John Allen Chau was killed last November on North Sentinel Island, a remote speck of land in the Indian Sea. The native people, known as the Sentineles, are considered to be perhaps the most isolated in the world. The island had been officially declared off limits by the Indian government in order to: fulfill the tribe’s wishes for privacy; preserve their unique culture; protect them against outside diseases which could easy kill them.
Against the advice of most missionary agencies and without the specific permission of All Nations Family which was sponsoring him, Chau paid a pilot to illegally fly him to the island so he could make illegal contact. His body cannot be recovered.
I remember when it happened. I recall hearing various Christian factions calling him a martyr. I recall that most did not.
In the end, it was not only an illegal act but a selfish one, particularly in light of the danger of the inhabitants dying because of their low immunity.
So he could tell them about Jesus.
They still haven’t heard.
It reminded me of the popular story that has made the rounds in church circles about Jim Elliot, one of five missionary men killed in a 1956 attempt to take the gospel to the unreached Auca natives in east Ecuador.
Jim is remembered for the quote, ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’ The problem is that their deaths may very well have been needless. The men had ignored the lessons of previous men who had been killed and they entered the territory in secrecy because they were concerned another agency (Wycliffe Bible Translators) would get credit.
What’s more, even though they were doing this for God, there was also a sense of adventure that seemed to be part of the story. One of the men, Nate Saint wrote that their project ‘…brought new life into missionary work … high adventure, as unreal as any successful novel.’
So these were men hoping to do God’s will but who rushed forward with pre-determined priorities: adventure, notoriety and faith all in one dangerous package. His wife Elisabeth would later tell the story of that event and the successful contact which happened years later by she and three other women.
So how were the families of these five men able to be successful in the very same venture? Well, they moved forward wisely, credibly, not to accomplish or conquer but to love. They didn’t rely on courage or miracles to do the job. Instead they took years to pre-learn the language so they could communicate clearly while they began to patiently leave gifts at the edge of the jungle to encourage good will and initiate friendship.
Elisabeth would later look back wryly, ‘For those who saw it as a great Christian martyr story, the outcome was beautifully predictable. All puzzles would be solved. God would vindicate Himself. Aucas would be converted and we could all ‘feel good’ about our faith.’
However that was not what actually happened as she explained, ‘The truth is that not by any means did all subsequent events work out as hoped. There were negative effects of the missionaries’ entrance into Auca territory. There were arguments and misunderstandings and a few really terrible things, along with the answers to prayer.’
This is not a judgement of the people involved in these complex stories but I simply want us to pause and reflect. Have you ever known a Christian person who just seemed to be trying too hard? Do we sometimes imagine what God wants and walk right past his real will? Do we try to be good for all the wrong reasons?
That was Naaman’s problem in the following bible story. He had faith in the Jewish God but he also had a predetermined idea of how it should all go down. He wanted it to happen in some sort of grandiose way that made sense to him but God and Elisha thought differently.
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The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.
At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid.One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”
So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said.“Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothing.The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”
When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”
But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”
So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house.But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”
But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me!Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.
But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’”So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed! – 2 Kings 5:1-14 (NLT) (from today’s Lectionary readings)
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We love big answers from God. That’s why faith healers can still make a good living even though they can’t show actual, verifiable healings. Oddly, God prefers the mundane.
I have talked to people who prayed for healing and they proclaimed it happened miraculously. However when I began to ask for more of the story I would discover that the healing didn’t last (!?) or a new issue developed (!?) or the doctors thought it was the medication (‘but we know better’), or the person died six months later of something else…
It is possible to believe – really, truly believe – we are doing God’s will by convincing ourselves that we are doing God’s will. It is actually just a sanitized version of our own will.
What about that workaholic pastor who plants and successfully grows a megachurch? What are his deepest motivations? God’s kingdom or a religious empire? The two are perilously close to each other – often indistinguishable. I’ve known lots of leaders who eventually burned out or sacrificed their integrity or marriage or children or all the above while convincing themselves it was for God.
How about the young person who prays early every morning with the elders and goes on regular missionary trips and gives every waking moment to their church – but struggles with something so mundane as completing a task at their place of employment?
What about the person who still resents their strict childhood and continues to chafe at their upbringing? They have all kinds of justification as to why they’re angry but what does endless finger-pointing accomplish? Usually there are complex solutions offered when mostly grace is needed.
How common is it for you to ask for help but with your own pre-determined answers? Do you pray for healing or to get out of trouble or to make big decisions? Are we actually asking for God’s absolute will to be done or for ours to be done?
That’s why it is important to cultivate good practices of patience, quiet listening, and shared wisdom with people we trust.
Yeah, it’s risky for us to force our version of God’s will – doesn’t work that way. Instead maybe we should just pour out our hearts and say, ‘What ever happens, God be with me’.