February 02, 2016
Is Your Faith in God or in a Favorable Outcome?
Post by Brittany Tedesco
Months after a devastating earthquake struck Nepal last year, a Nepalese ministry leader visited our office and told us a miraculous story of God's protection.
One of the pastors working with his ministry was discipling a group of people nearby the ministry's humble schoolhouse where children were receiving a Christian education. When the quake struck, it cracked the schoolhouse from top to bottom.
The pastor watched as the structure split in two, each side falling to the ground in opposite directions. He was dumbfounded. Everyone knows buildings collapse in, not out. Sitting at their desks under the sky, were all of the children, completely unharmed.
This was just one of several supernatural events we heard about from ministries in Nepal.
What Christian isn't encouraged by reports like these? I know I am. But then. . . I can't help but think about the Christians in Nepal who didn't survive the quake. Was God not faithful to them like He was to those children?
How do we trust in God's faithfulness when, at times, He doesn't appear faithful at all? How do we move forward in this life without worrying about what bad things might happen to us or to our loved ones?
I just finished reading about seven missionaries who were murdered by terrorists in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. They were killed in a restaurant where al-Qaeda affiliates opened fired. Six of them were from Canada on a short-term missions trip; one of them, an American, ran an orphanage and women's crisis center that he had started there with his wife in 2011.
When I got done shaking my head in disgust at this senseless act of evil, I found myself praying that the families of those killed wouldn't lose faith in God.
If the victims' families are anything like most Christians, they probably prayed for God's protection over their loved ones before they headed overseas. Perhaps they had great faith that their family members would be protected. If that was the case, is their faith still intact?
A ministry leader we support in the Philippines has experienced his share of grief, losing close friends and coworkers to hate-filled, murderous people. He works in dangerous jungle areas, rampant with Islamic terrorists, communist New People's Army rebels, and cannibals.
Last November, communist party rebels shot and killed one of his coworkers, along with his coworker's 24-year-old son, as they bathed in a river. The father and son preached the gospel while offering food and medical aid to those in need. The communists viewed them as a threat to their cause.
In 2013, Muslim extremists killed one of the pastors trained in his Bible school, along with the pastor's wife and two of their three daughters, ages 6 and 8.
How does he carry on, with valor and joy, not knowing whether he, his family, or his coworkers are going to be okay in that unforgiving environment?
The handful of times he's visited the Christian Aid office have been a treat for me. His countenance is always energetic and buoyant, in seeming conflict with the harrowing stories and tragic events he describes. His diminutive frame camouflages the spiritual giant underneath. Sometimes I had to remind myself I was looking into the eyes of a man who'd looked into the eyes of cannibals and told them about Jesus. Courage this tenacious—this outrageous—is spellbinding. Loss and heartbreak haven't ruined his faith.
I liken this ministry leader to another champion for Christ in the South Pacific: John Paton, Scottish missionary to Vanuatu (known then as New Hebrides), a chain of 80 islands about 1,000 miles east of northern Australia, in the mid-1800s.
The first two missionaries to that nation were killed and eaten by cannibals only moments after going ashore in 1839. While many were horrified by the news, Paton's heart became deeply burdened for the lost people of New Hebrides. He was determined to reach them for Christ.
With little more than his impenetrable faith, Paton, along with his wife, set sail for New Hebrides—despite the most stringent protests from his Christian peers in Scotland.
In less than four months after landing on the island of Tanna, Paton's wife and newborn boy died of fever.
Grief overcame him. Those deaths pierced that vibrant heart, which beat so ferociously for the people of New Hebrides, and ripped it wide open. For a time, he could do nothing more than sit beside his family's graves while his hemorrhaging heart poured out sorrow. "I felt her loss beyond all conception or description in that dark land," he wrote of his wife in his autobiography. His iron-clad determination to reach the "savage islanders" started to unravel. . . but not completely.
"It was very difficult to be resigned, left alone, and in sorrowful circumstances," he wrote. "But feeling immovably assured that my God and father was too wise and loving to err in anything that he does or permits, I looked up to the Lord for help, and struggled on in His work."
For the next four years, Paton worked alone on Tanna under constant danger and threat of death until he was driven off the island in 1862. He frequently contracted severe illnesses, and never knew when he'd be ambushed by hostile islanders. His life would have been taken many times over if God had not restrained his would-be assailants from availing their guns and daggers.
After leaving the island, Paton married again in 1864. He and his new wife returned to the smaller New Hebrides island of Aniwa where they served together for the next 41 years, during which time they saw the entire island population turn to Christ.
In John Paton and the Philippine ministry leader, I find the answers to my questions about the faithfulness of God. Surely their faith would have been shipwrecked if their faith was rooted in the hope that everything "will be okay."
Everything wasn't, and hasn't been, okay for either of these men. But their faith wasn't/isn't based on everything being okay. Their faith was and is based on God's sovereignty over their lives.
When in near-death situations, Paton would pray "Protect me or take me home to Glory as You see to be for the best."
His faith rested in the fact that ". . . the Lord Jesus hastens to answer believing prayer and send help to His servants in His own good time and way, so far as it shall be for His glory and their good."
I find that it's easy for me to confuse faith in God with faith that everything will turn out the way I'd like it to. But there's no assurance in the latter.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren't sure that God was going to deliver them from the fiery furnace. But the possibility that they'd be burned up didn't disrupt their faith, because their faith wasn't resting on a favorable outcome—it rested on God's sovereignty. They knew He would act for their good and His glory, whatever that meant.
When terrible things befall the Christian, it isn't because God isn't faithful. Paton and the Philippine ministry leader have endured terrible things, but they've also tasted something that many will never experience: the satisfaction of wholly surrendering to God no matter the outcome, and the consequent fruit produced by it.
"Even my Christian friends will ask me, 'Why go there? Do you want to leave your family bereft?" the Philippine ministry leader told us. "I say, 'That is where God called me; I just obey Him.' Seeing the fruits of Christ makes you crave more."
Since he started his ministry in 2006, he's planted 18 house churches, 37 churches with buildings, and 11 underground fellowships. His ministry has trained 67 pastors and more than 30 workers.
Wrote Paton: "Oh that pleasure-seeking men and women of the world could only taste and feel the real joy of those who know and love the true God—a heritage which the world. . . cannot give to them, but which the poorest and humblest followers of Jesus inherit and enjoy!"