“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 5:7-10.
The missionary Elizabeth Elliott tells the story of one of her early mission field assignments to the Colorado people of Ecuador. Elizabeth had linguist skills and attempted to create a written language for the first time for this people so the Bible could be translated into their language and the people reached with the Word of God. The translation was difficult until Elizabeth discovered one Ecuadorian who grew up around Colorado children and knew both the Colorado language and Spanish. She worked with him to begin to translate their language and made good progress with his help. However, he was suddenly murdered by men who had a dispute with him over some land and this slowed down the translation progress and then Elizabeth was called to another mission work. Other linguists came to continue the translation work but soon after Elizabeth left she got a letter that the suitcase with all of her handwritten translation work she had painstakingly worked on had been stolen and was never found. There were no copies. Elizabeth cried out to God – “Did God not care about the salvation of this jungle tribe?” She was perplexed about why God would destroy nine fruitful months of work on so important a task. Over time she came to understand that the sovereignty of God is impenetrable, beyond understanding, a wonderful mystery that is wholly Gods. Her duty was simply to do what God put before her and leave the final results to Him. It was Lesson One of faith – the most severe test of faith is not when we see nothing but when we see things that seem to prove our faith vain.
There is an apocryphal story told of Jesus walking with Peter and John and he asks each to pick up a rock to carry for Him. John picks up a large rock and Peter a small rock. Later, Jesus turns the rocks into bread and Peter is still hungry after eating his small piece of bread and John gives him some of his bread. Later Jesus again asks them again to pick up a rock to carry for Him. Peter picks up an especially large rock. Later after a long tiring walk when they were again hungry, Jesus tells them to cast the rocks into a pond. Peter was bewildered thinking He would turn the large rock into bread to feed them. Jesus asked him “For whom did you carry the rock?” Elizabeth learned that the spiritual life is not about outcomes or personal fulfillment, it is about obedience to the one whose stones she carried. Even Jesus learned obedience through what He suffered.
As I am growing older and after having a near death experience last year I have been very impressed of the need to focus on and prepare for eternity, on becoming more the Christ-like person God desires me to be. Things that use to matter to me more such as sports and other life interests are quickly dimming into the background as I prepare and await the great event of my entry into eternal life. God is completely sovereign over all. If he asks us to carry some rocks along life’s journey, only to instruct us later to cast them away with no apparent purpose, know there is a purpose. God is preparing us to be obedient and accept His will by faith, even when it is difficult to know the why at times. God will see His plan through no matter whether or not we immediately see apparent fruit in our labors.
More than 40 years later, Elizabeth visited with some of the missionaries still working with the Colorado people and found many had become believers. Other translators had come along, started over, and completed the translation. Through God’s sovereignty, a witch doctor had accepted Christ, and being a leader, had led many others to come to Christ. God had accomplished His plan despite the setbacks. In fact, they were not setbacks to Him at all. He greatly desired to teach His servant Elizabeth, and through her story many other Christians, an essential spiritual lesson, to be obedient and wait for Him.
I am so grateful to serve a God that has every thing, even our apparent failures, in His hands.