Amy never would have dreamed God would choose her to do something great. The shy lassie, born the oldest in a family of seven, grew up in beautiful Northern Ireland, but not without pain. She and her siblings lost their daddy when they were young, leaving the family virtually destitute. Eventually she was adopted by another family who had the means to clothe and feed her.
She saw herself as “a little, ugly, shy girl.” In fact, she felt so unattractive while growing up that shunned having her picture taken. As a teenager, she was diagnosed with a degenerative nerve disease that stayed with her the rest of her years. Ultimately that disease led to a serious struggle with arthritis, a battle she would fight the rest of her life.
Then something happened that changed her entire life. At the age of twenty, Amy was attending a Keswick Convention in England, listening to a man named Hudson Taylor share the story of his mission work in China. The year was 1888. The great missionary statesman told of what God had been doing in China and what he anticipated God would do in the future. He mentioned several times how good God was to choose him, of all people, from among the outcasts of England. By God’s grace, he had learned another language and blended into a culture far different from his own.
Amy sat there thinking, What if God could use me to do something such as this? And from that moment, God began to do something great through the shy, retiring Irish girl. After a chain of events sovereignly orchestrated by her gracious God, Amy wound up at the southern tip of India, only a few miles from the ocean. She spent the next fifty-six years as a missionary in that faraway place. Her calling was to invest in the lives of young boys and girls caught in the grip of human trafficking. They were part of the horrifying slave trade that ravaged the lives of innocent, unsuspecting children.
In those days, the trafficking was done under the guise of religion. Young girls were required to “service” the Hindu priests and those who worshiped with them. Their bodies were used, and in the process, their spirits were broken. Boys and girls alike became helpless victims. Amy’s heart went out to these broken little lives, and she invested the remainder of her years reaching out to them with the love of Christ as she freed them from prostitution.
Before her death, Amy rescued and ministered to more than a thousand victims. The Irish woman was Amy Carmichael, who ended up publishing thirty-five books. At her request, not one originally bore her name. In fact before she died, she made certain that her name would never be etched in granite.
Instead the children she had rescued, now adults, placed a birdbath over her grave which remains unmarked today. It seems appropriate: an unmarked grave over a woman who was virtually unknown in her day. That is, until you read her words and discover that they are filled with profoundly impactful statements:
From pray’r that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From falt’ring when I should climb high’r,
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.
From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
(Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified),
From all that dims Thy Calvary,
O Lamb of God, deliver me.
Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire,
Let me not sink to be a clod:
Make me Thy fuel, O flame of God.1
What makes Amy Carmichael’s words so magnificent is that many who read them likewise view themselves as little more than worthless “clods.” Somewhere along the way, perhaps you have systematically talked yourself out of anything great God may wish to do through you. Maybe it’s because you feel woefully inadequate or you lack training. Perhaps you’re shy and entertain thoughts of being completely insignificant.
You look at yourself in the mirror and ask, How could God ever choose somebody like me? I mean, it would be unlikely for God to notice me, to say nothing of using me greatly. I’m simply not qualified.
Be honest, now . . . does that sound like you? Every time you look in the mirror, do you talk yourself out of something great God wants to do? But what if God has other plans? What if He wants to choose you to do something great? Are you willing? Would you respond in faith, or run in the other direction?
If you think you’d shrink from such a call, then welcome to the club! You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in company with one of the greatest individuals God ever chose to use greatly.
This man’s name was Moses.
One Day . . . God Steps
In Originally, Moses was an unlikely prospect for the Leadership Hall of Fame. The good news is that God doesn’t search through the Hall of Fame to find candidates for greatness. God often
starts with losers. Washouts. Those with broken lives and downtrodden spirits. That’s where Moses found himself the day he became aware of God’s plan to use him to deliver His people, the Hebrews, from bondage in Egypt.
