We had a great time sharing at Sacrament Church in Nashville, TN! Below you can listen to Adam and Lora share a message about the work among the Antakarana in Madagascar, about the season of Pentecost, and about what it means to be empowered by the Holy Spirit while in a time of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. We hope this message can encourage you as you seek to follow God.
Waiting Faithfully (7-9-2017 – Sacrament Church, Nashville, TN – Adam & Lora Willard)
Download (right-click and choose “Save link as…”)
'Waiting Faithfully' full transcript
Adam: Hi, we’re Adam and Lora Willard and we’re missionaries to Madagascar. [additional introduction based on place] – [opening slide]
In 1999, after having been a Christian for just one year, not yet 16 years old, God gave me a vision, an actual vision. In this vision, he asked me to go to Madagascar – something totally unexpected for me. Now this was the most amazing and impactful thing I had ever seen or experienced in my life and as I received this vision, I was full of a sense of urgency.
One of my first thoughts, after I simply accepted that it actually happened, was: “Great! Now I don’t have to finish high school!” I thought that for God to call me to something so big, that surely it had to happen right away, and I was excited and thrilled about it, though I had no idea what it would really be like or what to do. As I prayed to find out when I could go, all I knew was that it wasn’t time yet – that I wasn’t given permission to drop out of school and go. God gave me no indication when this would happen. Though I was full of a sense of urgency, always expecting the very next thing to be me going to Madagascar, yet year after year I felt from God that it wasn’t time yet. Though God very vividly called me to Madagascar, with an actual vision, and it filled me with an urgent desire to get there right away, but very softly God was calling me to patience.
So, in 2011, 12 years after God gave me that vision, it was finally time for our family to move to Madagascar and begin the work God had called us to. I just knew that exciting things would begin happening immediately, after all this waiting!
Lora: But like always, it takes time. In 2013, when we arrived on the island of Nosy Mitsio to reach out to the unreached Antakarana people, the people were not warm and friendly. They were not welcoming and hospitable.
The people also didn’t believe that we would actually stick around. They expected us to start some sort of business, to make money off of our relationships with them. Even though we repeatedly told them that’s not what we’re doing, they didn’t trust us at our word. The whole process of getting to the island and learning to live life with the Antakarana was slow and challenging.
After living on Nosy Mitsio for several months, one of our biggest challenges was transport. We tried to go to and from mainland Madagascar by relying on local boat owners.
After a year and a half of preparations for our team they finally arrived on the island and the people realized we were actually true to our word.
By now we’re widely known and well-respected throughout the area. Our team is now trained in the work. Together we started a healthcare and school ministry. We’ve translated a Bible story set into the Antakarana language. We started gathering in each of our villages to share the Bible stories.
So now we’ll show you a short video on all that we’ve been doing the last four years.
So as you see in the video, we’ve accomplished some good things. But still there’s no fruit. There’s not yet one believer among the Antakarana on Nosy Mitsio. We’ve been faithful to God to this point, but after years of exhausting work, we still haven’t seen the results we’re looking for.
The Antakarana people are bound by fear of their ancestors.
In our village, those who used to gather to hear the Bible stories will no longer meet together because they say it’s the “land of their ancestors” and their ancestors don’t want them to hear about Jesus. There are still individuals who ask us in private about Jesus but for fear of the ancestors’ curses they’re afraid to gather as a group.
Adam: Sometimes it can be exasperating to put in all these efforts over so much time and seem to have so little to show for it, to still be so far from our goals. It’s tempting to give up or to move on to something else.
Right now it’s the season of Pentecost in the Church, also sometimes called “Ordinary Time”. To me this is a very interesting time in the church calendar because there’s a focus on both waiting and on empowerment – and those two aspects sometimes seem opposed to each other. But it’s also a time I can really identify with well in the current stage of our ministry.
So let me backtrack for a moment to the time before Pentecost; I’m sure you read from these chapters in the last month or so. Jesus was crucified, a devastating time for his disciples. It seemed like it was a gruesome end to the years of their lives that they’d invested in Jesus. Then there were a few reports of his resurrection. But of course those reports were hard to believe, after so much disappointment from seeing him crucified before their own eyes. Nonetheless, here and there Jesus appeared before them. There was rejoicing! But there were still questions:
”When are you actually going to do what you said you were going to do?”
Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?”
The question foremost on their minds, no doubt. After all, this was the ultimate goal. And to this they received what must have been a fairly disappointing response:
Acts 1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”
Probably not the answer they were looking for. Though really they would have been used to these cryptic, and unfulfilling, responses from Jesus by now. At least he did go on to say,
Acts 1:8 ”But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
And then he left! He just took off right in front of them without saying another word – totally leaving them hanging! Here we have waiting and empowerment completely juxtaposed, side by side.
The question of the disciples, their concern, their hope was, “when are you going to do what you said you were going to do? You said over and over that the Kingdom of God is near, but where is it? When is it coming?” This is what they were longing for! And now they were left waiting for Jesus to return, to fulfill his promise. And all he left them with was not a timeline, not a date they could put on their calendars, but instead another, different promise, that of empowerment by the Holy Spirit, and a statement of their role in God’s continuing work.
