COVID-19 has crushed my plans. The virus has no respect for how much time, effort, or money was involved in making those plans. Like King Kong smashing his way through New York, this virus has indiscriminately knocked down even my most impressive monuments. What I thought was invincible has proven to be built upon the unsteady foundation of human control. Only the plans of God have remained firm as they are rooted in His eternal, unchangeable, unshakable will.
Accepting these changes has challenged my faith. Is God truly in control? Why is He letting this happen? I don’t have the answers. My goal-oriented culture has bred in me a can-do, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. It has brought me far in life, but it’s utterly useless to me now. As a missionary in Tanzania, however, the culture here has a lot to teach me about living through this pandemic with my faith intact.
My Tanzanian friends often utter the phrase, Mungu akipenda, which means, “If God wishes.” This statement is usually a preface to discussing dreams or a postscript after describing plans. The wisdom of these words is echoed in the Bible. James says that it’s foolish to make grand proclamations of what we will do in the future. He jostles us out of our boasting by saying, “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14, NIV).1 So, with every plan we make, we should remind ourselves that God is in control by saying, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (verse 15).
The second lesson I’ve learned from Tanzanian culture has come through my daily experiences here. Every day reinforces the fact that I am dependent on forces outside my control. If it doesn’t rain, then I have to go to the river to get water. It doesn’t matter what I wanted to do; my dry mouth insists that I fetch water. Or sometimes my milk-delivery woman will arrive empty-handed because the cow didn’t give milk that day. It doesn’t matter that I planned to make biscuits; I’ll just have to figure out something else to make. And so on and so forth, with power and Internet outages, mice and mold invasions, and many other daily reminders that I’m ultimately not in control.
Surrendering Plans to God
Living in Tanzania is teaching me to surrender my plans to God and to accept that I am utterly dependent on forces outside my control. As I’ve been wrestling with these truths, my husband suggested that I read Eugene Peterson’s book Answering God. It contains a short meditation to do each night before you go to bed. Following this prayer practice has become my daily reminder that God is in control, and I must submit my plans to Him.
The practice is based on Psalm 4:5: “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (ESV).2 I start by thinking through the previous 24 hours. Then I mentally place each person I saw, activity I did, and plan that I made on the altar. This is my right sacrifice to God. After working hard all day, I entrust everything to God’s care through the night. I fall asleep knowing that today’s occurrences and tomorrow’s plans are firmly in God’s hands.
So no matter if King Kong himself returns overnight, I can rest peacefully knowing that God is in control.
1 Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright ã 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.