Two nameless, faceless people are chasing me down a dark, rain-soaked alley and I have no idea why. What am I running from? Where am I going? The fear is suffocating, my teeth are clenched; my heart feels like it is pounding out of my chest.
As hard as I run, I feel like I am going in slow motion and my adversaries are quickly gaining on me. Just as they are about to lay their hands on me I awake gasping, my heart pounding. Slowly I relax my clenched fists and breath a tremendous sigh of relief. It was only a nightmare, or as many call it, an anxiety dream. Most people have had similar dreams on occasion.
When we wake up from one of those “episodes” we experience one of the most dramatic shifts in perspective that is humanly possible. We discover in an instant what is real and what is not—a very important distinction don’t you think?
All of us live with illusions that deeply impact our perspective on life. Perhaps the most common is the illusion that “I am in control of the circumstances of my life.” As followers of Christ, few of us would give voice to such an illusion. We often talk about trusting in Providence, that unseen sovereign hand of God working to bring about His own perfect will. We may even be convinced that we believe that He is the one in control. Yet how often do we behave as though we are the ones really calling the shots, or as though we can expect our efforts to determine life’s outcomes?
When circumstances get out of hand—we face a sudden illness, the loss of loved ones, broken relationships or financial reversals—suddenly the illusion shatters and we realize how little control we really do have. We can’t control the cells in our own bodies. We can’t control the health or even the choices of people around us—even those who are closest to us—any more than we can control a tsunami or a volcano. Often it takes a crisis for us to realize just how little control we have—and so crises can be times of despair or they can become seasons of transformative spiritual growth.
We can choose to trust God who always knows what is best, wants what is best and does what is best for us. If we make that choice, if we really believe that truth about God then when the moment comes and we are tested by those things beyond our control, it can be like waking up from a dream. One of those anxiety dreams in fact. We suddenly sense that we truly are powerless in the palm of Providence. Reality shifts. We can breathe a deep sigh of relief, unclench our fists and begin to wait on Him who declares the end from the beginning.
A reality shift like that doesn’t mean we give up trying to do what is right, but we no longer strive to make things happen in our own strength. We don’t feel the need to explain the unexplainable, to make sense of things we can’t possibly understand to ourselves and to others. We can walk through challenging circumstances, not knowing why they happened or how things will end up, but still having our faith intact and even growing stronger and deeper. We are enduring. We are suffering, but we aren’t wringing our hands over the past, railing against the present or worrying too much about the future.
In the weeks before our Jews for Jesus Founder and my dear mentor, Moishe Rosen was called home, he was in hospice care, dependent on others for all his needs. As I sat by his bedside, no longer able to carry on extended conversations with him, it was so terribly hard to see him in that state and not to be able to do anything to change the circumstances. Like all of us, Moishe was truly powerless in the hand of the Lord. He had one advantage over you and me though. He knew it—for him it had become an inescapable reality. Today he is experiencing that reality with perfect peace and joy in the presence of his Lord. We on the other hand still need constant reminders of our frailty, reminders that awaken us to the reality of who we really are and who God really is.
As a missionary to the Jewish people it is especially important for me to remember that the salvation of Israel in general, and Jewish people in particular, is also very much in the hands of our God. Admittedly I have sometimes been discouraged by particular encounters I have had while witnessing. It’s usually been because I failed to remember God’s sovereign purposes in the work of salvation.
I specifically remember one day when I was out on the streets of New York City and it seemed like no one was willing to talk to me. Not a lot of people were taking the literature I was handing out either. Finally someone stopped to talk but even as my hope rose, his real intent—to belittle me and attack my faith in Jesus—became apparent. I was so longing to talk to someone, anyone, that I allowed this guy to get under my skin. I became angry and sarcastic in my response to his abusive language and frankly, he was a lot better at being angry and sarcastic than I was. He walked away smug; he had scored the verbal victory.
I felt awful, as well I might. I had succumbed to the illusion that it was up to me to win arguments through my own cleverness in order that people might be saved. Now when you hear it said like that, it sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But that is how we are behaving if, in our efforts to make the gospel known, we allow others to manipulate us through our pride. No one was ever argued into God’s kingdom. We know that. Whenever anyone responds in faith to Jesus it is a work of the awesome grace of God by His Holy Spirit. I believe that, but why didn’t I remember it in the moment? It goes back to that issue of control and forgetting that we are always situated best when we submit fully to being in the hands of the Almighty and respond accordingly.
Right now we have a group of eager Jewish believers training at Moody Bible Institute in preparation for handing out gospel tracts on the streets of New York City next month. We will also be in Essen and Düsseldorf plus we have a special outreach in South Africa for the World Cup soccer matches. We will continue to encounter many who are antagonistic to our message. Some yell at us to belittle our faith while others merely push past with scowls of contempt. There is always a temptation either to be discouraged, or even to respond defensively to those who disparage our faith. But if we truly believe that God is in charge, we will entrust ourselves, our message and whatever fruit we hope to see to Him.
Thankfully, God is already working in the hearts of certain people, and while we can’t know who they are in our own strength, He wants to use us to help these people awake to the reality that they are in the palm of His hand. Let’s pray for those precious people He is calling to Himself. And let’s pray for our Jews for Jesus staff and volunteers; that each one has an overwhelming sense of his or her own dependence upon Providence and that they all might speak with boldness, not by their own strength but by His alone.
Likewise, I pray that each one of us, dear reader, will release all illusions of being in control. May we all find both rest and resolve in the fact that we are powerless in the palm of Providence, so that whatever challenges are bearing down upon us right this moment will be lifted through the limitless strength and power of our great God.