BereanSafari 2014 - Machakos, Kenya
I have long enjoyed the humor in Luke's account of the miraculous rescue of Peter in Acts 12. Herod Agrippa had already lopped off the head of Peter's friend and fellow apostle, James. He was fixing to do the same to Peter, holding him in prison for a few days, awaiting the right moment to make a public display of him. Peter had displayed incredible boldness and courage before the authorities since the resurrection of Jesus, but who knows what was running through his mind as he waited for the sword to fall?
Whatever Peter may be thinking, his community is mobilized. While Pete is in jail awaiting execution, many of the believers gather in the home of John Mark's mother Mary to pray for him.
God answers their prayer. An angel lights up Peter's cell, pokes him in the ribs, tells him to get up and get dressed... and then leads him past the guards... through doors that swing open before them... and into the street. With Peter safely on his way, the angel takes off. Peter suddenly realizes this is not a dream, but God to the rescue!
When Peter knocks on the gate at Mary's house, Rhoda the maid comes to see who could possibly be knocking at this hour... and is astounded to see Peter there! So astounded, that she runs back to the prayer meeting to tell everybody, without actually opening the gate and letting Peter in! So, Peter the fugitive is out in the street, knocking and looking over his shoulder, while Rhoda is announcing that God has answered their prayers. Peter is here!
This answer to prayer is too wonderful for them. Literally. They say, "You're crazy!" Meanwhile, Peter is still outside, knocking.
The sisters and brothers in the prayer meeting really are people of faith. But God's answer still blows them away. Whatever the actual content of their prayers, God's answer exceeds even their imagination (Ephesians 3:20).
The scene is both comic and true to life. At least, it is true to my life.
I know what it means to pray, work, hope, dream, pray more... repeat. And repeat. I also know what it means to interweave all those expressions of faith with questions, second thoughts, doubt and anxiety.
I have heard Peter's counsel to "cast all your care upon him," for I know that he does, indeed, care for me (1 Pe 5:7). But my "cast" sometimes seems to come up short. I know that great word from the deep and painful experience of Paul, "Be anxious about nothing, but in everything pray with thanksgiving, making your requests known to God" (Phil 4:6). I also know that simply repeating Paul's words does not, by itself, "do the trick."
This happens to me so often, I sometimes think my "life verse" should be Mark 9:24b, "I believe; help my unbelief!" Now there's a bit of raw honesty I can really embrace! Thanks be to God, Jesus embraces it, too!
I experienced all of this in a very profound way over the last 12—and especially the last 7—months. I was inspired and excited by the potential of the historic events we had dreamed of and were praying for and working on for July 2014. But also, honestly, I was anxious. Psyched out. Scared. Somehow, believing, praying, trusting—all that "casting" never actually got the cares fully out of my boat and into the Lord's boat. I got reacquainted with the tricks our minds can play on us when we recite Psalm 127:2... at 3:00 am. It was a deep spiritual struggle, and I was no spiritual gladiator. Just someone clinging to the prayer of the possessed boy's father: Lord, "I believe; help my unbelief!"
Now that it is all past, I can tell you how it turned out. The claim is really true. Despite our brokenness and lack of ability to turn loose completely of those things we "cast upon" and entrust to God, the Lord chooses to exercise his power through us "to accomplish far more than we ask or imagine" (Eph. 3:20).
The gathering of missionaries, their families, Special Assistants and home office staff was flat-out amazing. So many gifted, dedicated and inspiring folks together in worship, mutual encouragement and the search for continuing and increased faithfulness to God's call. Wow!
The gathering of a hundred leaders of international partner conventions, unions and specialized ministries from all around the world was a wonderful foretaste of Revelation 7:9-10. Together, we learned about how God is at work in all the earth, and shared each one's sense of how God is calling their ministries to rise to the challenge of mission in the future. Wow again!
As I worked with the consultation of international partner leaders, I missed the chance to be part of the Call Retreat that was happening at the same time. But I heard wonderful things about it.
And then we were all joined by the amazing group of folks who came to the World Mission Conference to celebrate 200 years of God's faithfulness to and through American Baptist international service—and to catch a glimpse of God's pathway into the future for us and the great cloud of witnesses God has raised up across the globe. Wow again!
I know I will need to keep learning to trust in the Lord. (As I write, I am heading home from yet another terrific BereanSafari in Kenya, where a few moments of at least self-doubt did not fail to creep in.) But, as you face your own challenges, whatever they may be, I hope my experience will be an encouragement to you. It really is true. God is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we can ask or even imagine. Thanks be to God!