At the end of last summer I was connected with Youth for Christ Tonga as a place to serve during my gap year between high school and college. In December I was officially accepted to go to Tonga as an intern, and I began planning my trip and learning about disciple multiplication, the ministry they do there.
Then just in the past month I received news that because of some transitions of leadership in Tonga I cannot go there at all. This was such a hard blow for me to take.
I prepared for Tonga; I was ready to go live in the South Pacific and do a specific ministry there. It all seemed so set and so perfect.
But as I have been learning, “[God’s] thoughts are not [my] thoughts, neither are [my ways] ways [God’s] ways” (Isaiah 55:8).
I never would have chosen to go through any of this. It’s really hard for me to abandon a plan once I’ve already invested myself in it, so to hear that I couldn’t go to Tonga at all was tough. But although this has by far been one of the most challenging seasons of my life, I can already see how it is also becoming one of the most formative.
Initially I experienced a lot of anger toward God, which is something I have never felt before in my life. I was so mad at Him and I didn’t understand how a good, loving God would let His daughter become so invested in something and then just break her heart. I didn’t feel like I could even trust God anymore because I thought He was leading me to Tonga and then that didn’t work out. I experienced some of the strongest doubts in my life. I was so unsure of God’s character. Would a faithful God do something like this? If God is love, how could He let this happen? This does not feel like love.
But during my time of deepest doubt and anger, God gave me a vision:
Jesus was hanging on the cross, nails holding up his hands and his feet, and his neck curved forward, being pulled down by the weight of his head. He was covered in cuts and gashes with blood flowing down his side and a crown of thorns resting on his head. And there I was, at the foot of the cross of Christ. But instead of kneeling and worshipping the Savior, I was hitting Him and punching Him and yelling at Him. My hair was a mess, covered in dirt and full of knots. My face was red with anger and damp from the tears streaming down my face. I was so angry at Him.
But Jesus just kept hanging there. He didn’t tell me to stop hitting Him, to stop being angry. He didn’t defend himself, telling me why His is good and faithful and I am the fallen one who needs a Savior. He didn’t get upset with me. He just hung there and took all my punches.
And then as I was still in my anger, the hands of the Father reached down and wrapped me up. He held me and comforted me even though I was so angry at Him and His Son. He didn’t say any words, He just held me.
Never before in my life have a felt the Father’s love and mercy as fully as the night I had this vision. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was enough for me. It was enough for all my doubts, for the times when I can’t even say with full assurance that I believe in Christ. Even when I’m the one in the crowd yelling out to crucify Jesus, He still went to the cross for me, and is still holding me. Wow. What a good, good Father.
Through this journey God has been teaching me so much about faith and what it looks like to truly walk with Him. I have been faced with the question,
“Joanna, are you going to choose to trust me or trust yourself and your own plans?”.
The question is so simple, yet I’ve discovered that while the answer is equally as simple (yes or no), it requires everything from us. Choosing to “trust God” is easy when life is good and the plans we’ve made work out for us. But when everything you thought you knew is taken from you, choosing to trust God means surrendering your will to His will. It means letting go of any control you have over the plans you’ve made for your life and letting God be Lord over it all, allowing Him to change it all around if He so chooses.
I’ve learned that Christ truly is the only firm foundation. Instead of deciding to follow Him, but then making up my own plans about how to do that, I need to choose to follow Him and then seek Him above any plans. God is so much bigger than plans and His work is not held down by them.
Life with God is a journey, full of ups and downs, valleys and mountains. But through it all He is always the same. Our God never changes. He is good. He is loving. He is faithful. These things will never change; they will remain forever.