As some of you know, we had a sick spell back in October. Well, let’s face it, we get sick a lot here. The one in October, though, will stand out in Nathan’s and my memory as our first new-parent-baptism-by-fire-style-baby sickness. Parents, I know y’all have stories. We’re talking throw up in the bed, diarrhea down the legs, every few hours of every day for more than a week–three baths a day–no clothes–you know what I’m talking about. It was not pretty, and it was not fun.
And it was scary! My little baby was sick! Our sweet nurses in South Africa were so patient with me as I daily updated them. They were incredibly supportive and gave great advice. Still, I felt so helpless as, day after day, she woke up still sick.
I prayed, y’all, constantly. I felt so helpless, so guilty, like there must be something I should do. But I knew that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make her better. I had no control over her little body and its responses. I couldn’t will her to heal. I knew this for sure, because if I could have, I WOULD HAVE.
Eventually, praise the Lord, she improved! I was so happy, so thankful, at first.
And then a funny thing happened. I forgot (?) my feelings of total helplessness, and I started thinking that I was doing something right–“Well, I added more protein; I’m sure that has helped,” “It’s a good thing I pushed her to drink that water–that’s helping.” Some of it was almost unconscious, but an overall feeling of self-congratulation–“We’re ok!”
Now, I don’t want to do too much naval-gazing here–of course I should feel relief, thankfulness–but I’m telling you, there was more to it, and it really was pride. When she was struggling, I was helpless and desperate for the Lord. But when she was doing well–i.e., when He was mercifully answering my prayers–I attributed this change to myself and my own efforts. Hmm. How does that make sense?
This realization actually mirrors something I’ve noticed in our ministry here. I have a tendency to do this same thing as we pray for our Mahafaly churches. When the churches are struggling–leaders have marriage problems, believers aren’t sharing the stories, they’re tempted to return to ancestor worship because they’re desperate for rain–I despair and beg God to work. I beg His Spirit to protect them, provide for them, strengthen them.
But then, when God answers these prayers, when churches are growing and people are being transformed, I find myself thinking that it’s because of us. We must be doing something right. We must be using the right tools.
Of course, we want to work hard and work well. We want to use “best practices,” and daily grow in competence in our work here. But the reality is that, just like I can’t make Chyella’s body respond in health, we can’t make our churches grow strong and healthy. As Paul says, “One plants, another waters, but God gives the growth.” He is the One who changes hearts. He is the One who transforms minds. He is the One who uses us, weak and inadequate as we are. So whether our churches are struggling or they are healthy, may I never imagine that success comes from me. May I desperately seek His help in every moment. God is the One who gives the growth.