We knew God had called us to missions. Everyone agreed—we couldn’t have asked for clearer guidance from God. Before our house was listed, it sold! We said goodbye to family, friends, and jobs. All that remained of our worldly goods fit in a seven-foot crate. At long last, the day came. Passports and visas in hand, we boarded the plane.
Dazed and sleepy-eyed after a thirty-six-hour flight, we arrived in Africa for God’s new assignment. I expected being far from family to hurt. I knew my aging parents and college-aged kids would need me, and I would not be there. I expected culture shock. But what did I not expect? Hard relationships with ministry colleagues. Serious health concerns. My own fear, anger, and guilt.
Had we misunderstood God’s guidance? Were these difficulties God’s direction for us to go home? No. As the challenges mounted, God opened my eyes to understand more of how precisely He orders our circumstances. Health and sickness, blessings and challenges, ease and struggle come to us, not by chance, but by our Father’s loving Providence. We had not mistaken God’s guidance. And God’s plan for us included three invitations I did not expect.
1. Every challenge is God’s invitation to trust Him.
Relationship issues blocked our plans. Progress stopped, but I learned something important: I depended more on myself than God! My prayer wasn’t, “Father, please help me learn to trust you more,” but, “Move this obstacle—I want to make more progress.”
I also learned that God defines progress differently than we do. I thought I saw the big picture, but my plans were so small. God’s purpose is always greater than we can imagine (Eph. 3:20). God called me to trust Him in new ways. I experienced the goodness of God’s purposes, even though I did not see all he was doing. I learned that God always plans the future with a Father’s heart for His children (Ps. 139).
Our Father loves us personally. Instead of leaving me to figure it out myself, He heard my cry for help and came to me (Gen. 16:13). God led me by His Word and His Spirit and other good gifts: my husband, my pastor, and mentors. As I learned to lean into God, my love for Him grew. I began to see challenges not as road-blocks, but as opportunities to trust God to provide (1 Peter 4:11).
2. Every challenge is God’s invitation to become like His beautiful Son.
Every challenge brought us to our knees. We knew our Father heard us. Eventually we had to ask, “What if issues don’t resolve and relationships don’t mend?” We learned that God gives His children a precious privilege—to follow in His Son’s footsteps. Jesus laid down His life for us. He went to the cross for us. Following Him never means a pain-free life. We live in a world broken by sin. Some things will not be made right in this life. We experienced this great truth: God uses even the broken places for the good of His children.
We thought God had called us to foreign missions to do a work for Him. Instead, He did a work in us. God’s greatest good is that we would be like His beautiful Son. Day by day, God did the painful work of showing me pride, anger, and envy in my life. My sin muddied the beauty of His image in me. I learned to run to Him often. I confessed my sins, and His Word brought cleansing. Challenges remained, yet His Spirit transformed my thoughts and desires (Rom. 12:1–2).
3. Every challenge is God’s invitation to show the beauty of Jesus.
I wanted sympathy and support from others. No matter how much I spiritualized it, I wanted the person who wronged us to pay. My feelings held me captive. Love and forgiveness seemed impossible. Nothing changed, until I turned to God and honestly prayed, “Father, what broken character traits of mine do you want to transform? Build in me a desire to show the beauty of Jesus to this person who has hurt me and to a lost and lonely world.”
Peace, and even joy, returned to my heart. I gradually saw the challenge as God’s invitation to become more like His Son. My circumstances did not change, but God’s presence filled me with His pleasure (Ps. 16:11). When we accept God’s invitation to depend on Him in our challenges, the world sees the beauty of Jesus. Each day God gives us opportunities to love people who are difficult to love. He invites us daily to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. With each hurt He asks us to forgive as He forgave.
We moved to Africa to accomplish our plans. Yet our work was a small part of God’s purpose for moving us there. What deeper purpose could come from your relationship issues, health concerns, and fear?
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom. 8:28–29)