Sovereignty, Prayer and Perseverance

June 2008

Ajith Fernando

Youth for Christ

I’m going through what could be called a “traumatic experience.” I needed a visa for a country which has no embassy in Sri Lanka. So I send my passport to the embassy in neighbouring India through a courier. Over two weeks after sending it, I called the embassy and was told that they have no trace of the passport. My travel agent found out from the courier company that the passport had been delivered at the embassy and we were even given the name of the person in the embassy who had taken delivery of it.

 

The process that followed was really tough on me. My travel agent called India twice and I called a total of 14 times in the space of a little more than three days. Sometimes I was kept on hold for a long time only to be told that I should call in an hour’s time. And when I called again I was told that the officers were at a meeting, and so I must call an hour later. When I did that I was told to call the next day. It went on and on like this. I was to speak five times at this conference and chances of my going on time were getting less and less. I was feeling more and more nervous and severely humiliated.

 

I know that the visa has been granted, but now I am waiting for my passport to come to Sri Lanka. I think I will be able to go for the conference three days late. I think I will be able to give four of the five messages I was scheduled to give. If I do not go, it would be a personal “blessing” to me—I would have had a whole week without appointments to catch up on the many things I am behind on. Nelun and I would go to our drug rehab centre and spend about three or four days there, grading papers, studying, writing and spending time with the students and staff there. It would be a heavenly break from the busy schedule. Travelling lost its appeal to me many years ago. But I am called to be a preacher of the Word, and I love doing that. I believed that God had called me to go for this conference to minister to some of God’s choice servants working under really trying circumstances. So I decided that I must make every effort to go.

 

If I am an ambassador of the King of kings, and if this King is sovereign over history, why did I have to go through so much struggle, pain, tension and humiliation while performing my royal duties? The Bible says that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28). There had to be a reason for this trial. It says that the trial would be for my good and that I should come out of it more than a conqueror (Rom. 8:37)—better off because of the trial. If I did not believe that and rejoice over this situation, I would become an angry person and would disqualify myself from my call to be a minister of the Word. Angry preachers are poor representatives of the God they commend to the world. They lack a key aspect of the gospel they proclaim: joy. I did not want to be that.

 

So I am grappling with this problem in my mind and I am writing what comes as a result of the theologising. I have concluded that there were two reasons for me to be happy even at this time. The first is that God is using this experience to do something good in my life. And the second is that perseverance against all odds is the way that God often uses to express his sovereignty in the world.

 

 

BEING PURIFIED

 

Often the process used by God to give us his good gifts is more important than the gift itself. If the Bible is true then I needed this trial for my personal good. Even though I am extremely busy with some new responsibilities in YFC God seems to have thought that he needs me to get away from my work to devote myself to this trial—for example, to making fourteen calls to India.

 

My biggest battle in life is not directly tied to my ministry. It is the battle to be more Christlike. And here I have a long, long way to go. For example, if in the course of our work we get tense, humiliated and angry, that does not give us the licence to snap at the people who do not have to blame for this situation. When my wife Nelun came into my room and asked me to explain the situation after a particularly humiliating call to India I got annoyed and snapped at her. Fortunately she is committed to me and loving enough both to express her hurt at my wrong actions and to forgive me when I apologise.

 

I have a long way to go in the battle for patience—which is clearly one of the most important qualities of a genuine Christian, given the number of times it appears in the Epistles. May God use this experience to make me more patient!

 

So I thank God for using this trial to reveal my weakness and hopefully to purify me. Revealing our weaknesses and purifying us can be subsumed under the word “testing” which James says is a key result of facing “trials of various kinds” (Jas. 1:3).

 

FRUSTRATION, PERSEVERANCE AND PRAYER (ROMANS 8:18-39)

My experience is an example of situations God’s children typically go through in this world—situations which call for perseverance and prayer. Let me send this through the grid of Scripture.

