Sometimes at certain times in our lives God uses particular books to move us in significant ways. We wonder how it is that we could be reading that book at that exact time and God can guide us in that exact way.

Certainly it can only be attributed to God’s sovereignty, even over things like the exact moment when we read a book and where we are when we read a certain page or sentence.

Shadow of the Almighty

One of the biggest moments in my life was around Christmas time in 2004, during my senior year in college. I’d been thinking about what I was going to do after college. At that point, though I was studying engineering at that time, I didn’t think it too likely that I’d go straight into engineering. At that time I’d been a Christian for a couple years and had done a summer missions work in Thailand the previous year. So I was thinking about either going to seminary or to the missions field long-term.

But by Christmas of 2004, I was quite unsure about my future. I’d talked to my former youth pastor who told me he knew of a missions opportunity to teach in China. I did not contact that person immediately about that opportunity. I was prayed for direction.

A couple of days after Christmas 2004, I started reading Shadow of the Almighty, written in the 1950s by Elizabeth Elliot. So consumed by it, I devoured the book in a single day. It was mostly a collection of her husband Jim Elliot’s journals. Jim and his cohorts had been stabbed and killed by a tribe they were trying to reach in Ecuador.

Honestly I don’t remember many of the details about that book, other than that it inspired me immensely. The best-known words from Jim’s journals were, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The urgency with which Jim wanted to reach the lost impacted me deeply. He was willing to do it even to the point of death.

Once I finished reading Shadow of the Almighty, I immediately called the leader of the ministry in China that my former youth pastor had told me about. Without hesitation, I told him I was ready to serve in China with his organization. He thought I should visit China before making a commitment, but the Lord had already moved me in a big way to go.

Before reading Shadow of the Almighty, my life and future after graduation seemed quite fuzzy and unknown. I was completely noncommittal about all future options. But through the process of reading that sweet book, the Lord moved me in big ways. Through that means, I made a full commitment to join the work long-term in China.

John G. Paton’s autobiography

In spring of 2008 I’d been living in eastern China about three full years. I was leading a pretty large team of missionaries in our city.

I’d felt towards the end of February some kind of call from the Lord to go to northwest China, to minister on the ancient Silk Road. But I awaited further confirmation.

The next week I was reading the autobiography of John G. Paton. Words on the pages moved me in huge ways.

John G. Paton had served in inner-city Glasgow, Scotland for 12 years and seen some fruit there. He felt a call to go to the New Hebrides islands to minister to a people group of cannibals.

Paton wrote that he felt confident others could take up his ministry in Glasgow and do it perhaps better than him. Paton wrote,

I felt a growing assurance that this was the call of God to His servant. . . . None     seemed prepared for the [missions] field [among the cannibals]; many were      capable and ready for the [Glasgow] service. . . . The voice within me sounded       like the voice of God.

When I read these words, God showed me how it related to my situation at that time. Like Paton, I felt that others more capable than I could lead the ministry in eastern China. Like Paton, I felt more and more like western China was the call of God for me. Few in eastern China seemed ready to lead any ministries and work with house church leaders in western China; but many were capable to impact the current ministry in eastern China. Like with Paton, the voice within me sounded like a voice from God.

My experience reading that Paton book confirmed that God wanted me to move to western China. So that’s where I moved several months later and have been ministering for many years. It’s also where I met my wife and the place where our daughters were born.

Providential reading
I’ve had times in my life where God, in his amazing providence, led me to read a verse or part of a book at the perfect time and place in my life when the words just flew off the page and into my life. At any other time, it would not have the same impact. But not reading it was not God’s will. God is good to do this.

Why did I begin reading these two books on the days I did? Why did I even buy these books in the first place? In his beautiful sovereignty, it was so I could be reading them at the precise time when I was seeking confirmation from the Lord, and he could speak through the pages to show me his will for me.

Tabor Laughlin has been serving in China for ten years. He received a master of divinity from Southern Seminary and is now a PhD student in intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is president of a small missions agency in northwest China, writes occasionally at Desiring God and China Source, manages a new blog, and is author of Becoming Native to Win the Natives. You can follow him on Twitter.