There truly is a delicate balance between raw determination (I-will-do-this-or-die-trying) and submission to the limits that God has put on his creatures. I feel this on a daily basis and assume that I am not the only one, although I don’t know that all personality types struggle with this tension. I see this battle in one of my children very acutely.
All of our children are learning to type this summer. One child in particular sits down the computer and expects to type like her parents within the first half an hour. So far, she has spent each day yelling at the computer, refusing help, and blaming her family for…everything. When I tried to talk to her, she said that she wants to be able to type perfectly and is mad because she can’t. I explained to her that we are creatures that have limits and that the Lord has made it so that we learn things gradually, over time. She responds more-or-less with, “Well, I don’t like that.”
I get it. I understand not wanting to accept the limitations that the Lord has put on me. For me, I want to speak Kwakum, French, and English as if I were born in Cameroon, France, and America. As it turns out, God made it so that it doesn’t work that way. He has limited me to growing up in one and only one culture.
Still the “White Man”
I bring this up because I have been co-teaching literacy classes with a Kwakum colleague. He has been learning quickly and I am hopeful that he will be able to teach independently at some point in the future. Things have been overall very encouraging. However, what has not been encouraging is that when I teach, people have a hard time understanding me (tone…sigh). When he teaches, on the other hand, people track and listen very well. I know it is ridiculous and unproductive to think that I could communicate equally as effectively as a man who is in his 60s and has been listening to and using the language since the womb. Nevertheless, it is discouraging.
I have spent the last 6 years living and breathing Kwakum. I used to console myself in the early days, when I didn’t understand what people were saying, that “one day” I would understand the world around me. While I am thankful for progress that has been made, as it turns out, I am still the “white man” butchering the Kwakum language. Not only that, but I spend so much time in Bible translation, literacy, discipleship (not to mention being a mom) that I cannot devote any more time to language acquisition. I feel like I’ve done my best, been faithful to do my part to work hard, and now am staring my limitations in the face and I don’t like them. Like my child, I feel like if I want something bad enough, then that drive should get me what I want.
God Receives Glory By Building his Church in Spite of Me
However, God’s ways are not our ways. Does it bring glory to Jesus to have missionaries devote their lives to studying a language so they can accurately trasmit the Gospel in it? Yes. However, is not God free to bring glory to himself in any way he choses? Is he not free to glorify himself by saving people through my pathetic Gospel presentation? If it is God’s glory that I want more than anything, than I will accept the way in which the Lord chooses to glorify himself without getting angry. As Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18, the gates of hell will not prevail against the building of his church. Jesus is bringing in the Kingdom of God among the Kwakum through us, yes, but also in spite of us and he’s calling me to be good with that.
God Called me Here with My Limitations in Mind
When we read the Great Commission, we realize what a high honor, privilege, and responsibility it is to go out and make disciples of all nations. And yet, the Great Commission must be taken with verses like Psalm 103:14b which says, “He remembers that we are dust.” The honor that we have in taking the Gospel to all nations does not imply that we are in some way great. The wonder of the Great Commission is that it shows that the Gospel is so powerful that it can change hearts through the preaching of “dust”. The Lord called me and people like me to preach the Gospel to the lost fully aware of our limitations as human beings.
Surpassing Power Belongs to God Alone
Through innumerable sicknesses, trouble with our kids, and us messing up the language, we feel every day that we are simple jars of clay. And yet, people are coming to Christ through our ministry. We are discipling five people right now, not to mention our translation team of eight. Even people we test the Bible stories with in various villages just want to hear more and more of the Word of God. How is this possible through sick, stressed out people? It is possible because power belongs to God and not to us. The Lord is building his church and in doing so demonstrating his radiant power through plain, tired people. In the words of Paul: “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4.7).
And so, I bow the knee. I bow the knee to the Lord through whom both good and bad come (Lamentations 3:38). I accept that I will forever be limited in one way or another. I accept that my ambition, my drive, is simply not enough to get me to where I so greatly long to be. And I accept that my goals need to be brought into submission to the Lord’s will. And may he receive glory in that his Gospel is so powerful that it can change a people into worshipers of Christ, even by means of the white woman butchering a tonal language.