Lessons Learned Part 2: Our Inability

“Ganbare!” がんばれ!

This is a fun little phrase Japanese say to cheer someone on. The meaning is to persevere, persist, or keep at a task. It is basically saying “You can do it!”

Our equivalent in the States is “Good luck!” And though most people don’t necessarily intend for “luck” to have a role in whatever endeavor you’re pursuing, it’s an interesting phrase isn’t it?

Literally speaking when we say “Good luck”, we’re actually saying regardless of effort, you will need some luck - and yes, the good kind. The Japanese mindset is much different. They do not place their faith in luck. Rather they truly believe in one’s own potential to master something. Our language teachers say this constantly. They really believe we can do it.

And while I appreciate the encouragement, each time I hear this phrase, I quickly remind myself “No, I actually can’t do it.”

Over these next few weeks, we will be sharing some lessons learned from our first year of missionary service in Japan. Part 1 can be read here. In this post, I want to reflect on our inability.

Encouraging, eh?

Well, this is actually very encouraging news. YOU CAN’T DO IT. WE CAN’T DO IT.

Let me explain.

Think back to Moses in Exodus 3 at the burning bush before God’s presence. The context brings us back to when the Israelites were living amongst the Egyptians. A new Pharoah was ruling over Egypt - one different from the one who ruled favorably over the Israelites during the time of Joseph (Exodus 1:8-14). He was a harsh ruler and “shrewd”. The Israelites were made to “work as slaves”. Israel groaned over their “heavy burden” and the Bible records such a beautiful reminder in Exodus 2:25: “God saw the people of Israel - and God knew.”

Amidst trial, God was fully aware of Israel’s situation. He was fully present. Just His knowledge of the situation alone was God displaying His gracious and tender care over His people.

God then responds to their groaning by sending an angel before Moses in the famous burning bush account (3:1-4:17). God tells Moses that He will “deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians” (3:8).

Moses was on board with this plan.

Yet, notice how God planned to make this happen. God said, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10).

Moses responded, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (3:11)

No kidding. Any one of us would say the same thing. “Who me?!?”

Yet, here’s is the key. God responded, “But I will be with you…” (Exodus 3:12). And most of you know how this story ends. God miraculously preserves the Israelites and delivers them from the hand of the Egyptians.

So, did Moses have anything do with Israel’s rescue?

Sure he did! He was called upon by God to lead the Jews out of Egypt.

Yet, was it Moses’ doing that accomplished this feat? Of course not. God was.

God orders the events of history and always accomplishes His purposes. Even here in Japan, it’s easy to have the hero mindset. “I will share the gospel.” “I will bring the message of hope to the Japanese.” “I will set out on mission.”

Yes, like Moses, we have a role in God’s story of redeeming all peoples to Himself. But, that’s just it. It’s GOD’S story. We have the privilege and honor of God using us to accomplish His plan.

Everyday we’re reminded of our genuine inability to accomplish what we’ve set out to do. Whether it’s the difficult language, daily cultural collisions, or simply our own sinfulness - we’re reminded that this isn’t OUR work. This is a work that God and God alone can only do.

This is immensely encouraging. Think of the burden we all often carry that we aren’t ask to. This goes beyond missions - think of any profession. As believers in Jesus Christ, it’s God that allows us to make a successful sales pitch or a solid presentation. It’s God that works in the hearts of our children to accomplish His desired purpose in their lives. It’s God that provides for our daily needs whether its finances, energy for the day-to-day or our relationships. It’s HIM!

And even the task of missions - making disciples of all nations - was never meant to be accomplished independent of God.

Jesus reminds His disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). This is the very same promise God gave to Moses.

The principle is the same. We must press into these gospel realities everyday.

As all of us move forward in the various ministries He has called our families to, may we rest in God’s presence as promised in His Word. We are unable. But God is fully able to work in and through each of us. What a comfort to know.

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