Gateway Summer 2012My family joined the m/v Africa Mercy in the Canary Islands in August-2012, about a week before the sail to start the new 10-month field service to the Republic of Guinea.  We moved into our cabin and got settled into our new jobs and school for the kids.  After a six-day sail to Guinea, we were approaching the port at Conakry, and everyone was out on the upper decks, cheering, celebrating, waving Guinea flags, and listening to the marching band that was heralding our ship’s arrival on the dock.

Caroline GuineaThis was my very first Mercy Ships arrival ceremony; I should have been out on Deck 7 of the ship with everyone else, cheering and taking pictures and relishing in the excitement of the beginning of a new field service…  Instead, I was sat in my office, down on Deck 5, with the door shut, experiencing a significant spiritual assault on my thinking.

A spiral of vitriolic thoughts was swirling downward in my mind: “What am I doing here?  Why did You send ME, God?  I’m not fit for this work.  You’ve made a mistake.  You chose the wrong guy.  I shouldn’t be here.  I’m going to fail at this.  I’m going to let you down.  I’m going to let the Crew down.  I don’t belong here.  I’m a liability to this organization.  I’ll jeopardize our mission here in Guinea…”

Now, I’ve had these kinds of spiritual attacks on my thinking before, but this was an especially strong one.  It went on for about 2 hours, and I missed most of our arrival into Guinea.

The enemy was attacking my purpose, in addition to using malicious deception to attack my sense of worth and being in Christ.  I and my family were called to serve in this place; there’s no mistake about it.  We counted 17 clear, distinct, unmistakable instances over the span of about 10 months where God supernaturally confirmed His call on our lives to join Mercy Ships.

But when stress hits, or a project fails, or a conflict arises, one of the first things to be subjected to scrutiny is our purpose: “What are WE doing here?  Who do we think we are?  How can God possibly use us in a place like this?  We’ve tricked ourselves into thinking we are something that we are not…”  This is the spiral of deceptive thinking that comes in when we experience stress, failure, and conflict in the service of God’s Kingdom.

In the previous post, I posed two simple questions: Why did Jesus come to the place and time He did?  And why did He choose the disciples that He did?  To approach an answer, I suggested that our divine placement, our sense of purpose in the hands of Almighty God – both in terms of timing and location – are not arbitrary or accidental.  There is a divine intentionality to it.

And even if our circumstances were not God’s ideal for us, whether because of tragedy or injustice or poor choices or bad timing, He still has a way of redeeming them all, making the most of them, even working in us through them.

Joseph in prisonConsider the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis: betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, wrongly accused of a capital offense, and sentenced to waste away in prison…  Yet God used every circumstance for His glory, leveraging each instance of Joseph’s placement and timing in eternally significant ways.

This is encouraging, and it gives us hope when things look grim.  Or boring.  Or our expectations are not met.  Or we come under spiritual attack.

But the reality of God’s sovereignty and trustworthiness will not keep us from doubting.  It will not immunize us to spiritual attacks on our thoughts and emotions.  Even if we are in the middle of God’s perfect timing and placement, we can still suffer episodes of poisonous thoughts and feelings that seem to spiral out of our control.

God’s Spirit offers us many avenues for escaping such a spiral.  In the next post, I will suggest one simple idea that can stand as an ever-ready “way out” through God’s grace and providence when we experience such a spiritual attack on our placement and purpose.