By Leah Fuller
I have a problem. Some might even call it an addiction. In college, I became hooked on adrenaline rushes. Now that I have matured some, I might say that I am addicted to new and exciting things. I love going on adventures to new places to explore, hike, climb, paddle, or learn new skills. Often I find myself becoming listless and bored if my life has too much routine to it. I collect new hobbies, too. Whether it’s learning pottery, how to play the mandolin, how to build an instrument from scratch, or learning to mountain bike, paddle whitewater, or rock climb, I enjoy learning new things! My mom once asked me why I didn’t just apply myself to one hobby and get really good at it. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but now I do. I value new and exciting experiences that keep me moving toward learning new things.
This longing for something new and exciting also pops up in my relationship with God. I’m on the lookout for God to speak something profound and life-changing, either for me or the groups I minister to. And when the response I get from Him is silence or something I’ve already taught or heard countless times before, I think God has stopped communicating with me. It’s the same message, and it easily feels mundane, repetitive, and sometimes just plain boring.
Perhaps God actually wants to meet us in normal, everyday life rather than in an exciting new adventure.
Don’t get me wrong here. Going to conferences and concerts, exploring new places, receiving a word from the Lord through prayer or a dream are all necessary and valuable ways that God speaks to us. And yet, I am beginning to learn that the deepest and most profound transformation occurs through what happens in normal, everyday life. Henri Nouwen in his book Life of the Beloved says that “Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do…to become the Beloved in the commonplaces of my daily existence and, bit by bit, to close the gap that exists in the countless specific realities of everyday life.”
One day, not that long ago, I was praying with some co-workers for the ministry we were preparing to do that day. I asked for prayers to be inspired, noting that I had not felt very inspired with new insights for groups all summer. In short, I was complaining that God had not given me a new and exciting message to speak, and I was tired of the normal, everyday messages I had been using. One of my co-workers nodded in agreement and deep thought. After a moment, he looked me in the eye and said, “It requires us to die to ourselves to communicate the message God wants us to communicate, whether it’s new and fresh to us or not. And these students may not have heard that message before. It’s only old to you.” That hit me square between the eyes and caused me to pause in that place. Isn’t this what Paul was talking about in Galatians 2:20 when he said, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
In essence, God is doing the work of transforming my co-workers and me in the common places of day-to-day living. The process of becoming the Beloved is not always exciting or full of new adventures, realities, and victories. Instead, it is about training to live a normal, everyday life from a different space. This space is driven less by what I think I need and more by what I actually need to be loved, valued, and secure. It is driven by the beautiful, God-given desires planted and growing within me and comes more from a place of being than doing. It is the place of surrender, not grasping; the place of trusting, not understanding.
This different space can feel painful because it is counter-intuitive and opposite of what seems most natural and easy. It can feel absolutely disorienting…and yet it draws me in. I find myself more curious about what God is leading me toward, and the unknown in that is beginning to look more and more like a worthwhile adventure lived out day to day, not in the next new adventure or experience I dream about. God wants to meet me in this space, too, and this is the space where my deeper transformation is being molded as I surrender my desire for the new and exciting from God and settle into the grand adventure of learning to trust Him. letting Christ live in me in my normal, everyday life.
Are there some ways God is wanting to transform you in the midst of normal, everyday life? Perhaps as friends gather for a meal in your home, as you learn to love your spouse and children, in the people you encounter throughout your day, and as you go about your daily tasks at work? God is ready and wants to live in you in your normal, everyday life. Will you let Him?
By Joel Bates
I wasn’t at Golgotha, but it was a dark Friday when I stood on the hill of crosses. We had been traveling together in the wilderness for about a week before my co-leader and I pulled the bottom out from under the missionaries-in-training. They would have to exchange their comfortable canoes for the burden of hiking with backpacks. Some of them glared at us in astonishment, the anger brewing under the surface because of what this could cost them. They were a mixed bag of global evangelists, some singles and some families all headed for unknown challenges in the four corners of the world. There were children in the group, too, including an infant and two toddlers. How would they be able to transport children and infants, food, and all the camping gear to a yet unknown destination? They could relate to Abraham, actually Abram, as he also faced a call to go to a land God would show him, a place far away over a distance he did not know. However, the mission recruits did have their first destination, just not the knowledge of how many more would follow, so with what they did know they lifted their packs and kid-carriers to their backs and set their feet on the path.
