For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to learn another language, and for as long as I can remember I have repeatedly failed to achieve that goal. I definitely never lacked the desire, but I quickly discovered that the key ingredient I lacked was drive. In middle school I bought a knockoff version of Rosetta Stone for French and didn’t even make it through the first disc before giving up, and about the only thing I remember from high school Spanish class is how to ask if I can go to the bathroom. I even dabbled in sign language at one point before giving up on that, too. No matter how much I wanted to learn, I just couldn’t motivate myself to put in the hard work that learning requires.
Fast forward to May of 2018: I had been a college grad for less than a week and had stumbled into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Indonesia and meet my Compassion International sponsored child, Fransisca. So there I was in a brand new country, with no friends or family for 10,000 miles, and a language that I didn’t understand. And let me tell you, I had the time of my life. I’m a huge fan of my own comfort zone, but every now and then I surprise myself and discover that stepping over that wall is not as scary as I think it will be. But, I digress.
I could go on and on for days about why that trip was such a life-changing experience, but the one moment that really stuck with me was when I met a young English teacher at one of the Compassion projects. I watched her teach a group of little kids and was shocked by how well she spoke English. She was the first Indonesian person I had met that spoke fluently without even a hint of an accent. I waited until the end of her lesson and asked how in the world she learned to speak English so well. Her answer? “I watched YouTube videos and read novels.” Seriously? That’s all it took? I thought to myself, “Hey, if she can do it, so can I.”
By the end of the trip, I had made up my mind that I was going to learn Indonesian no matter what it took. The YouTube route didn’t quite work for me, so I signed up for an online program. I memorized 20-30 words every day, paid for Skype sessions with Indonesian teachers, read books in Indonesian, listened to Indonesian songs, became friends with Indonesian language exchange partners, and watched just about every Indonesian movie I could find. In less than a year I became conversational in Indonesian. People told me I was obsessed — and I kind of was.
Now, on the flip side of that whole experience, I am struck by the sheer determination that got me to this point, and the fact that I had never experienced anything like that before. And why hadn’t I? Every day we are given the opportunity to spend time growing closer to God, and that is an opportunity that I rarely take full advantage of because I simply lack the drive. It took a personal connection with someone who spoke a different language before I had enough motivation to achieve my goal, but do I not also have a personal connection with my Savior? I realize now that in the past, I let myself become most passionate about the wrong things. Having passions and working hard to reach goals are not bad things, but when those goals begin to overshadow the call that we are all under — to love God, love people, and make disciples — perhaps we have gotten our priorities backwards. Sure, I’ve had seasons where I’ve been on fire for my church, for my small group, for reaching my friends who are far from God, but I am ashamed to say that I have never had that same level of determination when it comes to diving into God’s Word, or even spending time with Him.
Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
I used to read those verses and scratch my head. How can someone drive out demons and perform miracles in the name of Jesus, all for Jesus to say that He never knew them? The answer, I have found, is that it’s not a problem with their actions, but rather the heart behind their actions. I can go to church 3 times a week, join multiple small groups, and teach people about Jesus until I’m blue in the face — but if at the end of the day I’m not actively pursuing a relationship with my Savior then I’ve missed the whole point.
I have discovered through my experience learning Indonesian that the harder you work towards a goal, the more you will learn to enjoy the work. Yes, learning Indonesian was hard. Yes, I had to carve out a lot of time from my schedule to study, but the more I learned the more I enjoyed the process, and I cannot even put into words how amazing of a payoff it was to return to Indonesia last year and be able to converse with Fransisca and her family without the help of a translator. If the payoff for that felt as great as it did, imagine how much greater it will be to one day meet Jesus face to face and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
I say all of that to say this: it’s time I stop missing the point and start putting my all towards growing closer to Jesus. Of every goal I could ever set for myself, there are none greater than this.
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