How to be ready "early the next morning".
Updated: May 16
August 4th will mark 10 years of living and working in southern Africa for the Danforth Four. A decade of service in any area gives you plenty of opportunity to examine your "why". Our "why" is pretty simple. It is to savor, know, explore, and mimic the life of Jesus Christ wherever we are until the last one in our midst has heard of his glory. We succeed a little. We fail a lot. We've learned a ton.
We've learned, forgotten, and re-learned, that ministry "success" is about all the things we don't measure. Or forget to measure. Like, whether the fruit of the Spirit is evident in our lives instead of whether our auto repair ministry is one step closer to self-sustainability, as author Amy Young recently challenged me to consider in a podcast. We've learned that the weight of the whole dark world on our shoulders can push us 10 steps deeper into sin and 1,000 steps closer to Jesus no matter how long we've been missionaries. We've learned that simple things matter a whole lot more than we realized. Like, how what we actually, truly believe about God in our hearts dictates our actions and lives.
What you believe matters. A lot. You'll come face to face with what you actually believe versus what you'd like to think you believe about God, yourself, and humanity when crisis, trauma, or long-term stress come your way.
10 years into ministry work, Sam and I shared coffee and read this story.
“After these things, God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.”
“So early in the morning”...
Sam stopped mid-sentence in his Panera booth when he read this out loud to me. His hazelnut coffee steamed and I asked,
"How do you be ready 'early the next morning' when you're called to the impossible?"
Here we read a story of God testing Abraham. God had spent several decades building Abraham’s faith and this was the ultimate showcase of that faith. This test was not intended to create faith in Abraham but to reveal the faith that God had already built in Abraham. This was a seemingly impossible situation. God had promised to make many nations through Isaac’s seed, but now he was asking Abraham to kill his son and apparently the promise of many nations. However, Abraham had more faith in the ONE who promised than in the promise itself. While the situation seemed impossible, Abraham knew that the only impossible factor was for God to break his promise. And so it was with that in mind that Abraham willingly and QUICKLY rose in the morning to obey. His trust was in God, not in his own understanding. He did not panic or try to FULFILL God’s promise on his own as if he knew better. If you are unfamiliar with the story, here is how it turns out (read Genesis 22: 4-18). This story reveals that God is good. God provides. God is trustworthy. And that even in the seemingly impossible situation, God kept his promise to Abraham that Isaac would be the father of many nations.
So, what do we do when God calls us to the impossible? What do we do when God calls us to something that seems to extend beyond our abilities? A key is revealed in 1 Peter 4:11, which says,
“11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen”
There’s a Zulu proverb that says, “Ixoxo ne xoxo linyazi nxumela”. This means, “The frog can only jump as high as he thinks he can.” The problem with the frog, in this case, is that he has no greater thing to rely on than himself. So often, we give ourselves about as much credit as a frog. We think, “I only have 2 fish and 5 loaves”. “I only have a jar of oil and some flour” or in my case, “I only have a French teaching license”. Or, if I were in Abraham’s shoes, “But this is my only son of promise…”
Unlike the frog, Abraham did not rely on himself or his own understanding. He believed completely in God and was willing to obey in impossible circumstances. Abraham shifted the focus from himself to Yahweh, Almighty God, Jehovah Jireh.
For us, the impossible was being asked to start a business and training center in a foreign country. All I had was a teaching degree. All Sam had was a pilot license. We were not qualified to do this thing. This was a time when we were asked to shift the focus from ourselves and “how high we could jump” to God and what He could do. Over the last few years, God has revealed many things about himself through that step of faith. He has revealed that He cares for the people of South Africa. He cares for the dignity of those who didn’t have jobs or training but can now provide for their families through a stable job and training at Titus. He cares to reach every community so much that he uprooted and moved a pilot and a teacher and their two kids to the other end of the world. He revealed that He provides for us and for this ministry over and over again, even when the economy fluctuated and COVID shut down over 50 businesses around Titus in 2020. He revealed that He sustains the ministry even when looters and rioters destroyed businesses all around Titus in July 2021. He revealed that He loves and keeps our family even when we are called to great sacrifices, such as being separated from our kids by an ocean last year.
Perhaps God is calling you to reveal your faith through a step that is bigger than you.
Perhaps He is calling you to do something that you do not feel equipped to do. Perhaps you don’t have the right skill set in the eyes of the world. Perhaps you’re too old or too young. We are a people through whom God intends to reveal great faith to an unbelieving world. Our purpose in revealing great faith is to expose God’s greatness to a world that doesn’t yet know just how GOOD He is! What happens when we shift our focus from the frog who only jumps as high as he thinks he can to actually allowing God to reveal great faith through us? This may mean that we need to examine what we really believe about God. When we believe that He is indeed the Father of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), that He can produce life in the desert so that all may see and know he is God (Isaiah 41:17-20), and that He hopes we will join Him in the greatest story ever written so that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Revelation 5:13)...If we truly believe THESE things about a good and perfect God, what would people around us begin to see about God through our lives? If we truly believe these things about God, how would it move us from a place of fear to a place of being ready “early the next morning”?