This month has been a whirl-wind of growth, growing pains, spiritual battles, and spiritual life and I’m excited to tell you all about it.
As many of you already know, I have returned safe and sound from my mission trip to Slovenia. The six weeks living abroad were six of the most challenging weeks in my entire life. I was forced into places of spiritual darkness and after reflecting and processing for more than three weeks now, I can finally try to put words to the experience adequately.
First and foremost, I can say that there was purpose to the six weeks in Slovenia. In our fifth week in Ljubljana, we met Nastja, the first legitimate Christian I met the entire trip. Nastja told us about how she accepted Christ in high school and was bullied throughout her school years for believing in God. She also told us how she prayed for her family every day to know the Lord and how she hoped that Slovenia could have a place where people from different denominations of the church came together to pray with one another and love Slovenia. In that same week I had the absolute privilege of meeting someone I’ll call “Matt” to give him some privacy. Matt played soccer with us in Slovenia and was an incredible programmer. He blew my mind with how dedicated he was to his work in programming for over seven years. He struggled with anxiety, depression, and paranoia and through a series of insane events I was able to hear about his struggle with the fear of life and death. Matt and I got to trade stories of anxiety and depression that we had experienced the effects of and I had the opportunity to share about Christ’s love for him, as well as the restorative and healing power Christ had in my life and in my loved ones with anxiety. Last and not least, I got to meet two guys named Urh and Simon through an English camp called “SpeakOut” that our ministry hosted during our last week in Slovenia. Both Urh and Simon believed in the Lord and were looking to go deeper in faith. These guys were so refreshing as they asked questions all week. It was obvious that they wanted nothing more than to wholly devote themselves to going deeper in their relationship with Christ. My prayer for each of these four individuals is that they would find deep, Christ-centered community in Slovenia, where such communities are nearly nonexistent in comparison to what we have in America.
Outside the people I met, I’ve been processing the work God did in my life those six weeks and the effects that those six weeks left on my life since returning home to Columbus. I can say this processing hasn’t been the easiest. Frankly, it’s been some of the toughest doubt to wrestle with. I started this post off with the reasons I know for a fact God had me in Slovenia – for people like Nastja, Matt, Urh, and Simon and to act as a support for my teammates when things were hard – but often I find myself wondering why God put me there. I let deep, difficult doubts into my mind about the experience. I experienced hardships in community, leadership, manhood, relationship, friendship, confidence, faithfulness, boldness, anger, lust, and bitterness while in Slovenia. All these things I wrestled with and laid in the grave with my old self long before arriving in Slovenia all the sudden were seemingly given a new foothold in my heart during the six weeks. It sucks. I hate having to wrestle through these things all over again.
In these last three weeks I’ve been quick to say to myself that the mission to Slovenia did not equip me anymore for ministry than if I had stayed home for six weeks. In these last three weeks I’ve been quick to be bitter with God for making me go to a place where old sinful nature was brought back up and brought home with me. In these past three weeks I’ve been quick to be angry that the mission did not meet my expectations of philosophical, theological, and relational growth. In these last three weeks I’ve been quick to say I didn’t enjoy Slovenia at all.
If anything I’ve learned, however, it’s that the saying “But God” holds a lot of power.
I have been quick to say the mission did not equip me for ministry, but God says that it equipped me more than I could have imagined. Before I left on this mission I was bumming it out in my relationship with God. I was a freeloader in the Kingdom, perverting grace by accepting it and not changing any of my actions in accordance to the amazing gift given to me. I skipped out on my quiet time with the Lord. I skipped out on reading His word every day. I felt drained every day and worked my same-old 9-5 job in an office with no windows and watched Criminal Minds all night until it was time for bed and I did the whole thing over and over and over again. There was no joy in that. There was no life in that. God equipped me with a fervor upon returning to the States in which I desired to know Him deeper and desired to rekindle the relationship with Him that I was not pursuing before this mission. Today, I wake up every day two and a half hours before work to spend time with the Lord. I read the Word each day. I read books about the Lord each day. I listen to podcasts, listen to worship music, and read instead of watching TV. I’m not saying these things to glorify myself either, I’m saying them because it is ONLY God that is making me desire to do them. My old self, the one that existed before this mission, never would have done any of those things consistently because I was living according to my own will. It wasn’t until my old self was removed from the current state and forced into a place of spiritual darkness in Slovenia that I realized I had failed in equipping myself in and out of season and had instead loafed on my responsibilities as a son of God. My old self was killed the moment this realization occurred and my new self was born in the following actions of obeying the Spirit’s will and simply spending time close to God.
