• Joni Elizabeth

sunflowers for faithfulness

The details of that evening in the prayer room are a little hazy. I can’t say what songs were playing. I don’t remember if there were other people there, or if I’d stumbled onto a window of solitude.

What is still clear to me is that I was on my knees, my Bible before me, my eyes too filled with tears to read the script. I know that inside I was shaking… I was terrified.

In a matter of days I would be traveling with my team to southeast Asia to do missions work for nine weeks. It was sure to be an adventure- a wonderful opportunity to serve, to share God’s love, and to witness what He was up to in the world.

But there would also surely be challenges. This path was a foreign one, filled with unknowns. And the little I did know about scared me.

“I don’t know how to do this,” I said. “This mountain is so intimidating, so giant, and I don’t have a clue how I will be able to climb it…” I remember holding my hands out, palms up, begging to be equipped, begging for the strength and courage that I so lacked. Then, I watched as Holy Spirit dropped an image into my heart:

He gave me flowers.

The weapon He placed into my hands, the shield with which He surrounded me, the hope that lifted me up… The mountain path was covered in flowers. They were sunflowers and they spoke to me of God’s loving presence, of how He would go with me then entire way.

And go with me, God did. Beyond my own ability, I was able to go where He led. He calmed my heart during the first of many airplane rides. He beckoned me to joy and thanks during times of discomfort. When I felt inadequate in the face of people’s pain or troubles, He encouraged me to press in and keep on. Sometimes I would see actual sunflowers in Asia and embrace the reminder that God was with me on this journey.

After working for weeks in a couple different countries, my team traveled to our final destination: Myanmar. With laws restricting our access and finding our contacts had fallen through, the situation was not ideal, but the team leader chose to continue with the trip.

I wasn’t so sure of this decision. Fear swallowed me and continued to persist as we flew into the country. An overnight van ride through the windy mountains with two men who leered and didn’t speak any english hit enough of my panic buttons that by the time we finally made it to a hotel, I felt broken. We had little time to rest before diving into more ministry and my anxiety continued to the point of calling home. By then I could barely hold myself together- how could I help others? I admitted that I didn’t want to be there. Some condemned me for this weakness. Some said that I shouldn’t be there…

But God gave me flowers.

The Burmese roadside shacks that served as shops had very little variety: packets of instant hot drinks, cakes and rolls in cellophane, noodles… and sunflower seeds. When we drove to the villages, I would be surprised to discover fields scattered with sunflowers.

Looking more into these flowers I learned that they symbolize loyalty and faithfulness. Driving from church to church, I would peer through the dusty bus window at those bright yellow petals and feel God was calling me to look to Him in this time. Like a sunflower tilting its face to the sun, I fought to seek God in each moment.

Days passed and while I found myself more steady, my health and anxiety kept me lower than I like. Those sunflowers continued to remind me to direct my heart to my Savior, but I still felt weak and failing at it.

On my knees again, I prayed for God to help me to be more loyal, to have more faith in Him. Then, while meditating on those flowers I felt Holy Spirit turn my perspective a bit. While I do feel that those fields of yellow were meant as an encouraging invitation for me to faithfully seek God in this time, more than focusing on my faithfulness to God-

God wanted to speak to me about His faithfulness to me.

Knowing my own faithless, selfish, wavering heart, I bent over in humility at this shift. In all my failing, God had remained at my side. He was completely constant to care for me, to love me, to go with me every step on this mountain.

Weeks later, I was home. I was in awe to see all that God had allowed me to see on that trip. I was so grateful for the displays of His power and glory that I was able to witness. Bodies healed, lives changed… And I rejoiced over getting to be with my Lord. Just to be with Him during that deep, in-over-my-head time. I worshipped and gave thanks for His loyalty to me, a faithfulness I didn’t deserve…

Out of curiosity I looked more into that country where I’d seen those yellow fields to discover that, in fact, sunflowers where that area’s main crop.

Months before, when God had given me those blooms in a quiet prayer room. He’d already gone ahead, lining my path with His faithfulness.

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