As a sophomore in college, I had many sleepless nights and was even diagnosed with an ulcer at one point because of the stress I experienced while trying to keep my academic scholarship. It is crazy to think about now, but everything was about keeping my grades up and getting into medical school. It was this stress that had me going to school every summer and even led me to a remote village of Honduras to study and volunteer on a medical mission trip.
I knew that it wouldn’t be like home, but I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to a 3rd world country, nor had I ever thought about missions. With only a few hours of generated electricity a day and sleeping under mosquito nets in a shack, it was my first opportunity to be out of my comfort zone. In fact, I was so far out of my comfort zone that the zone stretched and soon became my comfort. Simply put, I showed up in Honduras as a 19-year-old somewhat selfish child and I left a 20-year-old woman with an expanded worldview and a heart of service.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Matt 16:24
It was during that summer of 1995, that I learned what it meant to deny myself for the very first time. I ate strange foods, walked long distances, held children riddled with malaria, dysentery, and tuberculosis, sweated for a month and slept under a mosquito net in a shack ...
But truth be told, I loved it.
I felt more alive that summer than I had all of the previous summers put together.
Many people have had similar experiences and felt significant calls into missions. Most people prepare, plan, and pray before they launch out. However, what they find after being in their host country for a little while is that, if they had any heart hurts, bad habits, sins, or addictions … they came along with them to their new “home.”
Unfortunately, missionaries all too often believe they are not supposed to care for themselves. (This belief is often based, in part, on the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:24: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.") They have believed the lie that sometimes permeates the church: “self-care is selfish.” They consistently put their own needs last. Just like with any "to-do list," the last item is repeatedly put off and may never really get done.
Just like Moses sat down on the hill, we too need to sit sometimes. The rhythm of rest and work, reflection and action flows from relationship with God. It is the most important appointment of each day. In that time, we feel his presence and His joy over us. We can appreciate Him for who He is and ask for help with today and tomorrow. If I truly ask the Father what to do with my day, it is easier to action those steps, especially any that are counter-intuitive to my process and plan.
“Samuel said, "Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22
So, if obedience is better than sacrifice, I may want to cultivate how I listen and the filters through which I hear. If I ask the Lord and hear that I should spend time resting with him, but I also know there are good opportunities for me to serve the homeless, I have to discern which is better. Do I rest at home or do I serve?
Obedience is better than sacrifice, but we can only obey if we ask and learn how to listen.
Here at Aaron's Hands we help ministry leaders not only learn how to listen differently, but coach them in the practice of asking and listening. God tells us we can hear His voice and He is always with us (Jn 10:27; Deut. 31:6), but our own filters, past failures and fears may keep us from being confident in our ability to hear. It is a matter of the heart really and we are here to hold up your hands and help you get to know your own heart and His.
Practicing His Presence, the first step in learning how to listen
- Set aside 5-10 minutes today, find a place you can listen (play music, get comfortable, etc.).
- Take several deep breaths and smile (yes this is intentional).
- Tell the Lord what you appreciate about Him and what you are thankful for.
- Now with your eyes closed, ask Him to show you a place where you can meet with Him.
- Spend some time looking around this place in your imagination and practice being with Him.
- Write down what you see so you can ponder and experience it more.