Lora: See, we can relate to this because to us, our work among the Antakarana is completely tied up in Jesus’s return, in the fullness of his Kingdom coming to earth. We know that the work we do among the Antakarana is not in vain because we know that on the final day, they will also be standing in the multitudinous crowd before Jesus’s throne:
”After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9
So as we work, and we work hard and struggle towards this day, it can get despairing when it still seems so far off, when everything seems like it’s going on just as it always has – and not in a good way! We can’t help but ask, together with Jesus’s disciples, “when is this day coming?” Apparently that was also a common question among those associated with the early church.
2 Peter 3:4 “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!”
We can’t help but ask. But we have to remember that Jesus’s response to all this wasn’t to give us a clear-cut date, like we would really appreciate, but instead to give us a promise of empowerment by the Holy Spirit.
Adam: Sometimes that Holy Spirit empowerment results in a witness like on the day of Pentecost, through signs and wonders – great big things with clear signs of the advance of God’s Kingdom. And sometimes that Holy Spirit empowerment results in a much quieter witness – empowering us to wait faithfully, to live faithfully, as we look ahead to that promised day of the fullness of his Kingdom, even right now in “ordinary time”. Because have no doubts: without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in us, our waiting without seeing will quickly be overcome by despair. While the early church was asking, together with us, “Where is the promise of his coming?” Paul and Peter and others constantly responded with reminders that we wait faithfully by the strength of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:24-26 “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”
Because it’s by the Holy Spirit that we can have faith. It’s by the Holy Spirit that we can be one of those of whom Jesus spoke to Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” It’s by the Holy Spirit that we can actually know God personally, that we can have faith in who he is and know that he’ll do what he’s said he’ll do.
Hebrews 10:23-24, 35-36 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds… So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
”He who promised is faithful.” These are the words that should give us strength, and it’s the Holy Spirit that makes them come alive in us. We work and we wait patiently, not in the hope that our deeds and our efforts are enough, but that the one who promised, the one who led us to this place, he is faithful. But for us to wait in faith, it’s not just sitting around twiddling our thumbs, waiting for God’s intervention – though God’s intervention is what we need. But waiting faithfully also means that we act in faith. As the author of Hebrews said, “let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” “When you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” So we act and we do, faithfully, but our hope is not in our actions, our hope is in he who brought us here, he who promised, he who told us to wait and who promised the power of the Holy Spirit. He is faithful. And waiting eagerly, actively, is what it means for us to have faith in him.
Lora: As a missionary it’s sometimes very hard to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” We’re not “faith superheroes”! We, like you, have simply been empowered by the Holy Spirit to persist, to persevere.
There were many times I wondered, “God, what are you doing? Where are you in all this mess? What is the point to all this effort when it seems like nothing and nobody is changing? In fact, things seem to be getting worse. God, when will you show your power?”
But the truth is, when we know God and turn to him, when we ask for his Holy Spirit to empower us to wait faithfully, he reminds us of his story throughout history, that he has always been and always will be faithful to fulfill his promises. Because our faith is not based on what we can see, but on confidence in his promises. So we press on in faithful obedience to the part he wants us to play in his story. And even when we question, he returns us to hope in him. Because “he who promised is faithful.”
Adam: So empowerment by the Holy Spirit gives us faith in God, trust in his promises, and it allows us to persevere and overcome despair. But what was the end result of this empowerment that Jesus spoke of? Being witnesses to him!
I believe that all of you have some part to play, some role God’s given you, in all of these areas; that what Jesus spoke to his eager disciples at that time also applies equally to all of us today. I believe that fulfilling your role is more than just waiting for Jesus’s return, for God’s Kingdom to come – though it certainly includes that – but that we’re each also active participants in his return, in the full coming of his Kingdom. And the Holy Spirit empowers each of us for that as well.
Lora: What has God called you to in your life? I know most haven’t received a vision like my husband did. I haven’t. But for all of us, God puts something within us, some work of his Kingdom, some aspect of his recreation that he drops within our hearts or our minds, somewhere that he’s asking us to join him in his work. What has he inspired you about?
Has he given you the dream of reaching your loved ones, your siblings or in-laws or someone else who’s not yet ready to commit to God? Has he inspired you to take care of the needy, the homeless, foster kids, something like that? Has he been convicting you to steward your resources wisely, to be freed from debt, and instead to use what he’s given you to bless others? Has he given you a dream for some other kind of outreach, for church growth, for expanding the presence of his Christian community within the neighborhood or in another part of the world? Or has he shown you some part of the church to be revived or reformed, some way it can closer resemble God’s coming Kingdom?
Adam: Oftentimes, God will drop these ideas in us. He will give us an idea of what can be or what should be. Sometimes we simply don’t know where to start, so we let it fall to the wayside. Other times we jump in eagerly, ready for this vision God’s given us to come to pass. We put all our energy and effort, our enthusiasm into it for a while. A short while. Maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months. Maybe even a few years. But then, so often, nothing really changes. Nothing happens. We lose heart. We lose faith. We no longer look confidently towards that which we can’t yet see.
