I am convinced that sometimes God draws us out of our comforts to drive us deeper into himself. He allows us to wander off into the wilderness in order to be sanctified. God uses difficulty and hardship to grow us closer to him. He does this so that we will trust him, resting in who he says he is: God is sovereign and sufficient.
God draws us out of our comforts to drive us deeper into himself.
We need constant reminders that God is the fuel behind our all of our efforts and provisions. But we don’t arrive at this conviction all on our own. God takes us into and through his refining, transformative process.
In Comfort, We Forget God Is Sovereign
Many of us live in parts of the world with plenty. Our fridges are packed with food. Technology enables us to adjust our environments. Our cars are fuelled. Opportunities and possibilities seem endless. We have solutions for when we get stuck: Google, YouTube, emergency helplines, microwaves, trains, and Uber. It is so easy to feel like we are in control, to believe that we are the power source behind every successful aspect of our lives.
Through life-altering moments God reminds us that he is the one ultimately at work and in control.
This illusion of control brings about a false sense of security; self-dependence. When comfortable we easily forget that God works his will in us, for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Our hearts do not rest in this truth. We do not rely on the God who is sovereign. But through life-altering moments God reminds us that he is the one ultimately at work and in control.
We are nothing but weak, limited, frail, fragile, flawed, and sinful beings. In his sovereignty, God breaks our resistance and brings about submission. He reminds us that in him we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28).
My Encounter With The South Sudanese Diaspora
God taught me this lesson in abundance just over a year ago, in the December of 2019. A group of young believers, including myself, went on a short term mission trip to Uganda. Specifically, we were to visit a South Sudanese Refugee Camp in the Arua-Ofua III district.
Our South Sudanese friends in the camp are casualties of a political war that started in 2013 following a disagreement between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar – the latter led rebel forces against the South Sudanese government. This war is believed to have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, while forcing over 2 million South Sudanese to flee the country. Many have sought refuge in the Rhino Camps north of Uganda.
I will forever be grateful to God for this short term mission trip. For it taught me more in a few days than I have learnt in a lifetime.
When comfortable we easily forget that God works his will in us, for his good pleasure
Fear, Frustration and Self-Reliance
I remember travelling to the camp on the first day. We were excited and zealous, ready to spread the hope of the gospel. We were eager to teach our refugee brothers and sisters how to respond when pressed on all sides.
Yet when our transport got stuck on the way, somewhere in Uganda, our first response was akin to the Israelites standing before the Red Sea (Exodus 14:11-12). We were afraid and frustrated. We wondered if God has sent us all this way to die in a foreign land. The obstacle before us seemed insurmountable. We were useless and stuck, hapless without our usual emergency helplines.
God continued to chip away at our self dependance throughout the journey.
Even Last Resort Prayers Are Answered
You might think our first reaction was prayerful reliance on our sovereign God. But that only came after much grumbling, seeking a solution, and getting on each other’s nerves.
Removing the illusion of control, God graciously answered our prayers. For, after we prayed as a team, a group of boys came out of nowhere and pushed our bus out of the ditch. Some would call this a coincidence. But a group of boys coming our way when we needed them late at night was a clear indication of God’s providence. God continued to chip away at our self dependance throughout the journey. This was a process of sanctification, as God taught us to trust in his sovereign care.
God is Sovereign: The Ultimate Comfort
But it was not God’s sovereignty in the challenges we faced as a team that made the largest impression on me.
What struck me most during our time with the South Sudanese refugees was their faith.
What struck me most during our time with the South Sudanese refugees was their faith. The Christians among them had contended with trauma many of us will never know. Their survival at present is precarious and they faced crushing need.
Few people on earth have better reasons to doubt that God is who he says he is. Yet day by day we saw them preaching in the community, proclaiming the goodness of our Lord. Their assurance of God’s gospel and grace gave them a perspective we usually lack.
Their assurance of God’s gospel and grace gave them a perspective we usually lack.
Woken By Gunfire
I remember chatting to a group of young men. They shared stories about how good life was before the war. One second they were sleeping peacefully in the comfort of their homes, the next they were woken up by gunfire. People were running as screams and smoke filled the air. Bodies lay on the ground. Homes were destroyed. They had to pack up their entire life in a black bag.
The scenes they lived through are only found on our films or in our worst nightmares. The smell of burning flesh hung around them. Arriving in Uganda they hoped it would be temporal, maybe a few months. But that turned into years. They tried to regain their dignity inside the cluster of mud brick walls, gated in with over 1 million other refugees.
Hard Pressed, But Not Crushed
Life is hard in the camp. There is uncertainty over the future, malaria, hunger, abuse, and malnutrition. Resources are limited. But these men said they drew strength from God. One said that as believers they simply could not afford to bury their heads in the sand. People needed God. Others needed to hear about the power of the gospel.
As believers they simply could not afford to bury their heads in the sand. People needed God.
So they understand themselves, as 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 puts it, to “have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” He drew my attention to the many wonderful things that God is doing in the camp, how God has saved lives both literally and spiritually.
God Is With Us
A much quoted word in the camp was, “God with us.” Of course, this is one of the greatest themes of the Bible, which we recently celebrated at Christmas. Our God put on flesh and dwelt “with us.” He entered the brokenness of his creation, with its hurts and perplexities (John 1:14). “God is with us,” they kept saying. “He is our glory and strength.” You could feel and see that God had truly matured the faith of these refugees.
Thus the South Sudanese ended up ministering to us in a very special way. They schooled us on how to maintain the right kind of attitude when walking through fires of sorrow and loss. They demonstrated faith despite overwhelming troubles. Their example was one of unwavering confidence in the sovereign God.
God does not merely meet us at our place of need; he lives in our place of need
God Is Truly Sovereign
It is as if they were preparing our perspective for the COVID-19 pandemic. The courage in their eyes, their welcoming smiles, their laughter accompanied by glimmers of hope will always remind me that God does not merely meet us at our place of need; he lives in our place need.
God in all his splendid, dazzling glory is always accessible and available to us. We should take advantage of this promise by being wholly reliant on him. We must never underestimate the value of kneeling down in prayer to draw strength from him. This should not only be done when we think we need him. We must do it daily because we always need him.
God is alive and involved in every aspect of our lives
Whether we are self-aware or not, God is not a figment of our imagination. He is alive and involved in every aspect of our lives, right from the time we open our eyes in the morning until we close them to sleep at night. Our lives are fuelled by the grace of our Lord. Whatever we have is from him. Therefore let us entrust ourselves to his sovereign care and providence. I pray that this will become your reality as you soldier on through the maze of life.
Pray For The South Sudanese Refugees
As you reflect upon the words of this article, I challenge you all to pray for the South Sudanese refugees:
- Thank God, as there has been news recently of a successful peace deal negotiation in their country. We all are hoping that this might be a step in rebuilding stability in South Sudan and that the 2.5 million refugees might finally go home.
- Pray as they wait in the refugee camps especially during the COVID-19 pandemic that God may provide for their basic needs of water, food and adequate health facilities.
- Plead with God to be with them in a very special way that the believers there would continue to be an encouragement to the community.
- Pray that God will continue to raise gifted men and women (pastors, missionaries etc.) to lead them with particular clarity and insight into the heart of God.