Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Live Dangerously

    In case you hadn't realized it from the three posts I've already written about my trip to Malawi (here, here, and here), my January missions trip to Malawi deeply affected my life and my relationship with Christ. I learned a ton that I could not have learned as clearly in the USA. It truly was extraordinary.

    I'm going to tell a fairly long story below, so bear with me, because there is a point I am trying to make with it!

    When I first voiced my desire to go on this particular trip, the missionary heading up the team that was going asked me what I intended to do there. My first thought was, "Huh?" I hadn't prepared for that (thinking back, what did I think he was going to ask, my favorite food? I mean, c'mon, Taylor!).

    So, I told him that I could help teach youth and help with some school evangelism projects. I've done several such youth ministries in the US, so I figured I could do the same there. Ha! I had not correctly estimated this particular missionary's drive to push me outside my comfort zone!

    Somehow, when the words came out of my mouth that I wanted to teach youth, Mr. Kershner heard that as "I want to teach pastors." (I have the greatest respect for Mr. Kershner, by the way. None of this is negative toward him, just a part of the story.) So, three weeks before I leave for Malawi, I'm on vacation over Christmas at my sister's house, and I get an email that tells me to prepare for about six hours of preaching to pastors!

    Now, I'm going to take a second and explain some of the irony here. Somehow, I, a 16 year old American who had never preached more than a Sunday School lesson, was supposed to go to Africa and preach to pastors! Seriously? What am I supposed to say?

    So, at my sister's house, I took a little time by myself and began arranging some notes, getting some ideas and references, writing out some notes for myself. However, try as I might, I got one sermon outline done. I came back over the course of several days, and I could not get down what I needed to. My mind wouldn't focus, I couldn't think, and all in all, I was panicked!

    Fast forward a month. I'm sitting in Malawi with an American college student and a 23 year old accountant at a preacher's conference. And, I'm up to speak first. In the last few days, I'd been praying and reading the Bible a lot, but still no more lessons. So, walking into this, I was nervous. More like, downright scared.

    So, my first preaching experience was to a group of African pastors in a mud brick church during a thunderstorm. But what caught me off guard was that God led me completely off what I had written to say words I hadn't written down, and things I hadn't planned to say. I was flabbergasted (pleasantly)! Where was this coming from?

    I finished my sermon, and in true African style, there is no break. They don't get opportunities like this often, so when it comes, you better be ready for some preaching! Both my partners got up, and preached, giving me about an hour and a half to start internally sweating again. So, after my second partner preached, the pastor of the church got up and led us in one song before the next preaching section, which would be mine. Keep in mind I had nothing to say!

    There, during that song, God gave me a lesson. I've never had anything like that happen before. As I was listening to them singing, a reference came into my head. Then points, other verses, ideas, analogies, and so on. God not only gave me a sermon five minutes before I got up to speak, but he also kept me going, giving me words to say, for forty minutes. With about four sentences scribbled down as notes.

    When I got down from preaching that second time (what a way to get introduced to preaching!), I was empty. I was pushed to the max, emptied of myself, and exhausted. So, I went outside the church while one of my buddies preached, and walked through one of the cornfields, just crying out to God that I was done. I couldn't do it by myself. I needed him.

    So, when I finally came back inside the church, it was almost time to preach again. Yes, that's right, a third sermon. Keep in mind that I still had no idea what I was going to preach on. But now I had an inkling of what might happen!

    Sure enough, while the church was singing, a third sermon took shape in my mind. Verses, ideas, and thoughts came together into about four scribbled sentences that would serve as my notes during that final sermon. Once again, God supplied not only a sermon, but the ability to preach it and to keep speaking for about forty minutes.

    This was the highlight of my trip to Malawi. Not only was this my first preaching opportunity, but I had never had the Holy Spirit so actively work in my thoughts before as to guide me, while I was speaking, as to what I would say next. It was incredible.

    But it led me to begin thinking. My first thought was, "Why hasn't this ever happened before? Why haven't I ever experienced the Holy Spirit's aid, help, and comfort with such reality before?" At first, I felt as if God had somehow held back His guidance before. Why?

    But the thought process that started in Africa continued back to America. I've been thinking about it ever since, and I believe I've found the answer. It's really simple really. The Holy Spirit wasn't noticeably active in my life as Comforter and Guide in the past because I had never realized I needed it!

    Why would I need God's guidance and strength when I'm doing just fine on my own? Why?

    Why would God include so many promises that He would be with us, protect us, guide us, help us, etc. if He never meant for us to benefit from these gifts?

    The answer is very simple. God never intended us to spend our lives comfortably strong in ourselves. When we are strong in ourselves, we don't need Him. We nearly never put ourselves in a position where we are lost if God doesn't come through for us.

    But the vast number of promises regarding the idea of God's Holy Spirit's role as Comforter and Guide seem to reflect the concept that we should require God's aid. Unfortunately, what I do, and what most of us tend to do, is to live life that's so comfortable, laid back, and normal that I don't "need" the Holy Spirit. We don't ever put ourselves in a position of risk that requires God to come through for me.

    Think about Elijah's challenge with the priests of Baal. We see no promise from God beforehand that He would prove Himself. However, Elijah jumped forward, and placed himself in a position that would get him killed if God didn't come through for Him. He purposefully placed himself in a position that he couldn't get himself out of, and required God's aid.

    What about David and Goliath? Again, we see no promise from God that He would protect David. Instead, we see David put God to the test, walk out onto the field, and place himself in a position of danger if God didn't come through. David trusted that God would come through for him.

    So, what are we seeing here? That OT guys just trusted God more than we do today? Why?

    Well, because they put Him to the test! They placed themselves in positions that required God to come through, and when He did, their faith was strengthened. Why do I trust close friends of mine? Because they've proved themselves worthy of my trust! They've been trustworthy and reliable!

    How is God any different? As long as we go through life safely and comfortably, we will never be in a position to require, even demand, God's guidance/protection. So how would I ever develop a trust and faith in Him? As long as I never have to rely on Him, I will never learn to trust Him.

    As Christians, I believe we are called to place ourselves in positions that require God's help, positions that are risky if God doesn't come through for us. Because God will come through. But until we see it happen, and experience it ourselves, it's hard to believe.

    If we truly believe that God can do anything, and He wants us to serve Him above all, don't you think our lives might be a bit more radical and a bit less "normal"? If we truly thought that God would come through for us, don't you think we'd place ourselves in positions that would require Him to more often?

    I don't have this mastered, by any means! But it's something to strive for. Live dangerously for God. Learn to trust Him.


  1. This is amazing! Thanks so much for sharing, and challenging us, Taylor!

    1. I'm glad it meant something to you! Thanks for reading!

  2. Wow. Just wow. This has definitely inspired me to try to do more things outside of my comfort zone. Thanks for posting this!!

    1. Thank you for the encouragement! I'm glad got to you!

  3. Great post! Very insightful and encouraging. :-)

    1. Thank you! This much encouragement from commenters is encouraging to me too!

  4. Finally, I get to comment! :) This is seriously one of THE best posts you've written. Ever. I absolutely love this, and it was very encouraging, and challenging. Thank you so much.

    1. Hey, welcome back! Thanks for the encouragement! I'm thinking about writing a part 2 to this post, so we'll see. I seem to have hit a chord in some people...

    2. Yay! Part 2! I'm at the edge of my seat...

  5. Great post Taylor! It is definitely one of your best yet! Keep up the good work! Your story is pretty incredible; I can't wait until I experience God the same way you did in that moment. :)

    1. Oh, you will! I look forward to hearing your story when it happens!