Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Expectations Fulfilled, Joy Experienced

Back in May as I was in prayerful preparation for my summer at the Boardwalk Chapel I wrote down some expectations I had about what my summer might be like, you can read them here.

I expected God to take me out of my comfort zone.
He did that. The first couple weeks of going out on the Boardwalk to meet complete strangers and see if they were willing to talk about God were filled with agonizing anticipation. However, after a couple of really good conversations God gave me, I lost a lot of that fear. I still struggle with having the discipline to initiate, to be ready to spend myself (being an introvert it costs me energy to initiate conversation with strangers), but I have largely lost my fear of initiation. I know that there are pretty much two options, either we'll have a fruitful conversation or I'll get turned down. It's not up to me to force people to talk to me, it's up to God to open up hearts. To learn that has been freeing.

I expected to learn more about who God is to unbelievers.
I did. I thought I was almost tired of hearing the gospel before going to New Jersey, and surely hearing it over and over wouldn't help things. However, by presenting it time after time in whatever way seemed it might connect best, I actually developed a new and deeper love for the core of our faith. Anyone who thinks the gospel is simple hasn't really talked to others about it much. Trying to get the central message of Christianity out in skit, song, preaching, and one-on-one conversations opened up the complexity of the gospel to me in a way I had not known before. Glorious!

I expected to come away more confident in sharing my faith with others.
Only time will tell for this one, whether what became a lifestyle for the summer in New Jersey will actually become a lifestyle once I'm back home, or whether it will remain compartmentalized as something I do when I'm in "ministry mode" not an everyday habit. Will I continue to direct conversations towards walking with the Lord in my everyday life? I hope so; not to the point of not being able to talk about anything else, but to make it something that I'm always thinking about and not being ashamed to talk about it. It is amazing how often I excuse being ashamed about sharing the gospel as an "inappropriate time," etc. I try to convince myself that I'm not really ashamed of the gospel in those situations, but if I'm honest I know that I really am. I'm ashamed of being thought of as pretentious, hypocritical, pharisaical, or some other self-righteous goody-goody. Time will reveal how much of that fear and shame have been removed in my everyday life.

I expected to become more aware of my shortcomings and as a result feel more dependent on God.
Well, this did not happen as expected. I did feel very dependent on God, especially when doing evangelism, but overall I was affirmed and built up. I found myself humbled, not by critique, but by the praise and affirmation I received. Somehow I felt even more dependent on God despite the praise I was getting. He really brought home to me the verse, "are we seeking to please man or God?" I found to my delight that he was the center of my affections for when I received praise from the people around me it only mattered to the extent that it was words of commendation from my Lord. I found myself more than ever dependent on his love and mercy and completely delighted to know that he was pleased with me.

I hoped to discover the joy of evangelism.
Boy did I ever. Perhaps not more than when I learned to evangelize in Uganda in 2010. However, I learned the joy of bringing the gospel to bear to people of all different walks of life. I learned that I really did love people and care very deeply for them, more and more when I am deeply connected to my Savior. I found myself channeling his love time and time again as I would go from just letting hurting people talk their hearts out to me, to arguing with agnostics about the irrationality of evolution and disbelief in God. As I hoped, I believe God has made me much more useful in his service. I believe he's done some pipe cleaning this summer on a rather dirty pipe named Isaiah and is ready to channel some more of his love, wisdom, and grace through me to others in the future.

I was utterly astounded at the words of encouragement I heard from the lips of strangers and friends alike this summer of how much of a help I was in pointing them to my Beloved. Of course that is my desire, and so to hear that I was able to point away from myself and to my God was thrilling. I don't want people to look at me as someone who is zealous for God, I just want to love God and have others love him too. I want to see people healed and built up, but I can't do it myself—I'm not God, so I do my best to keep their eyes on the only one who can. Because he really can. He is able to do more than we ask or think. He is the only one who has all the power. Don't put your trust in princes or for help on man depend; and it also works the other way, Princes, don't think that you can be trusted in, you're not God. I desire to bring healing and hope to broken lives, but I can't personally do that, so I do my best to put people in touch with the one who can.
It is always encouraging to me to see how much it makes me happy to see others turning their focus away from me and towards Christ. When I see the honest delight in my heart it brings tears to my eyes, because it's none of my doing. It is all him, and it's so beautiful! This has been a beautiful summer because I've seen my Savior in the lives of my brothers and sisters that I worked with and I've seen many be directed away from me and towards Christ. He is so worthy, because he is so able. I don't know if I've ever been able to say so honestly and so joyfully, "He must increase and I must decrease." This summer I think I tasted in a fuller way than ever before the heart of John the Baptist who wanted nothing more than for the disciples to leave him for Jesus.

Do not cling to me my brothers and sisters, I only hope to show you how to find the one who can give real comfort, peace, joy, deliverance, and protection.
To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!