A couple of days before I left Indonesia for America, my mother threw a farewell party for me. Present among the guests were two missionaries. After giving his message, my pastor turned to the missionaries and asked if they had a message for me. One of them, who happened to be a Baptist missionary, stood up and shared this message, “Paul, you will be going to America to start a new life where you will meet many people and encounter many situations. Take heed because God will use these people and situations to shape you. So, be teachable.” A brief message but an important and useful one. To this day, 44 years later, I still keep it.
God never stops using people and situations we encounter to speak to us, to shape us, and to teach us about something. We are usually ready to learn something from them as long as they are good and worthy of respect. But what about situations and people that are not good or unworthy of respect? It is not that easy! We typically refuse to listen to them, much less learn from them. But God does use unfavorable situations and undesirable people to speak to us, to shape us, and to teach us about something. Even in the worst circumstance, God has something to say and to teach us.
The worst situation in my life was the period in which I was out of job for eight months and our children rebelled against God. But as Charles Dickens says, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was the period in which I learned to walk and to love by faith and not by sight. It was the period in which I learned that to shape one’s soul, one must be crushed first. And it was the period in which I learned that even in the worst possible circumstance, God’s best plan was at work and His presence was never far.