From the first, the way was slow going. Brambles and thorns obscured what little evidence of a trail existed, and soon they faced another challenge. They had to march up a mountain. Since the destination lay at the top, there was naught to do but trust the map and compass, hold to the bearing, and press on. Again I thought of Abraham as he sojourned throughout the land of promise, never really reaching the destination, hoping in the promise of a child, fulfillment always just out of reach and out of his earthly control, yet he was credited for his faith, faith in a promise. For most of his life that was his only bearing.
After spending most of the day trudging from one destination to the next, enjoying the temporary joy of a successful proof, and delighting brief rests, my co-leader and I chose one final destination. It was a small hill just a stone’s throw away from what would be our final campsite—a hill utterly insignificant and arbitrary except for one monumental feature, three large crosses standing tall.
The bedraggled missionaries knew neither the significance of the destination nor that it was the last destination of the trip. The light of day was dwindling, and the dark storm brewing on the horizon promised we would soon be pelted with raindrops. They put a good face on it all and set off with a degree of hearty will, but after we had been slogging along with heavy burdens in the rain for a few hours, they realized with great dismay that they had taken a wrong turn and passed their destination. The anticipated cheer of success faded as a growing anxiety of their being totally and utterly lost descended on them.
One of the group leaders, a young husband and father, looked at the group and in brokenness confessed that he doubted they could go on any farther. The children were crying and soaking in the rain. Nightfall threatened to obscure the destination. And quite honestly, he had lost his own personal belief in the mission. Knowing that this was not the time or place to quit, I pulled him aside and simply whispered, “I believe you can do this, and your group is capable of following you.” He silently nodded in acknowledgement as tears lined his cheeks.
They kept going. They were trying to follow a bearing in the dark, but the going was difficult and impeded by gullies, thick foliage, and the needs of group members to stop and rest as their fatigue no doubt fueled their own mounting doubts. I followed along with them, but my mind began to race with questions as I considered their struggles and how I was driving them on to this destination. I had to ask, “Is this too much for the group? Am I setting them up to fail miserably? Will they ever forgive me for challenging them so far beyond their perceived limits?”
The group stopped just short of the hill, resting and retreating mentally in a wet heap of packs, bodies, and tears. I stood back and watched and prayed desperately for God to help them since my commitment to this challenge prevented me from bailing them out. Two members stood apart with map and compass in hand, gaping into the darkness and straining to see any signs of a rise in elevation. When I strode to their side, they choked out the problem through their tears, “We’re lost in the dark and in absolute brokenness. We cannot find the destination.”
“Do you still have a bearing on the hill?” I asked. They did, and after comparing it to my own, I knew they were truly heading in the right direction. They just didn’t believe it. I simply reminded them to trust their map and compass and hold to the bearing. So in fear and doubt and suffering they set off, risking all to follow the bearing. Suddenly out of the darkness, the terrain began to rise slightly and then steeply ascend. My co-facilitator and I were following the hikers when a sudden hush came over the group. I looked up, and my breath caught as headlamps and flashlights one after the other illuminated the figures of three imposing crosses.
The group felt a rush of wonder and quickened their pace to the summit. They stopped and stood in silence at the foot of the rough-hewn emblems of suffering and shame. Without a word, one by one they let their backpacks slide off, losing them to the cold ground, leaving them, and not looking back. The broken young man who had been leading us fell to his knees and began to weep at the sight. Tears filled my eyes, too, as the rain eased and lightning lit up the sky, emblazoning the silhouetted crosses on my mind. The group, still wet, still in the dark, fresh from the trail of suffering was entranced in a state of awe and worship. In the face of suffering and lostness, brokenness and hopelessness, there stood the cross—the evidence of all that these missionaries were living for. The scene embodied God’s fulfilled promise that went all the way back to Abraham and Isaac. He had spared that only son and promised the coming of another only Son who would be sacrificed.