Upon first realizing God’s call on his life, he rolled up his sleeves and took matters into his own hands. The scene is sketched for us in Exodus, the Old Testament book that chronicles the epic story of God’s deliverance. Travel back with me to Egypt, where Moses grew up as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
He is forty years old as the story unfolds in Exodus 2:
When Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand. (Exod 2:11–12, nlt)
That’s Moses acting in the flesh. Taking matters into his own hands, he rushes ahead of God and makes a mess of everything. To make matters worse, he is guilty of murder. Once he’s found out by Pharaoh, he winds up a fugitive in the Midian desert.
The story continues with Moses, a guilty, broken man, sitting by a well in the desert. There he meets a young woman, who leads him to her home. Ultimately, he marries one of the daughters of the priest of Midian. He spends the next forty years of his life tending his father-in-law’s sheep, obscure and forgotten, living like a Bedouin shepherd.
Now Moses is eighty years old. He sees himself as finished, never imagining that God still has a plan for his life. There he is, a leather-skinned old man, stuck in the remote desert of Midian, an arid, dreadful place. He’s no doubt convinced the desert will be his final resting place. Nothing significant lies ahead. Until one day . . .
On that epochal day, everything changes for Moses. It begins just like any other day. He returns to his monotonous routine, much like you do when you sit down at your computer or go to work in your shop. Or when you’re fixing supper for your family. Or when you’re boarding a plane to take the next leg of a business trip. Same song, forty-first verse. Until one day…God steps on the scene.
This is a good place for me to pause and point out three common mistakes people make when attempting to take life into their own hands, just like Moses did when he was a proud prince of Egypt.
We Run Before We’re Sent
There are times when we allow the intensity of our vision to shove us prematurely into our own agenda. Moses felt the need to act and begin the process of delivering God’s people from oppression. Yet that’s not what God was leading him to do. He ran ahead before he was sent. The result was an impulsive act that led to a colossal disaster.
We Retreat After We’ve Failed
After we’ve blown it, our tendency is to retreat. We start to lick our wounds. We know we’ve made a mess of our lives, so our insecurity bursts into full bloom. In our insecurity, we begin our retreat. It’s in those times we begin to doubt God could ever use us again. Better stated, we become convinced He won’t. Whether you’ve served time in prison, gone through a divorce, or committed an act of unfaithfulness in your marriage, your shame may lead you to believe the chance for God to use you is over. Regardless of the reason for your insecurity, it may lead you to retreat after you’ve failed.
We Resist When We’re Called
As was the case for Moses, God has a way of stepping in and surprising us. In His grace, He chooses to use us after we’ve failed. God may be speaking into your situation at a time when you feel most unprepared or wholly inadequate. Perhaps you feel that way because of your age—you’re either too young or too old. Or maybe you struggle with a physical disability or you battle depression or you have a dark period in your past that you’re ashamed of. You’ll do anything in your power to keep all that from being exposed. Whatever the cause, those feelings of inferiority block your ability to hear God’s voice. So you resist because of inferiority.
Moses sat stalled in the desert for forty years, tending the same flock of smelly sheep. His skin was brown from the sun, thickened by the wind, and hardened from the continual blast of desert sand. His attitude matched the chafed exterior of his sun-beaten brow. Alone, washed up, out to pasture, long past his prime. An eighty-year-old has-been.
Yet that’s when his real story begins . . .
As I mentioned earlier, it was like any other day. There was no angelic skywriting: “Pay attention, Moses! God will show up and speak today. Watch out for burning bushes—God is in the flame!” Nope, none of that. Moses hadn’t been warned the night before in a dream. Instead, the sun rose that morning just like it had for the past forty years of his life in the desert. Another sunrise, another hot blast of the scorching desert wind. Then, suddenly, something happened that captured his attention:
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.” (Exod 3:1–3, nlt)
In that unexpected moment, God stepped in. That’s how it works. God doesn’t make preannouncements. He doesn’t shout at us from some divine pinnacle. He uses “one day” moments to say, in effect, “Hey! Are you there? Are you listening?”
That’s His way.
1. Richard H. Schmidt, God Seekers: Twenty Centuries of Christian Spiritualities (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 268.
Some content taken from WHAT IF … GOD HAS OTHER PLANS? by Charles R. Swindoll. Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved. (Available for purchase at tyndale.com.)