September marked the beginning of my second year in China. Last year I was in the small, cold, and remote desert city of Yinchuan, way up north. This year, however, I’m in the warm and more westernized city of Kunming, gently nestled in the southern province of Yunnan.
Life has definitely been less of a transition in this city, but it still has its challenges. My roommate and I moved twice in two months after surrendering to a bug infestation in our first apartment. I began taking Mandarin classes, becoming simultaneously excited and frustrated at my first sign of progress. My team and I had a serious heart-to-heart, opening up about our frustrations, expectations, and weaknesses in order to figure out how best to work together. My employer revealed its apathy towards helping its foreign teachers, creating many stressful and expensive situations for me. In a short time, I’ve stumbled over more than a few hurdles.
And, in looking back on the past two months and their challenges, I realize one big, common denominator:
There’s been a whole lot of “I” and “me,” but not nearly enough God. He’s been waiting by the phone all this time, eager to leap into action and help me through every obstacle…but I haven’t called. Instead, I have repeatedly chosen to do things the hard way: on my own.
Too often I have tried to plan without first thinking to pray. We are all guilty of this from time to time, if not daily. We constantly and instinctively are relying on our earthly abilities before considering the divine wisdom of God. The real kicker here is that this life would actually be less painful and challenging for us if only we trusted in HIM more.
When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:14-20)
We deserve punishment for neglecting our constant need for Christ when He is the one who gives us life and salvation in the first place. We deserve eternal damnation for making Him wait when we are always on his mind. It shames me to realize that I have delighted the devil in these moments of doubt, deliberately and pridefully choosing to cling to my own thinking instead of clinging to the plans of my LORD.
Fortunately for us, the King of Love is merciful and patient, even when we turn our backs on him.
Even when we deserve his wrath, God endures our insolence and arrogance. And when our arrogance directs us towards destruction, he intervenes, sending us unlimited opportunities for repentance and humbling reminders of his all-knowing compassion, grace, and love.
Our Heavenly Father does not wish for any of us to suffer. In times of ease and trouble alike, he sets our course and lights our paths – sometimes literally.
There is a week-long National Holiday every October in China. This year I used that time to explore Yunnan and hike the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge with my teammates. For eight hours we walked and climbed along rocky paths, and for one of those hours we unexpectedly did so in the dark, ever feeling the threat of an impending storm. We had headlamps, but I have to admit, it was pretty terrifying. There were times when we felt so tired that we weren’t sure we could trust our footing. One false step and we would have tumbled over the edge to our deaths.
But the LORD establishes our steps. In our exhaustion, God gave us the strength to carry on, empowering us to cling desperately to the mountainside in body just as He beckons us to cling to him in faith. Without our lights, we would not have seen where we were stepping. Without Christ’s light of salvation, we would surely slip into wickedness and suffer eternal death.
I was on the brink of despair that night when one of my teammates offered up some words of encouragement. “Guys,” she said, “I don’t know why, but I have a feeling that as soon as we get around this next bend, we’ll see the lights of our hostel. I just know it.”
The instant we rounded the bend of that steep, seemingly endless mountain, we saw the neon lights of our hostel in the distance. And then, finally, it started to rain.
Even in our weakest moments, the Lord abundantly provides for us. He urges us to trust in Him with all our hearts, leaning not on our own understanding but on the promise of the Savior.
If we have faith even as small as a mustard seed, there will be no challenge too great for us through our Lord. He will carry us through our hardships; we need only call on Him. Let us ever walk with Jesus, trusting in his footsteps and forever clinging to his love.