A horrible realization came to my mind. God drew my attention to something I needed to discuss with Him – as soon as possible. I had to wait, though, until everyone else finished telling stories after dinner. I let my hair fall in front of my face so I could hide behind it. Our mission leader in Tanzania had separated us into teams of four and sent each team to a remote village to aid churches planted the previous year. The teams reconvened at dinner to discuss what happened. The daily recap included reports of how many locals professed new faith in Christ, celebrations of God’s work, and personal anecdotes of insecurities or difficulties. I pulled my hands inside my sleeves to hide myself a little more. In my mind, I ran away to deal with my sin. I feared I might miss my chance if I waited too long and conviction faded.
Finally, back in my room a little later, I cried out to God. The issue with my thoughts pre-dated the mission work but somehow it metastasized in Tanzania. I wanted to have a cool ministry story, like praying over people and watching them be healed, or casting out demons, or seeing the conversion of a witch doctor who would persuade the whole village to follow Christ. I imagined people thinking of me as someone special or important. Maybe they would envy me and my stories, and I would feel good about that. I could label my sinful thoughts as pride or selfish ambition, but God showed me something more frightening: I sought glory that belongs to God alone. Tears leaked out and ran down my face and neck. I muffled my weeping to avoid anyone overhearing and checking on me. I begged God to take away those thoughts, but foolish fantasies crept back in. I cried and prayed until I finally fell asleep. My face felt sticky in the morning from the tears. My gut hurt, but I went out to the villages anyway. A friend gave me some Pepto-Bismol tablets to ease my queasy stomach. Others said I looked pale.
Physically ill, I spent the next two days aching alone in my room while the teams worked. I could barely stand up on the first day. I tried to go back out on the second, but the pastor told me to stay in the room and pray for the teams. I love to pray, but on that day the assignment felt like a cop-out. I hated that I traveled from the other side of the world to do something I could have done from home. I wanted to pity myself, but I knew better. I reluctantly but obediently accepted my assignment. As I prayed over my team members one by one, I realized I knew them well. Each night after dinner they divulged their excitement, anxieties, struggles, and questions. I could pray specifically for needs unknown to others. So I did.
I rejoined the group the next day and confessed my shameful thoughts to my Pepto-giving friend. She tried to console me. “Everyone thinks that way sometimes,” she said.
Even so, I knew God wanted to rid me of a sin that interfered with my ability to minister. Sometimes we must put our good intentions aside and look at the ugliness of sin even when it means not letting our friends off easily. Sin crouches and waits to devour (Gen 4:7). We must overcome it.
It took a few weeks to get over my disappointment for what I missed on those two days. I reminded myself that God did still use me. I had prayed with several people who turned to Christ in the days before I was sick. In my pride, I minimized those experiences as I was looking for more extravagant ones. I clung to songs on my iPad for the remainder of the trip. I started with the song “To God Alone be the Glory” and let the music run to the end of the playlist as I fell asleep each night. When I look back, I thank God for those painful days. His examination and scouring of my heart (Psalm 139:23-24) made me dangerous to the adversary. Two years later, I stand more fully equipped to fight in the battle. God has opened multiple doors of opportunity for me in ministry since then. The wall of my sin had to come down first. My newfound disgust for my old way of thinking motivates me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2). Because of God’s convicting work on my heart, I don’t have the same degree of struggle as before. If narcissism and grandiosity try to sneak in, however, I redirect my thoughts toward the Latin phrase soli Deo Gloria — glory to God alone.