Recently, I celebrated my 40th birthday on the field. This birthday was a little different than others, as there was one thing on my wish list I was eagerly looking forward to. You see, one of my favorite, most soul-filling activities is listening to quality music, but it's impossible to find a decent pair of headphones in the country I currently live in. I'd been anticipating my birthday (and even more, my birthday gift for several months because I was yearning for a pair of over-ear headphones. These headphones were going to provide me with everything I had ever hoped for in sound reproduction—or so l thought.
I had caught wind that I would receive these glorious headphones when I saw the exterior of a shipping box I picked up at our local post office. I was stoked! Reading countless reviews had indulged my appetite for this new product, and I even prepared for them by downloading the headphones' app on my phone so I could jump right in. Those headphones, in a sense, had my heart. I know it sounds silly and I cringe to even share about it; vet my thoughts and affections were focused on this item and had me convinced that I had to have these headphones to be satisfied.
I had trouble falling asleep the night before my birthday due to the excitement. The anticipated day finally came, and my wonderful spouse woke early to wrap and give me gifts. Opening up the headphones box, I realized slowly that the box was far lighter than it should have been, and something wasn't right. Opening up the protective case, I saw that inside was only a charging cable, a cord, and a letter from the government post office. No headphones.
In shock, I read how the post office had intercepted and disposed of my headphones. They apologized and explained that the headphones contained a lithium-ion battery that warranted its disposal. My heart sank and I was completely let down. My wife had no idea of this occurrence either; she was convinced everything was there when wrapping it.
The fall was so hard because my heart was so set on this gift. I tried to play it off and act like everything was okay but I was really hurt. Being let down brought all kinds of negative feelings that came flooding in. What consumed my thoughts was the hopelessness of my situation. As foolish as it sounds, my identity and purpose had been wrapped up in receiving those headphones.
I could have brushed this experience aside and tried to justify it, but the Lord used it to point to some greater truths.
Reaching our neighbors here in Sub-Saharan Africa can be surprisingly similar to that experience. I can easily get focused on the results or prize of our labor. Often I try to determine my worth and identity by asking questions like: How many spiritual conversations have I had? Am I progressing enough in language? Why am I not seeing anyone interested in a Discovery Bible Study?
How many hours am I praying? What about the amount of time spent in Bible study? What can I change or do to make myself a more effective goer?
Could you relate if these questions were changed to your context?
To be clear, these aren't bad questions to ask yourself, as they can help you faithfully measure and reach your goals. But problems begin when finding our value is based on our performance. And this can happen so subtly! This is a temptation that seems to always be present. I assume there are others reading this who experience this same tug throughout their life.
When I elevate multiplying disciples or any other high ministry priority, I begin to notice that my value stems from a false reality based on my performance and results, rather than being based on the reality of my worth in Christ. Inevitably, failure sets in and a search for significance and acceptance in things that cause destruction results. When we focus solely on our current seen circumstances, it can cause us to become stagnate, ineffective, and even harmful to ourselves and others.
So often our vision is captivated by the current situations or even the current products—we are surrounded by. This allows lies to take root, causes us to be fearful and anxious, and may even make us disillusioned. When we falsely believe that our worth and identity comes from what we achieve or earn, we live from a false, unstable identity.
On the contrary, when we are grounded in our identity as children of God, we can receive our true value, purpose, and kingdom-focused vision. Our calling as beloved children will be unleashed and all kinds of opportunities will follow. Kingdom vision enables us to obtain the faith to persevere in hopeless and seemingly unchangeable situations.
This is the truth that allows us to persevere in a culture that rejects the gospel. This is the truth that enables us to continue to pray in expectant faith throughout the surrounding neighborhoods for change in the government, education, medical system, and in all areas of life. And this is the truth that takes our eves off of worthless things and gives us life in God's ways.
Just as Cory Asbury says in his song, "The Father's House", "failure doesn't define me, 'cause that's what my Father does." God is the One who says who we are! Our failures, incompetencies, and what we lack do not not have the final word on our identity.
Though I've seen no visible change in this resistant region of the world whatsoever, I am confident that I am known and loved by God and that His promises will come to fruition. We are free to keep going because our Father is pleased with us and near to us.
Jack Miller, founder of World Harvest Mission, said it well: "By faith we expect rich harvest fields and breaking nets, for the gospel is specifically designed to bear fruit."
I'm convinced that effective faith, faith that moves mountains, isn't possible to obtain without our identity grounded in Him.
Daily I'm reminded of who I am, a child of God. This is a vital step in perseverance because, as l've been told, who we think we are and what we believe about ourselves determines what we do.
It determines if we will persevere in difficulties or if we will crash and burn. Let us, fellow sojourners, remain in Him as He remains in us.