For the past few weeks, I have been living in the midst of tiny villages and a cacophony of bugs and chickens in Uganda. We have spent full and happy days visiting people who live in great poverty but have joyously welcomed us into their simple homes. By the reactions of my friends and family, it would be easy to believe that I am some sort of a sacrificial hero for coming here, even for a few months. But I know the truth, that I am a very flawed person and not a hero. The truth is that I can walk by a mud hut with children in rags and be thinking about whether I am going to get a shower that night. Or as I interact with Ugandans I can be more concerned about whether I am going to get sick rather than reaching out and showing love.

Need God to Change Me

We rarely verbalize our grandiose thoughts that we want to single-handedly change the world, but we often subtly think that we are the key to bringing everyone to Jesus and solving hunger, poverty, and racism quickly and easily. For the past several years, I have watched many students attend conferences and short-term mission trips, then come home fired up and ready to go give everything they have for the sake of the gospel. It is always encouraging to hear what God does during these experiences, particularly as someone discovers a new passion or gift. But as time goes on, it is not long before I hear the difficulties, often with a tone of surprise. “This is much harder than I ever thought it could be. My team had constant conflict. I am not the leader I thought I was. These people are not changing or growing like they should be.” What is the disconnect between our ideas and the reality of missions and ministry? A huge part of our problem is disordered expectations. We expect that our ideas and training will bring instant revolution. We expect to deal with other people’s problems, not our own. We expect to be the agent of change, not the object in need of change. When we have eyes to see, we learn that ministry reveals more sin and weaknesses in us than we ever dreamed possible. God uses these situations to expose our own selfishness and show us how strongly we hold onto our preferences. When working with people we often learn that we do not always listen well, we do not understand everything, and we are not the solution we think we are. Most importantly, we learn we are not the savior people need.

Needing Change Is Not Glamorous 

However, being the one who needs transformation is not quite so glamorous as being the ministry visionary. It makes for less thrilling tales, and it requires much more honesty and humility on our part. We often overlook how we need the same supernatural work of God that we ask for him to accomplish in others. It is still his Spirit who causes our dead hearts to come alive, turns us from destructive patterns to true life, and transforms our minds. If we enter service expecting to be changed first, we will be much better equipped for the journey. If we are prepared to ask forgiveness from the people we are trying to serve, we will actually learn to show someone Christ, because we believe we need him too.  If we begin by praying that God would use these experiences to rescue us from ourselves, rather than being the rescuer, then we will learn to see his grace in our weakness. If we daily meditate on these principles, we are freed to get out of the way and actually see God work. We are freed from insisting that our agenda, strategy, and timeline is perfect and instead begin to see what he is doing, not only in the world, but also in our own hearts. We are freed from the need to draw attention to ourselves and instead acknowledge God at work. “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6a).