In my last post, I reflected on our new status as refugees from Ukraine. I talked about some of the ways that God had prepared me for this crisis and was helping me process this new reality. The processing continues. We have not given up on the hope that we may be able to return to Ukraine and resume our ministry there. But we are seeking to deal with the possibility that we may not. Today, I want to reflect on what has sustained me through this time of crisis, even when the future is so uncertain, and answers to my questions seem so far away. How do I feed my soul when God does not seem to answer our prayers?
A personal crisis
Without a doubt, what all of us see depicted on the news is far more catastrophic than my personal crisis. Yet the possibility that our cross-cultural life and ministry may have come to an end on January 30 has created a significant amount of stress and anxiety within me. As many of you know, my wife and I have made Kyiv, Ukraine our home and base of ministry since 2009. In order to facilitate a training program for new missionaries, we traveled to North America at the end of January. We had planned to be in North America for about 10 weeks, with return tickets booked for a few days after the completion of the training program.
But the day I opened the online course was also the day that Russia began its “special military operation” in Ukraine. One of the first residential buildings in our city to be hit in the conflict was about 200 meters from our apartment building. Since then, most of our friends and all of our missionary colleagues have left Ukraine or at least evacuated out of Kyiv.
Dealing with many questions
We pray daily for peace to be restored in Ukraine and for the safety and protection of friends that remain in Kyiv or in that country. When will the conflict end? Will we ever be able to return to our home? Where will we live if we are not able to return? We are currently staying with relatives in Canada but know that this is not a long-term solution.
How does God’s calling on my life to develop leaders intersect with the need of the refugees pouring out of Ukraine? I know so little about working with refugees. I am still struggling to understand what it means for me to be a refugee. How can I train others to work with them?
Impact on my personal walk with God
Unquestionably, this upheaval and unsettledness has impacted my own personal walk with the Lord. Over the years, I have taught and written much about the importance of learning to feed your soul. I wrote the following in a blog post 8 years ago.
So missionaries must learn to feed themselves if they are to remain strong spiritually. They are on the front lines of a spiritual battle, dealing with stress and loneliness in ways that they never encountered back home. To remain vibrant Christians, reflecting the truth of the Gospel in their daily lives, they must have spiritual nourishment on a regular basis.Who feeds the Missionaries spiritually?
Self-feeding is still important
So how does this advice work for missionary refugees back in their sending country? Yes, we are now able to attend worship services and prayer meetings in our sending church. We are thankful for that. Nevertheless, those who best understand what it is like to be a cross-cultural missionary and a refugee are thousands of kilometers away. They are scattered across many different countries in Europe and North America. Sermons addressing issues and needs in my local church in Saskatchewan do not speak to the questions and fears that I deal with on a daily basis. So, feeding my soul myself is still vitally important.
An anchor in a time of crisis
Thankfully, I have found my personal time in the Word each morning to be an ongoing source of refreshment. Currently, it is one of my most important anchors in this time of crisis.
So many of our routines have been disrupted and they may remain disrupted for a very long time. The future is filled with questions and uncertainties. But just as in Kyiv, I get up every morning, knowing the first thing I am going to do after I make some coffee is to spend time in the Word. I will sit down and read a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the Gospels and a third passage from another part of the New Testament. Then I will reflect on what God is saying to me and do some Bible journaling.
This is a routine that has stayed the same. I am finding it absolutely essential to maintain my peace of mind and keep my soul happy in the Lord.
George Müller’s food for the inner man
George Müller wrote the following about his own spiritual practices.
The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.…
And yet now, since God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as anything, that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is to obtain food for his inner man...
Now what is the food for the inner man: not prayer, but the Word of God and here again not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts. . . .
I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual profit and refreshment I am conscious of having derived from it myself and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow-believers to ponder this matter. By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had from God to pass in peace through deeper trials in various ways than I had ever had before; and after having now above forty years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it. How different when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials and the temptations of the day come upon one!How George Müller Started His Day1. Excerpt from Autobiography of George Müller, comp. Fred Bergen, 152-4. 2quoted in Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John PipeR,3 155-7
A long-established habit
I am glad that I formed this daily habit long before this crisis began. Again, this has been evidence of God’s grace and preparation in my life. And yes, I am finding that my soul is happy in the Lord after my time meditating on the Word. But I also find that this happiness leaks. Life and the stress of this present crisis continue to drain my soul. I need a recharge each morning. But because feeding my soul with time in the Word each morning is a deeply-engrained habit, I can face the world with a fresh joy each day.
Struggling to pray
But not every habit or spiritual discipline has stayed the same. As I am processing both our own personal losses and the devastating impact on our friends and colleagues from Ukraine, my prayer life has struggled. I did not expect that this would be the case. It is not that I don’t have time to pray. I am still taking long prayer walks every afternoon just as I did in Kyiv. Obviously, I have much to pray about! But I am finding it hard to concentrate when I want to say something to God. I don’t have words to express what I feel. My mind races. But some days, little of what I am saying feels like it is making its way to heaven’s throne of mercy.
Here, reading psalms of lament from Scripture has been helpful. Psalm 94 was particularly meaningful when I read it a few days ago. Yesterday, I just started the YouBible app and just let the Psalmists lead me in prayer. I listened to about 15 psalms in succession, finding that their cries for God to intervene mirrored my own heart. Friends have shared that liturgical prayers can help when we struggle to find our own words. Similarly, I have found the guided prayers on the Lectio Devina 365 app have helped to center my thoughts on God.
God still speaks
But it is deeply reassuring that God still speaks to me through his Word in this time of crisis. Unlike me, God is never at a loss for words. When I don’t know what to say, I can just sit and listen to him. Familiar passages come alive with new applications as I connect what I am reading with our current situation. He is feeding my soul.
There is a crisis in Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians and Russians are crying out to God at this time. Nevertheless, God has time for me and my personal crisis. When I have something to say, God is there, ready to listen. But when I don’t have words, he gently leads me to his Word and feeds my soul. He never dismisses my pain or tells me to wait until after he addressed more urgent needs. He speaks to my soul now, not with a map of the future, but with refreshment and hope for today. I don’t have to come up with a new perspective on this crisis on my own. God’s Word provides that new perspective. His food for my soul does satisfy, even in a time of crisis.