In January of 1966, I loaded my pregnant wife and our two pre-school daughters into an old Volkswagen van and drove 6,600 kilometres (4,000 miles) from Edmonton, Alberta, to a jungle survival training camp for pioneer missionaries near the Mexico-Guatamala border.
As part of our training, for one week, we recorded everything we did each day on time sheets, marked off in 15 minutes segments. At the end of that week the totals staggered us. The hours we spent in classes, private study, and working on academic projects were minimal. Time for recreation and entertainment was zero. The rest of the time was maxed out with chopping wood, hauling water, preparing food, washing clothes, and keeping the rain out of our makeshift shelter. Work, work, work, just to keep ourselves fed, clean, and minimally rested. I was deeply frustrated.
Today, fifty-two years later, I still get aggravated at how much time I need to spend in work activities that are not what I really want to work at. “I’d Rather be Writing” would be a good bumper sticker for my car. No, I don’t have to chop wood or haul water, but I do resent spending time on the mechanics of my blog, the email list, keeping accurate records of our complicated finances, and learning to effectively use computer writing programs.
What’s more, every time I hear of the death of a friend or acquaintance who is close to my age, I get a shot of adrenelin and just want to sit down and write faster. I have so many God-honouring stories to tell, and yet, like in those months in jungle camp, there are so many tasks that interfere. I have talked with many older Christians who confess to the same frustration. It makes me ask this question: What is God’s plan in all this?
1: God-given Abilities
God gives each of us different abilities and talents which we develop through diligent practice. He also gives spiritual gifts like faith, insight, and ministry gifts such as evangelism or service. The gift He gave me is the ability to communicate by telling stories. When we “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.” 2 Timothy 1:6 (NIV), we enjoy our work, we work at it more, we become very good at it, and we bring praise to God.
2: God-Given Community.
God has made us unique, but He has not made us to live as independents. He designed us to live inter-dependently, as a community, each of us operating in the area of our strengths, not only meeting our own needs but also the needs of others. “Carry each other’s burdens” Galatians 6:2 (NIV) God wants us to use our strengths to help others in our community. Others, in turn, help us using their giftings and strengths. This biblical concept contradicts our North American culture which glorifies rugged independence. I have always practiced delegation whenever possible. At my age, I increasingly ask myself, “What is that one thing I alone can do?” and then focus on doing that. Lately I have used the finances that God moves people to provide for us to hire others to do some of the things others can do much better than I can.
3: God-Given Power
Sometimes God assigns us to something we must personally do, when no one can help, even though the task is outside our area of strength. That’s when we need to pray, “Holy Spirit, please give me the power and self-discipline to do this task well.” It is the rest of what Paul wrote Timothy, “. . . the Spirit God gave us . . . gives us power . . . and self-discipline” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV).
Work within the area of our native abilities; work inter-dependently within a community; and when neither of these are possible, trust God to give us the power and self-discipline to see us through the task.
I began learning these 3 lessons 52 years ago in jungle camp, and hope to fully learn them soon.