I can’t blame you for this. We live in a culture of instant gratification. We tend to expect things to happen quickly. We don’t usually think “good things come to those who wait”, because advertisements and self-help articles tell us instead that if you put yourself out there, if you pursue what you want today, you’ll be rewarded right away! But God didn’t give us a quick fix. There’s no “Amazon Prime and free 2-day shipping” with the way God does things.
In God’s plan to redeem the world, in the promise of his return, he’s really taking his time. Just look at the central aspect of it! God himself stepped foot on this earth. But rather than sharing his message and his truths from day one, instead he came as a helpless little baby. He spent 30-odd years growing up and then he proclaimed the Kingdom of God. He did that for a few years before he even performed the central work of it: his death and resurrection. God takes his time. That’s how he does things.
2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
He’s not slow as some, as we, understand slowness. He’s patient. His plans are bigger than each of us. What he’s doing in our lives isn’t intended simply to bless us, but through us to bless others! Chances are good that if God has put something on your heart, something he’s asked you to do in participation with the work of his Kingdom, that he’s probably going to do it slowly. Don’t lose heart! Look forward to what you can’t yet see. Let the Holy Spirit empower you, let him open your eyes to what God is doing and will do. And look to him who has made the promise, because “he who has promised is faithful.” Live out that faith, day in and day out, by pursuing what God has asked of you – even when it’s hard, even when you don’t see the results.
You know, early on when we moved to Nosy Mitsio, God took an opportunity to really strongly teach this lesson to me. We were struggling with using local transport (the two boats on our island whose motors were broken) so we looked for another option.
We tried to find a local boat at the Port that we could rent. We found only one lady willing to rent us a boat, and later we found out it was because her boat and motor wasn’t any good and she couldn’t very well use the boat herself.
The Port village where you leave the mainland to go to Nosy Mitsio is really just the mouth of a shallow river and boats can only come and go at high tide and when the wind is right. So after getting our rental boat ready, we had to leave in the middle of the night, about 11pm or midnight that time. The motor worked fairly well for the first six miles or so. But then it suddenly died and nothing we did would get it to start up again. We put up the sail in the hopes of sailing back to the Port for further repairs. But there was no wind. New leaks were springing up in the boat too, and water was streaming in from several small holes and we were constantly bailing it out with buckets. Six miles from shore, in the middle of the night, my family and I were drifting in a leaking boat with no way to get to land. We even tore a couple of rotten planks off of the boat in an attempt to paddle back to shore, but we weren’t making any progress.
This was a critical moment for me. We’d spent several very difficult and tiring months just trying to pioneer this new work to the Antakarana and with little of anything to show for it. Helpless to do anything, drifting at sea together with my family, I lay back in the boat and looked up at the stars. I asked God, “is this really what you want from me? Did you call me out here for this? What about my family? We’re just drifting here!” And I wrestled over this with God, testing the call he’s given me. He didn’t give me a big answer or another vision or anything like that. But I just felt from God a reassuring affirmative, “yes”. This is where he wants us. Even if it means drifting at sea. I had to once again release myself and my efforts into his control. To do my best, but to wait patiently, to endure.
Over the night we drifted back towards shore and as the tide went down and the water became very shallow we used some sticks to push our boat back towards the mainland. We made it back to dry land close to noon the next day. And we kept pressing on. We were where God wanted us. Without any visible progress or any quick returns on our efforts, we were where God wanted us. That quiet reminder was the Holy Spirit empowering us to keep pursuing him, to keep living faithfully, even as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.
Galatians 6:9 “Let us not grow weary in doing good. For at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
We want to encourage you to have faith in God, even when things seem hard. Be faithful to what he’s asked of you, even when it seems like you’re drifting at sea (or even if you really are drifting at sea). Look into your hearts, look for those old convictions or dreams that God has given you, and pick it up again. If he’s given you a vision of reaching your family or your neighbors for him, or even a distant people on the other side of the world – don’t lose hope! He’s faithful. If he’s inspired you towards some greater work of the church – don’t give up! It takes time. You have to commit to what God has asked of you and you have to commit to those who are involved. He’s faithful. As you struggle through this day to day, ask the Holy Spirit to empower you, not only for the signs and wonders, though those are always welcome, but also for the quiet strength to both wait and act faithfully as you look ahead to God’s coming Kingdom. As we live now in “ordinary time”, let us remember that this is a time both of waiting and empowerment – we’re empowered by the Holy Spirit both to wait and act faithfully as we do our part and look ahead to the return of Jesus and the fullness of his coming Kingdom.
Let’s add a little something to our “liturgy” today to close us. I want us to recite together from Psalm 117, a nice short Psalm that may have come from the time after Israel’s exile. It would have certainly been a time of waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, and it hints at a time when people from all the earth will participate in his promises – just like our season of Pentecost or “Ordinary Time” now. We praise him in expectation. Let’s read it together from The Voice translation:
Praise the Eternal, all nations. Raise your voices, all people. For his unfailing love is great, and it is intended for us, And his faithfulness to his promises knows no end. Praise the Eternal! Psalm 117
Visit our audio page to hear more sermons and messages from Adam and Lora.