But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. – Romans 8:25
I often enjoy reading the Bible with a theme in mind. For example, I was recently studying the virtue of patience while reading some of the stories in the Old Testament.
One great illustration of someone not having patience is the story of King Saul at Gilgal, before a battle with the Philistines. Saul was commanded to wait for Samuel before offering any sacrifices; but, he and his people started to doubt in God. They began to grow impatient, even fearful. Sadly, Saul decided to violate God’s commandment and offer a sacrifice anyway, without the presence of God’s prophet, Samuel. Shortly thereafter, Saul appeared and informed Saul that he had been rejected by God as King of Israel (I Samuel 13:7- 14). We know that after this event, Saul slowly descended further and further away from God, even turning to witchcraft to guide him shortly before his death. But, what kind of life would Saul have had if he only had trusted God more? I like to believe that Saul would have led a happier life if he would have developed an eternal perspective, rather than a limited, secular one.
However, unlike Saul, Abraham did maintain an eternal perspective throughout his life. How long did Abraham wait for a son?
And lest we forget the story of Job, who lost everything he had and loved. How did Job react to his ‘misfortune?’ How was Job rewarded because of his patience in God?
But, what do these stories of patience, and trusting in God’s time, have to do with us as missionaries?
One story that helped me to better understand the concept of ‘God’s timetable’ is the famous case of Dr. William Leslie, a medical missionary who spent 17 years in the remote jungles of the now Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Africa. The first thing that struck me when first hearing of Dr. Leslie’s experience is the fact that this man dedicated 17 long, arduous years as a representative of God in a place where the people didn’t know anything about Jesus, let alone the Bible. And, after all those years of dedication, Dr. Leslie left the people of Africa believing he had failed in his efforts.
Can you imagine dedicating your life for 17 years to something only to end it thinking you hadn’t accomplished anything? Perhaps you might feel that God had abandoned you? Or maybe you might feel that you had interpreted God’s call wrong, perhaps you were supposed to do something else and you misread your own thoughts.
Sadly, Dr. Leslie died 9 years after returning home from Africa. He died thinking that what he had dedicated so many years of his life to had had no impact on those people he worked with. But, what Dr. Leslie didn’t know was God had a different plan. Almost 84 years after Dr. Leslie left Africa, a new missionary effort discovered something truly inspiring.
Upon arriving in the remote parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, missionaries found that entire populations of indigenous people had formed Christian based societies. The elders taught Bible stories, parents taught their children about Christ, and one group had even built a cathedral! And, it wasn’t just a couple isolated villages, it was hundreds and hundreds of people who had grown up in a culture that knew of Jesus as the Son of God.
But, what about Dr. Leslie? Why did he consider himself a failure? Well, much like many of us, he did not see things with an eternal perspective. Having the ability to see things from outside our finite existence is so important to not only develop patience, but also maintain trust in the Lord’s plan for His creations.
But, how do I develop that level of patience and trust in God?
The best way that I have found is to keep your mind’s eye on the greater goal. Too often, we as humans tend to focus on a single issue, or a relatively brief moment of our lives, as bigger than it really needs to be. Perhaps there is that bill we just can’t pay this month, or we lost our job, or that one person we felt would see the Light of Christ tells us they no longer wish to hear about God. These events in our lives can seem incredibly disheartening, and even overwhelming at times. But, in the grand scheme of things, are these events really that bad? Yes, they may seem like the worst thing in the world . . . right now. But, they are relatively insignificant.
What is one grain of sand in an ocean? What is one fallen leaf in a forest? And while even one soul is precious to God, what is a momentary setback in the overall mission to help people know God? We must focus on the goal, not the tasks. We must trust that God is in control of His work, and we are merely His instruments. And even if we are not around to experience the reward, or to see the fruits of our labors, we must keep an eye single to the glory of God – not the glory of ourselves.