Our missionaries have engaged in corporate prayer and fasting on and off over the years. We do it once a month, where we fast together and pray over serious concerns about our ministry, and then come together, pray and worship, and break fast. God has moved greatly though this. He led us to our first building donation this way. He revealed spiritual bondages we had come under. And He's brought clarity and guidance to our vision. Unfortunately, we get distracted from time to time and stop doing it. We get overwhelmed by the physical realities and quit. Or, it becomes too “religious”. It becomes a rote tradition that means less and less each time we do it. Then God brings conviction on us and says, “Did I ever tell you to stop?”
It's encouraging to look at what we have prayed for and what has come to pass. Though Sun Ministries has existed for 10 years, we've only been engaging the Isaiah 61 Initiative since 2009. In that short time we've accomplished a lot. And not without set backs.
For example, we are in the midst of renovating a house for one of our employees. We have owned the house for a few years now, and only occasionally would do some tear-out and clean up, or re-secure the building after someone breaks in. This summer, we bought the lumber necessary and started the hard work. And then a string of thunderstorms came. And then we lost one of our rehab workers. And then we lost several other employees, requiring our remaining rehab worker to switch to other tasks. And then the woodshop got an order, pulling me off of doing anything with the rehab. Then several months passed by. We started work again. More rain. More abundance of work in other departments. I broke my finger. We discovered we had bought the wrong lumber. Our generator died. Our air compressor died. But finally...finally...some progress. Some success.
Or look at our cafe. It is a constant challenge to keep it moving. There is so much personal interaction with customers. Equipment breaks down on a regular basis. Employees have crisis that must be addressed. We run out of inventory.
Our property maintenance has all the same problems. And so does the more spiritual aspects of our ministry. We struggle to produce training because we are constantly overwhelmed by physical obstacles. Terry, our executive director, gets pulled into all kinds of things that prevent him from organizing, planning, writing books, etc. We know things we should do and want to do that keep getting put on the back burner because a car got stolen, or someone called in, or a motor died, or the roof is leaking...
There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless – a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. God had blessed him and protected him. And satan thought this was the only reason that Job bothered to honor God at all. Not that he feared Him, but because he had it good. Job never had to want or worry.
Satan turned out to be wrong about Job. I certainly don't envy Job's sufferings. Nor do I think I am as righteous as he or have lost as much as he did. But I do think there is something to be said for persevering through obstacles.
A while back our sewer line broke. It was annoying, gross, and costly. I clearly remember complaining to God, asking Him why He didn't just mend the line and protect us from all this hassle. He essentially said, “Everyone else here has to deal with aging, decaying sewer lines. Why do you get a pass?” Later, our cars were broken in to. I again brought the question to God, and He again brought the same response. Even later, someone broke into our yard and stole a stroller. In my arrogance, I repeated the exchange with God.
There is an aspect of trials, obstacles, problems that are just the result of living in a fallen world. There's an aspect that is our fault, dealing with the consequences of our choices (or lack of diligence). And there is an aspect of it all that is real spiritual warfare. Real attacks from real enemies, that God allows. Why? Because it declares who He is.
God didn't fail Job. He didn't stop being who He was simply because satan questioned Him. He didn't suspend His heart so that He could perform a cosmic experiment. And for us, God has continued to guide us and move us forward. He has brought correction and blessing and vision. He has brought last minute provision. He has brought strength and healing. He has brought much conviction so that we may turn more emphatically towards Him. He has taught and disciplined us, all the while being gracious and faithful. He has, in His sovereignty, shown what He can do through our weakness.
Had we engaged this work with all the needs met – endless supplies of cash, perfect equipment, all the necessary skills – it would hardly be impressive. It's like the Yankees getting to the World Series. Of course we would be successful. Of course we would be joyful and content. Of course we would praise God. We would never have had to want or worry.
As I've gone through each day or hour of the past month, I've been consistently discouraged. Mistakes, sickness, wounds, breakdowns, delays. But looking back now and seeing what has been accomplished despite all those things...I am amazed. Despite my ignorance, exhaustion, forgetfulness, and distraction, God has done what I could not. And He has given me a chance to work more closely with Him by reminding me that He is still here and doing what He has always done.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”