wanted to call to tell you this in person,” my co-worker opened. “And it is not good.”
Not what I wanted to hear.
We have been working for about three months to get ready for the first visit of my friend and mentor, George Verwer, to Nigeria. He will be speaking to multiple meetings about God’s work around the world. First among our tasks, was to make sure over 10,000 copies of his books were printed and ready for his visit. We traveled from the United States to develop a relationship with the printing press managers who partner with us regularly. Our Nigerian staff has made multiple visits; our deposit was paid months ago, everything was on track.
About two weeks ago, there was fighting around the press between the army and nomadic tribesman on a road I am familiar with. Tragically, on the printers’ campus, a press worker was killed in the crossfire. Compounding this tragedy were other delays.
After a hundred hours of work, I came to the realization that the books may not be ready in time. What more could have been done? I am embarrassed, discouraged, and asking why.
It’s Too Heavy
Another time I was in Kenya with my friends and partners talking about the editing of the Africa Study Bible — the first full study Bible written by Africans for Africa. More than 400 million Christians in Africa do not have a single Bible with notes and helps to meet the spiritual needs of their cultures in applying the Bible to issues like slavery, polygamy, and witchcraft. Now 300 Africans from 45 countries are laboring with us to write over 2,000 notes and features, which is hard work.
Over lunch with three reviewers on their university’s campus — three of the leading theologians in their country — it became clear why work has been slow. They did not have needed Internet access at home. After a long day teaching and serving on campus, they were forced to stay late to access the campus network to complete editing projects on our Internet-based system. On top of this, due to the latest financial crisis in their country and at their university, they had not been paid in months. Resources are scarce, but for $200 total, we purchased home Internet access for all three.
Imagine being among the senior theologians on a continent with 400 million Christians and being unable to afford Internet access for lack of $70 worth of equipment and subscription costs? I could go on and on describing troubles, difficulties, and complications for accomplishing simple things in Africa that would take me just a short time here in Chicago.
Recently, as I reflected on three months’ worth of frustration for one transaction that would have taken a password and a few mouse clicks in the States, I felt like I had had enough. The burden felt too heavy. Something cracked, and I wept before the Lord.
Joy Set Before Us
But now, after my morning phone call, I’m rolling a different phrase over in my head.
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)
Because of the joy awaiting him.
So what does it mean for me right now? Does it mean giving in to struggles and frustrations?
I’m learning that the joy of faithful service is often something like a woman giving birth. She is ready to endure the discomfort of pregnancy and the final agony of giving birth for the joy of having a child. Because of the coming joy — “the joy that was set before him” — you can be strong enough to get through the pains of today.
The joy is real, and tangible, and celebratory, and can be felt in force in the best moments, but it is not all here yet. Much of the time, we are still in the labor part, the child of promise is not born. We are living in just a portion of the joy, and awaiting the fullness to come.
Someday, I want to stand before Jesus and be able to honestly say, “I did it, with your help. Even though it was with shaky faith and much struggling, I poured myself out in serving those who are most forgotten and in need, just like you told me to.”
As God calls you to step out and serve those God has loved and chosen in a different part of the world, or out of your comfort zone, he doesn’t promise it will be easy. The Christian life is not easy. Meeting the needs of others is not easy. Fighting back the darkness in a world of sin and pain is not easy. But it is good. Jesus has set his joy before us. We will not be disappointed with his reward.
Like a woman giving birth, or Jesus himself persevering on his path to the cross, the barriers and resistances and sufferings of laboring today will soon be eclipsed by the joy of seeing God’s unshakable kingdom proclaimed with power, compassion, and justice.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)