April 16

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed.” Hebrews 11:8

It is by no means enough to set out cheerfully with your God on any venture of faith. Tear into smallest pieces any itinerary for the journey which your imagination may have drawn up. Nothing will fall out as you expect. Your guide will keep to no beaten path. He will lead you by a way such as you never dreamed your eyes would look upon. He knows no fear, and He expects you to fear nothing while He is with you. (Streams in the Desert)

What if God is uninterested in my happiness but eternally committed to my Christlikeness? I commenced missionary orientation with wide-eyed naïveté more than twenty years ago, subconsciously convinced of my own invincibility and God’s commitment to my indestructibility; however, missionary training took an unexpected turn in the jarring opening statement by one of the orientation speakers. Maurice Graham, Southern Baptist missionary to Kuwait, was one of several Americans held hostage during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990. His liberation came on December 9, the day Southern Baptists had been asked to pray specifically for Graham’s release. I will never forget the impact as he stood before all of us wet-behind-the-ears would-be missionaries and said, “God is not concerned about your personal comfort. He is committed to His glory.” He went on to describe his terrible ordeal in detail, and for the first time that I can remember, the world shifted slightly away from me as its axis. I have wrestled with Graham’s statement many times since then, and each time my center moves a little more God’s direction.

Scripture is replete with reassurances that God knows us, loves us, and desires for each of us an abundant life (John 10:10), but this abundance is less tied to momentary happiness, and far more connected to enduring joy. Faith lifts my gaze beyond this moment. Happiness is a momentary emotion based on an ever-shifting set of circumstances; joy is an enduring character trait forged on the unchanging standard of the Incarnate Word, Jesus the Christ. Joy consists of grand abundance in facing every circumstance with the character of Christ.

“Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for power equal to your tasks” (Phillips Brooks).

Faith produces strength of character necessary to embrace abundance over against the tempting self-serving lure of transient pleasure.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9, NIV)

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