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Letting Go and Hanging On

by Gary Corwin

One of the hallmarks of missionary life is tenacity and perseverance in the task.

One of the hallmarks of missionary life is tenacity and perseverance in the task. From the beginning it has been thus, and it has been those who “stuck to it” in the face of overwhelming obstacles and dangers that have received the praise and deep respect of their fellow believers. This is, no doubt, as it should be, but it does raise an interesting question: What if that which is being “stuck to” is not the Lord’s agenda, but ours?

I am not suggesting that we have less than the best of intentions, but that we sometimes confuse our own goals, plans and timetables with what the Lord wants to see happen. “But,” you may object, “these goals and plans are consistent with what God has said in his word, and were bathed in prayer before they were undertaken.” Still, human frailty being what it is, they may be more the product of our desires and timetables than of his divine plan. It is in such circumstances that we must learn to let go of our desires and hang on to the belief that God knows best, that he is loving and able and that he has our best interests at heart. Our goals may be high, and our plans may be strategic and sound, but they may not be how or when God wants to work. When our vision seems to be dying, we need to acknowledge his sovereign leadership and trust his perfection.

You have probably heard sermons over the years on the death of a vision. These always seem to include rebirth, renewal or resurrection at just the right time. Moses is often cited as one who had a vision to help his people Israel and tried to do so in his own way by killing the Egyptian taskmaster. This led, of course, to the death of his vision and forty years spent in exile. God, however, revived the vision in his time and in his way through a burning bush and all that followed. Others—like the one-time prisoners Joseph and Daniel—are also often cited, as is the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus himself.

Two of the most effective missionary families I have known have faced this kind of challenge in their own lives. For one family, it was the simple government act of not allowing the husband back into the country where he had lived and ministered for fifteen years. His crime? Being too effective in discipling converts from the majority religion and helping to equip citizens for mission work in the region. God’s plan for them required letting go of that which they knew, loved and were so effective in doing. Their calling was to hang on to their trust in the Lord’s love, leading and sovereign control. They have found that although the transitions have not all been easy, he has not let them down.

The other family had two challenges: the wife’s health and corrupt legal action to confiscate property being used to mentor and train missionaries from Latin America for service throughout the world. This story is not finished yet, but this couple’s faith and commitment to the task—rather than to their plan for how it should be carried out—is already winning the day. They will rent facilities as needed, and trust God for the rest, hanging on to the promise of both his presence and provision.

The need for this principle of letting go and hanging on is also present in the macro-picture of mission strategy and goal setting. One often hears, “We are trusting God for X number of churches to be planted [or people groups to be reached] by such and such a date.” The clear implication is that the number mentioned has come directly from God. Otherwise, why trust him for that which he has not promised? While this may be nothing more than a poor use of language, it brings to mind the clear admonition from scripture that we should not boast about tomorrow, for we do not know what a day may bring forth (Prov. 27:1).

How much better and more pleasing to God if we would guard jealously both our hearts and our speech to communicate that we are trusting in and waiting upon the Lord to reveal his perfect will in us, around us and through us. Yes, we should continue to plan and to desire, but we should also gladly let go of our plans and desires in response to his plans and ways that are so much higher than ours. It is to him and to his plans, rather than our own, that we should cling with joy.

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Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and a missiological advisor to the leadership of SIM and Arab World Ministries.

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