Missions work presents unique challenges. Mario and I have had, in many ways, a hard time here on the mission field. (Like most missionaries, I suspect.)
He, because raised in the Bronx by non-English speaking parents, has two mother tongues: English and his home dialect, ancient and isolated. Only the elderly in his tiny village understand it! So many people mocked him as ignorant and uneducated. And me, because I could barely speak a word of the language I am now fluent in.
But mostly because missionary work often means the limelight. Teaching and speaking to large crowds. Leading worship, and being the pastor’s wife. So challenging for an INFJ school librarian, longing for her comfort zones.
We struggled with feelings of failure. Fear of being laughed at, and of falling flat on our faces.
Until Psalm 80:3 became my verse of encouragement. Through it God showed me that nothing really mattered except pleasing him.
Restore us, O God; let your face to shine [smile on us], that we may be saved! Psalm 80:3.
But the important thing I learned, was to just keep turning back to face God, looking for his smile.
So I always spoke that verse to Mario before he nervously got up to preach. And repeated it to myself each hard step of the way. “Nothing matters but seeing God’s smile,” I’d say. “We may fail. Others may mock. We may even do it all wrong. But if we try to please him, we can count on his smile.”
Writing of victory makes it sound so easy. But victory only comes after battle. And surprisingly, some of the biggest foes are those little foxes that creep in.
Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom, (Song of Solomon 2:15).
Fear has perhaps been the most persistent little fox in my life. Which is rather odd, because I am in many ways, fearless. Pack up and move across the world? No problem. Speak to crowds? OK, why not? Fight for a cause I believe in? You’d just better hope you’re on my side.
But being both a perfectionist and an idealist, I fight with fear of failure. Not because I over-value success. I’m firmly convinced that success is not all it’s cracked up as. Personal fulfillment, a life well lived, and being useful are far more important to me than being rated successful. But because I always knew I could do better. (Can’t we all?)
And because in doing God’s work, we speak for him. And that’s a grave and awesome responsibility.
So I often argued with the Lord. “Who I am to speak for you, Lord? And why did you make me a pastor’s wife, anyway? I don’t want to counsel people. What if I give bad advice and ruin someone’s life or marriage?”
Speaking before crowds didn’t frighten me. Even in school, I was good at public speaking. But the responsibility behind it did. Who was I to say such things? What if I got it all wrong? And it terrified me. Until I started looking for God’s smile.
So when the little fox of fear sneaks into your vineyard, defeat him with God’s smile.
Yes we may fail. Others may laugh or think the worst. But remember that we can never please everyone, no matter how hard we try. And that pleasing our heavenly Father is all that really matters anyway.
Fear often caused me to lose sight of God’s smile. Until I learned that when he gives us a task, he not only helps us complete it. But he also doesn’t expect perfection. And when we crawl back to him as miserable, wretched failures, we can still look up. Knowing he’ll say, “You obeyed. You did your best and gave it your all. Daughter (or Son), I am pleased!”
God knows we imperfect humans can’t meet perfection, and still he chooses to use us. So fearing failure is a pretty thorough waste of time, wouldn’t you say? And don’t you think it’s about time to chase that sly old fox out of your vineyard?
Don’t let the little foxes rob you of God’s smile!