“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” -Jim Elliot
If you had known me at all in my younger years, you would know that I prized familiarity, preferred the comfort of home, and was generally opposed to change. Even into high school this was true, but it was also around this time where I began saying “yes” to things I had never planned on. I began to go on every retreat offered by church’s high school youth group; I went on two back-woods backpacking retreats with the youth group; and, I spent a week in downtown Grand Rapids on a retreat and mission trip.
Each of these experiences involved places I had never been, things I had never done, people I didn’t know, and a great deal of change. But, though new is always challenging, and change always means letting some things go, it was all worth it because I always met God. On each retreat I experienced more of the story of God and the goodness of his will. With each week spent in the woods I experienced more of the stillness of relationship with God and the joy of walking in bravery. With a week devoted to Scripture and mission, I experienced the joy of following Jesus and the abundance of a life surrendered. Each of these experiences allowed me to taste and see more of who God is, and I left each experience desiring more of God. This led me, after my graduation from high school in 2014, to attend a gap-year program with the Bridge Street House of Prayer in downtown Grand Rapids. As part of this missions and discipleship school, I lived in community and worked in ministry on the west side for six months and spent two months serving a ministry in Guatemala. In the deep ways that God met me, the abundant (and exciting) blessing that he daily poured into my life, and the intense growth that I underwent, this experience was certainly what you would call a “mountain-top” experience; but it was more than that too. The time spent intentionally immersing myself in God and his story made me hungrier for him. I understood what David wrote in psalm 42 about panting for God "like a deer pants for streams of water." In all that I tasted and saw, I had come to know that "earth has nothing I desire besides God" (psalm 73), and I was set on seeking God for two, much more mundane, years as a student at Calvin College.
The next more mundane two years set me earnestly seeking God as a student at Calvin College. These years, also brought newness and change. They weren’t as exciting so it was often harder to say “yes,” but, again, when I did say yes to God, I wasn’t disappointed. I experienced much of the deep patience of God and the daily reality of his lavish love, I experienced the peace of his kingdom in opposition to the anxious pace of this world’s kingdom.
I experienced the mercy and grace of new chances to say “yes” when I said “no” just moments before.
One of these mercifully new, and very graciously unexpected chances came this past spring as an opportunity to go to Hong Kong for five weeks to do missional teaching. I said “yes,” and this July I was on a plane to the other side of the world to face the most difficult and lonely change and newness yet. But, I don’t regret it because I was also going to experience more of the reality of God and his unfolding story. I experienced intimacy with God when I felt unknown by new people and a foreign culture. I experienced the power of the Spirit to bring strength in weakness and to open doors to share the gospel in relationships that were only a week old. I experienced more of the sacrificial love of Christ in the small sacrifices I made that felt enormous to me.
This trip to Hong Kong, more than anything I’ve done before, felt like dying to myself. I almost said “no” to this experience. I could have, and that would have been okay. I believe God would have been faithful to meet me where I was because it is in his character to be so faithful. No, I didn’t feel like this trip was a demand God had made of me or that he had required me to say “yes” to it in order to earn something. I sensed that this was an invitation that God hoped I wouldn’t ignore, even though it wasn’t comfortable. But, each offer of new experiences and opportunity that God gives to say “yes” means saying “yes” to dying to self, to comfort, familiarity, and personal plans. God’s invitation is a call to come and die…but only so that we may live truly and abundantly. God’s goodness and faithfulness in each experience following a “yes” has shown me that this is true.
This story may seem to center on me and my adventures in missions and spiritual growth, but I believe that each of these experiences were freely given to me that I may freely give of the testimony that comes from them. I hope that my story speaks loudly of the goodness of God’s will and that it points in the direction of following Jesus. I pray that you may see the places in your life, in something crazy or something mundane, where God is extending an invitation to come and die, to come and live, to come and experience more of the reality of the never-ending goodness of God, his will, his story, his kingdom.
by Meagan Sloterbeek