I have been quick to be bitter and blame God for putting me in a place where my old sinful nature reared its ugly head again, but God is not the one to blame for this. If anything, my quickness to blame God is evidence of my own pride. It shows that I think God ought to make my life easier because I have been “good” and defeated this sinful nature myself. This, of course, is completely counter-intuitive, but it wasn’t until I sat down to process this bitterness that I was able to piece that together. This bitterness reveals that I have been blaming God for my own sinfulness and not accrediting the power of my salvation and redemption from sin to Him, but rather to myself. It revealed to me how weak I truly am to hold myself together and how futile my efforts to do so truly are. The longer I stay stuck in my bitterness, the worse my sinful nature gets and the less powerful I feel to control it, but the more I try to control it – and that is exactly where Satan wants me. It is a vicious cycle of bitterness, fear, and self-deprecation that leads to more bitterness, fear, and self-deprecation. However, I find that the moment I realize that God is not to blame, but my own pride, and that I am too weak to do anything about my sinfulness, my old self dies. The instant I choose to live into the truth and promise that God is good and does everything according to His will and purpose, the new self comes alive and radiates with victory over sin.
I have been quick to be angry and disappointed with God that the mission did not grow my philosophical, theological, or relational knowledge, but God shows me that I am not only wrong in my disappointment directed toward Him, but also in the lie that I did not grow. God revealed over the past few weeks that my disappointment is rooted in my own prideful and unfounded expectations. God cannot disappoint. God is only fair, just, and good and there is nothing to cause discontent found anywhere in His being. The only source of discontent and disappointment can come from misplaced expectations that we place in people, experiences, and places that ultimately only God can fulfill. You see, I expected leaders and teammates to be as wise as God, as knowledgable as God, as fulfilling as God, as relational as God, but that expectation left me angry and disappointed – as one should expect. The leaders and my teammates, even on their best day, could not fulfill the God-level expectation I placed on them from day one. To my team – I am sorry for my lofty expectation of perfection, as well as my anger toward your brokenness and expectation for you to not be broken. I failed to see that I too am a broken vessel along with you that failed to carry the refreshing water of life multiple times throughout our mission and in that failure to see, I often failed to give you grace for your brokenness. On top of this too lies that fact that it is a blatant, outright, utter lie from the enemy that I did not grow at all during this trip. I learned immense amounts about the enduring, faithful character of God and His ultimate goodness and pursuit of His elect. I learned incredible amounts about biblical manhood in reading 2 Timothy, Ruth, and 1 and 2 Samuel. I learned immeasurable amounts about friendship and leading a community from my teammates, and immeasurably more in our failures to love and lead each other well. In realizing that God in His goodness never fails and that He taught me immeasurably more than I ever anticipated, my angry and disappointed old self dies. My new self comes to life when I am able to rest in the knowledge and understanding God has given me this day and afford grace to others because of He who affords me grace within me.
The six weeks God gave me in Slovenia were challenging, I won’t ever deny that. I won’t, however, deny that God moved in those six weeks either. He revealed just how good He is and the depravity of my own sinful nature that tries so hard to abandon that goodness as if it is bad for me. How perverse is it that we run from the loving, gracious call of a Savior? He is a Savior who wants nothing but to destroy the old self that is full of laziness, bitterness, anger, and disappointment and replace it with a new self that is clothed in obedience, peace, purpose, victory, understanding, and grace. That is good and only good, friends. That is the God that brought me to Slovenia. That is the God that loves you and me and pursues us even when we live thousands of miles across the world.
With that I want to wrap up with brief (I promise) prayer requests:
- Continue reflecting on and processing all that God is doing in my life
- Nastja, “Matt,” Simon, and Urh – specifically for Christ-centered community
- My leaders and teammates to grow closer to God and continue on with missional labor in their campuses, homes and workplaces
- Slovenia. Slovenia. Slovenia. Slovenia. Pray Slovenia comes to know the Lord and is a beacon of hope in Europe