Sunday, July 3, 2016

When Faith Needs Refining

In October of 1995, I flew across the world with my husband of just over a year and our cute 3 month old baby CJ. After we landed, we squeezed our bulging suitcases and all of our baby gear into the much-smaller-than-we-imagined-would-pick-us-up car from the (then tiny) Beijing airport. I arrived with a big heart for the world and an excitement about what we would see God do. I knew of course that life would be challenging, but God was my Strength and my Provider. He would help me learn Chinese, make friends, and be the best mom and wife I could be. I had a somewhat naive faith back then to believe that our awesome God would use me to make a difference in the world. Can you relate to a similar kind of faith?

 
I tried hard to fit into the culture. But there were multiple times that I wondered if I was going to have a breakdown. I longed for the gifts that Charly had (it seemed that God had mistakenly given me the wimpy ones). Learning the language was such a steep mountain to climb, and I frequently doubted that I was making any progress at all. It became more and more clear to me that while my husband was made for China, I wasn't.

After three years in two dorm rooms at Tianjin Normal University, we returned to the States for a year for Charly to get his Masters in East Asian Studies. Joshua had joined our family by then, and I was 8 months pregnant with Jordan.

Once we had unpacked our bags in Married Student Housing at the University of Kansas, I had no desire to get on that big plane ever again. To go back to the land where I felt I had nothing to offer.

Charly and I struggled over this issue for several difficult months, until I finally realized that there was no way I could change his mind about returning. He was 100% sure that God’s place for us was China, so I resigned myself to going back. But my heavy heart was dreading our return.

Until I attended a women's conference that year, where Jean Fleming was the main speaker. And God transformed my heart through a life-changing verse that she shared.

I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I.'” (Isaiah 65:1)

As I read and reread that verse, God’s Spirit—like an arrow--pierced my self-absorbed heart and completely changed my attitude about returning to China. My focus had clearly been on me—on my inadequacies, my fears, and my feeling way out of my comfort zone. God used this verse to shift my focus, to remove the veil in order to catch a glimpse of His heart for China—a nation to whom He was revealing Himself and saying, “Here am I!”

What a privilege that He would allow me to join Him in what He was doing! My previously resistant heart was now genuinely excited that we were going back. It wasn't about me, but about Him.

After we had settled in to our new apartment, we explored ways that we could use our very different giftings to compliment each other. Instead of feeling resentful that God had given my husband all the superior gifts, I could now see that two of him in our marriage wouldn’t make a very good team. I began to better appreciate how God had uniquely made me and to believe that He really could use me in ways that fit His design. He rekindled the faith I had when we had first arrived in China (the faith that believed God could use me to make a difference in the world, the faith that was full of unmaterialized dreams, the faith that had died somewhere along the way). But in the process of bringing my dead faith back to life again, He also refined it so that my life wasn't in the center.

Yes, He could use my life to make a difference. Not because He had made me an incredibly gifted person with lots to offer, but because I knew I had nothing of value to offer apart from Him. Any lasting fruit that God would bring through my life would be as a result of my staying connected to the Vine. As a simple branch.

I look back on those first three years in China as the season when all of my self-confidence was stripped away. Days full of doubt, disillusionment, dishes and diapers, when I questioned how I could stay in a land when I didn't “get” the culture and could hardly understand what people were saying. God subsequently used the following years as a time of rebuilding my confidence—not in my own abilities but in a “competence that comes from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

Maybe, I realized, it was actually to my advantage that I was an introvert who wasn't naturally gifted in the language, so I could echo these words of Paul:

I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

My ongoing desire is for my love for God and my love for people to grow deeper. And for God to use my surrendered life as an authentic channel of expressing His love to the people around me, the people who are so dear to His heart. So that the people to whom He is revealing Himself might have faith that would rest completely on God's power.

How has God refined your faith in order to use you as His channel to impact the world around you?

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Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of "Go"






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