the Filipino church – revival had broken out in that village we visited – almost every person had given their lives to Christ and they were so thirsty for the Word that they asked for a church to be planted there. In the end, God used our trip in the Philippines. In spite of my boring sermon. In spite of our unrealistic expectations. He did something much deeper. We failed and yet God still used our time for something in that village, and in us as well.
Trying to follow,