Living on the back side of the Sahara Desert for 13 years, I became intimately acquainted with dust. Keeping desert dust from simply moving in and taking over the house? Well, I jokingly (sorta) say that THAT was my full time job. Or battle. If I stick with the battle metaphor, it was one I lost on a very regular basis. Dust was everywhere, regardless of how hard I tried, how hard I worked, how much time I spent – covering the kitchen table, on the fruit in the basket, at the bottom of my coffee cup once I’d finished drinking, on the laundry line leaving a line on our clothes even when I remembered to wipe it off….
Not too many days ago, our Niamey friends posted Facebook pictures of the first dust storm of the season. We always looked forward to that first storm. It meant that the rainy season was finally starting to approach and after nine to ten months of no precipitation, we welcomed the rain.
I used to think the Hollywood versions of dust storms had to be totally overdone and greatly exaggerated. Then I experienced my first storm; an enormous wall of dust rolled in, the sky turned an eerie orange, then continued to darken. The air gets palpably thick… with the really big, really dense storms, it could turn pitch black. Normally these storms would roll through in ten to fifteen minutes, were often followed by welcomed rain and clearer, fresher air. One time I remember the dusty darkness arrived in the afternoon, and was not followed by an immediate rain. We did not see the sun again until the next day – and then, only through a dusty haze. My sometimes slightly strange TCK children revel in dust storms. They love to go outside and run and play, celebrating (while somewhat choking) in the glorious windy-ness of every storm, but particularly the first one of each season.
Needless to say, my relationship with dust has been one of mostly-hate/very-occasionally-love, on so many levels.
…a group came from the States to lead a conference for the purpose of encouraging the missionaries – and I was introduced to this song for the first time.
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You…
I first heard this song at a time when I was feeling very dust-like… But what does that mean?
I recently did a word study of the “dust” in the Bible. Dust represents different things in different passages of Scripture, including.
- man’s frailty and mortality
- something not able to be accurately numbered in the lavish fulfillment of God’s promise of descendants to Abraham or in the overwhelming number of gnats plaguing the Egyptian people thanks to Pharaoh’s hardened heart
- a visible consequence of God’s judgment
- something not worthy of worry, a renunciation of concern
- deep humiliation and a recognition of a lowly, abased position
- intense mourning or sorrow
- indicates abhorrence and/or extreme, angry contempt .
In a nutshell, I was feeling
- overwhelmed by the immensity of everything – not just “the job” but also the very fact that God wanted to and was willing to use me;
- struggling to stand under the weight of consequences of my own making,
- guilty for worrying;
- sorrow for all my failures and shortcomings;
- an abhorrence for the poverty, desolation, hopelessness and disease all around as well as for the frustratingly broken systems through which I was trying to work;
- silently contemptuous towards those who, in my “humble” opinions, where doing it all wrong.
In my years in church, I’ve heard many criticisms of Nicodemus: he was a coward for seeking the Lord in the night, he never boldly impacted his fellow Pharisees by publicly identifying as a follower of Jesus. What if he, just like me, felt like dust… Criticize his method – many may, but if he hadn’t gone, I might have never had these words: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
Could it be similar with that fellow cross cultural, international worker who is ministering in what I feel is a wrong way? Why preach in English on a street somewhere where English is not the language and where outward confrontation is cultural anathema? I wonder if he felt like dust, too – compelled to do something uncomfortable and hard but he obeyed… and now I sit in judgment, or at best muster up a patronizing, “Well, he just doesn’t know any better?” If he hadn’t gone, I might have never felt the conviction in my own heart about my critical attitude towards those whose methods discomfort, offend or are just incomprehensible to me. What if, in the amazing intricacies and details of God’s working in human hearts and lives, that man was preaching on the streets for me as I mull over how to be salt and light in my immediate world and family?
What if we learned to reserve judgment and criticism for those times when speaking up is truly in the best interest… God’s interest… of another dust-like one being criticized and otherwise sought to apply these words the rest of the time: “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
What encourages you when you are feeling dust-like?
How do you, personally, apply that last verse in your daily life as an international worker? In those times where you feel tempted to criticize a brother, sister, or fellow worker for their different ministry methods/focus?
Song lyrics, Beautiful Things by Gungor