I strode into the room, confident that I could work with whoever I would meet. No one could stop me. Then, I entered the church. And froze. For a long minute or two, my disappointment and confusion grew. None of my confident expectations were met there. As my shoulders slumped with dejection, I walked in ready for what I knew would be the worst weeks of my life.
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This past summer, I received the opportunity to go on a mission trip to reach out to a Native American reservation. I was really excited for my first official mission trip! However, as I started preparing for the trip and met my fellow missionaries I was sadly disappointed. I thought that I would connect instantly with the people there but that didn’t happen. I was going with a church where I was one of the few people who wasn’t of the same ethnicity as everyone else there and I didn’t know any of them before the trip. This made me feel extremely uncomfortable and left out when they discussed their ethnic practices and culture. That mission trip was rough mainly because of my relationship with everyone else on the team.
Now, as I think back to that situation, it reminds of a very similar situation in the Bible.
THE TOWER OF BABEL
The story is simple. Mankind decides that they are better than God. They then decide to build a tall tower to reach up to the “heavens”. God looks down at them and sees how prideful they have become and decides to stop their foolhardy attempt. He just confuses their language.
God was using that situation for a lot of purposes. He used languages to humble the proud. One day they are confident that they can build this tall tower. Then the next day, they are so aware of how small they are. That is the power of God and of languages and cultures.
I love different cultures. They are really quite interesting to learn about and experience. But, being the only one who is of your own culture is difficult. I felt that difficulty keenly in my mission trip.
It was so humbling to not understand the person next to me talking. However, God used this in Genesis to humble those proud people and he used it to humble me.
I didn’t understand that it is only when I realize my own littleness that I can move on to have joy through gratefulness.
Why gratefulness? In a world filled with sadness, death, and busyness, there seems to be no room for gratefulness. In the Bible, following the account of the Tower in Genesis 11, there is a beautiful argument for gratefulness: Abram.
Abram travels and makes a lot of other foolish mistakes for being too prideful to trust in God (see Carolyn’s article on Trust) but, he still is someone God makes a covenant with that eventually leads to Jesus. Why? Abram understands something important because of God’s work in his life. Abram understands the meaning of gratefulness. Abram shows this by making altars for God.
The idea behind an altar is burning something to show your gratefulness to God. Abram does this at every moment when he sees God work in his life, even if he is in an uncomfortable situation with a foreign culture like the Egyptians or in a life and death situation with the land around him. God even later calls Abram to give his son up at an altar and Abram is ready. That is true gratefulness.
God wants us to give ourselves as altars today. In fact, in Romans 12:1, Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” [ESV] This is not easy. However, with gratefulness in our hearts, this will automatically flow out in our lives.
On my mission trip, everything changed in the last couple of days. One of the pastors there talked about how everyone should be grateful just for the opportunity to be there. And then, something just clicked way deep down in my heart. I should have been grateful for everything, including how God was using the trip. In the end, that experience was by far one of the most humbling and beneficial experiences of my life.
In this Thanksgiving season, maybe you are talking with a friend about your upcoming Thanksgiving plans. Or maybe, someone asks you what you like about Thanksgiving. You can defend your faith by sharing the beauty of gratefulness that God gives you. As counter-cultural as that truth is, it will shake their faith and be a powerful witness to them.
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