Years ago, I felt the thrill (or was it delirium?) of steeping off the airplane onto Indonesian soil. I adjusted to our language school setting and felt the sense of accomplishment that comes from being able to actually communicate in a new tongue, “Here is your monthly elephant.” (In Indonesian, the words for “wage” and “elephant” are very similar). Then, we landed in Tarakan, East Kalimantan, to begin our life’s work! Excitement, fulfillment, happiness – I have felt them all. But great joy? The routine of daily living has begun to settle like a fine layer of dust around me, and the shining forth of joy in just being the Lord’s has become more rare. It has quickly become apparent that no matter how noble my intentions are or how well prepared, I am still ill-equipped to perform this task of cross-cultural witness and service to my own high standards.
With the layer of dust, the enemy’s accusations settled over my mind: “See! You are a failure! You don’t fit in. You’re just the rich white global working lady. What kind of witness is that?” Shrinking from these thoughts, I began to use the “try harder” method. I wasn’t going to be like those “other” global workers- I was going to be different. One evening, after a long, hectic day of trying t harder, I sat down in our dark bedroom. I had been busy all day, yet the sense of failure remained. As my usual last ditch effort, I curled up with the Scriptures and a flashlight, and began to pour out my heart to God. “I can’t do this right, Lord!” I complained. “Where is this great joy I’ve been waiting for?” The answer cam gently, dropping softly at first, like raindrops, just barely lifting the dust form the surface of my spirit, then washing away my doubts and discouragement with truth. Joy isn’t something to wait for, like a letter form home. It’s something that already is.
The act that I am Christ’s and He is in me is as real as my heartbeat. That’s great joy! Joy is what God intends me to have as the inheritance of a child of heaven, and because nothing God intends can ever be moved, it is as much mine today as it will forever be. Pure, rich, deep joy: as full as the realization of the faithfulness of the joy-Giver; joy for the journey, as Michael Card pens, “Joy to abide in.”
Here is my list of false assumptions, the ones that were stealing my joy. I include them for other “imperfect perfectionists.” May ours be a joyful service!
Six False Assumptions That Will Steal Your Joy
- I’ll be useful in every area I attempt to serve. “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly tings of this world and the things that are despised and the things that are not – so that no one may boast before Him.” 1 Corinthians 1:27-29. Just because I came here doesn’t mean every need is my responsibility to meet, or that I am even able to meet all the needs.
- What I do will make a significant (noticeable, appreciated) difference. “For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18 I need to be willing to be faithful to do what God wants me to do, whether it is seen by others or not.
- I will be adequate for the task. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” No matter how much I think I know, I need to know more about brokenness than about ability.
- I will gain a sense of belonging – fitting in with ease. “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.” Isaiah 53:3 While trying to bridge the language and culture barrier, I must still be willing to be rejected and to love anyway.
- If none or few of the above are true I am a failure. “Measuring yourselves by yourselves and comparing yourselves against yourselves, you become unwise.” 2 Corinthians 10:12. No one is failure who seeks the pleasure of God alone.
- If all or some of the above are true, I am a success. “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.” Galatians 6:14. For whose sake am I trying to succeed? If I win all the cross-cultural crowns and forget the cross, I lose all.
Ann Stoothoff, along with her husband, Eric, served with MAF in East Kalimantan.
This article is a classic originally published in our early print magazines.