That Friday night, we glimpsed the pain and sadness of what the world apart from Christ feels. Though our encounter was brief, it deeply impressed us again with the hard fact that we needed saving. We knelt there remembering Jesus, the only Son sacrificed for everyone. He can relate to all of our pain and suffering and do more than just relate, but save us from it. There, to our surprise, in the middle of the night on a small hill amid a dying world lost in pain and darkness stands the salvation of all men, the beacon of hope to the nations, the immovable gospel for all ages, the fulfillment of the promise, the reliable bearing we hold to. There stands the cross of Christ.
By Leah Fuller
I hovered in the rain praying while a woman stood but a few feet from me, speaking with great determination to my co-instructor. She was tense, obviously afraid, and she believed that her body could not physically continue on this expedition that she had begun a few days earlier. She wanted to leave, to quit right then. Moments like this one are hard for a couple reasons: 1) They typically occur at a critical point in the expedition when things are really challenging and the person or persons simply can’t see beyond their own struggle. 2) Physical challenges often mask real, deep, vulnerable spaces of the heart that God is pushing on, and most people are unaware of anything but what they can physically see and feel.
My co-leader asked a few questions and then encouraged this woman to spend some time praying about what it was that she really needed. Perhaps she needed to share her struggle with the group? Perhaps there was something deeper? She agreed to pray, and the rest of the group spread out to do the same. Finding a place to settle on the side of the rocky mountain, I wondered what God wanted to do in the life of this woman and in the lives of the other group members. I continued to pray.
As the hikers regrouped, my co-instructor approached the woman and exchanged a few words. She slowly turned to the group with tears streaming down her face and began to explain her deep fears—fear of the unknown…fear of losing control…fear and worry over what might happen to her if she continued. And, as she wept before these people, most of whom she had only known a few days, a beautiful scene unfolded. One by one, her group members gathered around her, laid hands on her, and began praying over her. They saw her need, and they knew that in and of themselves, they could not meet it, so they turned to the One who could.
I find it intriguing how often this scene unfolds in the lives of Christ’s followers--particularly ones who have answered a call to vocational ministry in churches or para-church organizations or a call to being missionaries--people called by God to shepherd and help those who are in need. It’s what God set before us to do…to “share with God’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13). I love meeting people’s needs. I find a great deal of satisfaction, fulfillment, and value when I have sacrificed hours of my time to sit with a grieving friend or to serve a struggling family. When a participant on a trip struggles with the weight of their pack, it feels good to help carry a few of their items, quite literally shouldering their burden.
And yet…when it comes to communicating my own need or even acknowledging my need, I absolutely do not want to be that transparent. It feels too vulnerable to let other people know I’m struggling. Instead, I would rather flee, hide, isolate, or believe the lie that I am alone. Shouldn’t I meet my own needs just as our western culture has taught me? Independence is easier than interdependence because it involves only one…me. Then, too, I get so focused on others that I fail to see my own need until it is too late, and I am exhausted. Not only do I hesitate to let other people see my struggle, but I avoid telling God about it. I know it sounds silly because God knows everything--even what I try to hide, but it’s true.
When I think about the way that Jesus sent out the twelve disciples as they started their ministry, I become aware of the truth of trusting others. He sent them out two by two and told them to “take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals, but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town” (Mark 6:8-10). Jesus literally told them to go out to minister with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Essentially, the disciples would have to depend on the people they were going to minister to just as much as they would be meeting the people’s spiritual, emotional, and physical needs. He was asking them to shed the protective barrier of independence and step into a place where they legitimately could not provide for themselves.
Admitting our need makes us vulnerable. It means that we can’t do this on our own. It requires us to surrender our independence in order to receive God’s gift of miraculously providing, not just for our physical needs, but the deeper longings of our heart for intimacy, belonging, love, and value, which He gives us through Himself and the community around us. 2 Corinthians 9:8 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” God is able to meet all of our needs, and that requires us to wade into the deeper fears that ultimately lead us to protect our hearts, to choose to trust Him, and to believe that even when we cannot see beyond our current suffering, He is with us.
Will you let God take you to the deeper places of your need? You can trust that He knows and loves you and that He will be faithful to meet you in the midst of your deepest longing and desire. Let go, and trust that He is able.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.