 

Paul’s vision of going to Rome is very instructive here. He dreamed of this trip for a long time and wrote to the Romans about it and about how he was planning to come so that he can make Rome his base of operations for his next big thrust into unreached areas with the gospel (see Rom 1:8-15; 15:22-33). He appealed for prayer that the doors would be opened for him to make this visit (15:30-32). He did eventually reach Rome, but it was by a way he least expected. He was arrested in Jerusalem and spent a long time in prison awaiting trial. He finally appealed to Caesar, and his journey to Rome was made as a prisoner. It involved an extremely uncomfortable two weeks on a storm-tossed sea. I will never forget about three hours spent on a much calmer sea travelling south from Mannar in Northern Sri Lanka. It was nearly unbearable. Paul had two weeks of worse weather.

 

But he continued serving God while he was a Prisoner. His joyful letter to the Philippians was written from prison. Here he talks about how his sharing the gospel has encouraged other Christians outside to be bold to share their faith (1:14). He even exhorts his readers people, “Rejoice in the Lord always;” and lest they forget he continues, “again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). So struggle with frustration, we pray and ask others to pray and we keep rejoicing.

 

We won’t give up dreaming! But we submit our dreams to God. He may cause us to abandon the plans we had made about how we were going to achieve those dreams. While dumping those plans may cause natural disappointment we will continue dreaming, obeying, rejoicing, praying and persevering knowing that he is working everything for the good. Along the way he delights us by giving us many of our dreams—not in the way we planned but in a much better way! “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

 

 

SOME PRACTICAL EXAMPLES OF THESE PRINCIPLES

 

Let’s see how the principles described above work in daily life:

 

The above examples would have shown that a key to bearing lasting fruit is the ability to persevere without giving up. It is through the perseverance of working under difficult circumstances that books are completed, that sermons that are both biblical and down-to-earth are prepared, that excellent programmes are prepared, that spouses and children are given a happy environment at home, that the resistant are won for Christ, that backsliders are reclaimed, and that vibrant disciples are nurtured.

 

Persevering against all odds is the way all effective ministry is done. My visa episode was just another example of a thing that happens everyday in our lives and ministries in less dramatic ways. After our fourteenth call to the Embassy, I felt so humiliated and angry that I told myself, “Why don’t I just stay back in Sri Lanka and have a good rest at home?” Then I thought I will try just one more time. I called two staff workers and my wife and had one of the staff pray for me. Then I went to the phone for the fifteenth call; and for the first time I was spoken to politely and even told that my visa had been approved!

 

The next day the courier company called the embassy to pay the visa fee and collect the passport. They also got the “call later” treatment. That would have meant they cannot pay for the visa that day. So they wanted me to call the embassy to ask what to do. Again I was reluctant but again I prayed with a colleague and called. This time too I got to speak to an officer who told me to ask the courier company to go and pay the money.

 

They went and paid and were told that they can collect the passport only after the weekend. Again we are stuck! So this time it was the travel agent’s job to persevere and fix new flights. Now here I am on Monday, still uncertain, but praying without losing heart (Luke 18:1).

 

 

A PRESCRIPTION FOR BURNOUT?

 

If we push ourselves like this, won’t we get burned out? I believe burnout is the result of insecurity; not of hard work. Insecurity drives us to succeed, and success becomes more important than our spiritual lives, our families and our colleagues. Soon we drive ourselves to the ground. But if in the midst of frustration we maintain warm and fresh relationships with God, family and colleagues—we can groan and lament with them over our pain. And God will comfort us directly or through others. His comfort brings great joy. We may be tired, but we are happy. We are energised to work on without getting burned out.

 

Besides because obedience to God is primary in our lives, however busy we are, we would be obedient about God’s Sabbath command. The Sabbath gives us physical rest, and it takes away strain from our lives. In addition, by not working on one day we are affirming that God is the one who does the work in our lives and ministry and not us. And that is so liberating! We work with the security that this is God’s work. Disappointments will come, challenges will come—but in the midst of all of that deep down something tells us—God is in control both of our lives and our situations, so it’s going to be alright. We don’t have the resentment, disappointment and the feeling of having been used unfairly by people which is so characteristic of burnout. How can we have such feelings when we know everything is working out for our good?

 

 

Let us persevere in prayer and action!

 

 

NOTE: I did not get the passport back on time. I did not go. I hope that the lessons about perseverance, patience and prayer which I learned will make this experience worthwhile. But at the moment by biggest prayer is that God would bless the conference which is going to be without its main speaker.