Stephen King’s 2011 novel, 11/22/63 tells the story of a man named Jake Epping, who has been shown a portal leading back in time to 1958. Jake is determined to use this portal to change the past, hoping to create a better future. What he quickly discovers, however, is that the past doesn’t much like to change. And the bigger the change Jake tries to make, the harder the anthropomorphized past fights back against the change.
This pushback takes many forms, from fallen trees in the road to flat tires on his car to illness and more. The hindrances only escalate as he attempts bigger and bigger changes. Jake’s mantra becomes, “The past is obdurate.” It stubbornly refuses to adjust to the changes Jake tries to make.
These sorts of constant, irritating, and debilitating slowdowns are familiar to anyone who has worked on the missions field. Living in another country and culture comes with unique challenges. I’ve heard many stories of missionaries arriving back on the field after a retreat or a stateside assignment, only to discover their house is flooded or to have a sudden sickness come down on their family.
And for those of us unseasoned missionaries still raising our support or newly on the field, we can feel overwhelmed and unprepared for these sorts of roadblocks. My wife’s and my first week of support-raising kicked off with me getting food poisoning from our first dinner appointment! Little did we know all the challenges we would eventually face through the next year as we prepared to move.
These sorts of hurdles feel constant, and they can be discouraging to your ministry. It can feel as though we are fighting hard even to do simple, mundane things – pushing hard against an obdurate force that’s unwilling to let us do what we are called to do.
But should this surprise us? We are well familiar with what Scripture has to say about our spiritual struggles. 1st Peter 5:8 reminds us: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Ephesians 6:12 also names what we are really up against: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Attacks on your marriage, on your family, or even you personally can feel overwhelming amidst the stresses that engulf your life. Discouraging appointments, wasted efforts, and unsupportive friends or family can make you question your calling. Days, weeks, or months without visible progress in your mission can make you question your faith.
We have been in France now for just under two months, and we have already felt our fair share of discouragement and resistance. We have heard one phrase repeated to us often: “It is not possible.” Whether we are trying to get a bank account, find an apartment, sign up for renters’ insurance, or just purchase a new cell phone SIM card, this sentence seems to slip its way into our interactions on a regular basis. Again and again, we are told, “It is not possible.”
And there is truth to these words. It isn’t possible. Nothing we are called to do we are able to do ourselves. But we are not called into a hopeless fight. Despite our weakness, we are not called to struggle with no hope of victory.
Those same Scripture passages from above tell us of that hope:
1st Peter 5:9 encourages us: Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
And Ephesians 6:10-11 reminds us where our power comes from: Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
So, be encouraged, whatever your struggle today may be. Whether flood, disease, discouragement, violence, lack of progress, disharmony, or even nagging cultural stresses, the Lord has already claimed the ultimate victory.