Counting the Cost of Obedience

A number of years ago I had the opportunity to visit Montenegro as part of a short-term mission team. My local church in Scotland was partnered with a church in the Montenegrin capital city, Podgorica, but our work was primarily with three Balkan refugee camps in the eastern town of Berane. The first team that went out in 2010 were involved in installing a toilet block in the camp which we affectionately called “The Container Camp” because the families there lived in metal shipping containers.

Upon their return, the team gave a presentation to the church about all that they had done on their trip. On that particular night, I happened to be staffing the information desk at the back of the church. And on that particular night, I carried in my hands extra information about our Montenegro partnership, including a sign-up sheet for people interested in participating in the next trip.

As the team shared their experience, they explained the different initiatives they had been involved with in the camp, including work with the children and maintenance work to improve the basic facilities that were available. They told stories of a head lice infestation amongst the young ones and shared photos of team members knee-deep in sewage. Then they called for volunteers to be part of the next team that would visit a few months later.

I don’t consider myself to be a particularly “high maintenance” kinda gal, but I do appreciate my home comforts like my hair straighteners. Somehow, I didn’t think this was the kind of trip that had time (or need) for hair straighteners, so I was ready to politely decline the team’s request. But God had other ideas . . .

Nothing in me wanted to join that next team, yet something in me knew I had to. My mind began to race, my heartbeat quickened and everything around me swirled in slow motion. I was terrified to volunteer, but it was an excited, expectant kind of fear. It was like my hand had a mind of its own, and before the team’s presentation had even ended, the sign-up sheet lying on the desk in front of me already had my name scribbled at the top.

For the next three years I participated in the annual aid trips to those Montenegrin refugee camps. I fell in love with the people and longed to make more of a difference in their lives. I delighted in building relationships with the individuals, especially the children, in each camp, and endeavoured to learn just a few words of their language so that we could communicate and play games together.

But that third return trip very nearly did not happen. You see, my personal finances were a struggle that year and common sense told me I could not afford to go. I had already agreed to co-lead the team, however, so the question was not if I was going, but how. I had little more than the amount required for the first instalment, but I was worried about clearing out my bank account, leaving me broke for the remainder of the month. Not to mention my concern over where the rest of the fees would come from when the second instalment was due.

I pondered my predicament over lunch with a friend one day and explained the situation. I did not want to miss out on being part of the trip, but my circumstances had me feeling defeated. Yet we have learnt that God is not defeated by circumstantial evidence. If he wants something to happen, it will happen.

As the deadline for the first payment drew ever closer, I continued to pray and consider the best way to move forward. Somewhat reluctantly, I decided to take a risk. I recall journaling about it and stating, almost in diva-like fashion, that God would just have to come through for me. He had put me in this predicament, and therefore he would just have to get me out! So, only a day ahead of the deadline, I cleared out my bank account and paid the first instalment.

And then the miracles began to tally.

The very next day, I received a cheque in the mail from the friend I had previously had lunch with. She had spoken with her husband after we had met, and they had felt compelled to give me a financial gift. The amount matched the first instalment I had paid not twenty-four hours before.

A week or two later, I was approached at the end of the church service by a member of the church finance team. This was nothing particularly unusual, as his work would sometimes overlap with mine, but our conversation that day was not about business.

“Someone would like to give towards your Montenegro trip,” he told me. “For the next three months, they will contribute towards the remainder of your fees.”

And they did just that. To this day, I have no idea who that anonymous supporter was, but I am incredibly grateful for their generous contribution which provided for me in ways beyond just financial. I couldn’t believe it; my entire trip fees had been covered, and God had proved himself faithful once again. But he was not done yet.

Around that same time, I came home one day to find an envelope had been slid under the front door of my apartment. It had clearly been personally delivered, and only had my name scribbled on the front, with no indication of who or where it had come from. And inside was a small sum of cash. The mystery of that gift was never solved either.

Then shortly before we left the country, I received a final financial gift. This gift covered the cost of my spending money and the petrol I needed to drive the 500 kilometre round trip to the airport. By the time I boarded the plane, I was better off than the day I had taken a risk and paid that first instalment. God had not only provided, but he had made available his abundant provision. Those months and that experience completely transformed my understanding of God’s generous spirit and the ways in which he works. It challenged me to be more generous and to be more readily available to walk in obedience to him, trusting him to provide all that I need along the way.

I personally experienced God come through for me in just a small way, but the lesson and impact on my life was huge. Even now, years later, I often recall that testimony when I am faced with financial challenges. I am reminded that when we walk in obedience and take a risk for God, he blesses us with far more than we ever sacrificed for him. We cannot anticipate or understand the ways through which he works, but we can be sure that he will surprise us.

That first risk, that first step of obedience to pay the first instalment, demonstrated that I was willing to pay the price to follow God’s call. That action became the catalyst for God’s blessing. All too often we do not take that first step because we fear it will cost us too much, but when we give our all to God, he always returns with more. Our obedience brings breakthrough and leads to blessing.

An excerpt taken from Adventure Awaits: Harnessing Today’s Potential for God’s Greater Purpose (pg. 151-154).

On the Shoulders of Giants

New Year’s Eve always causes me to reflect on the year gone by and inspires hope for the new year to come. This year my reflections are full of wonder and awe at the incredible work God has done in my life and the stark contrast of how I felt and where I was (literally and metaphorically) 365 days ago (for more on that, check out my previous blog post Thirty Lessons to 30).

This year I’m welcoming the new year at the ‘Jesus Saves’ conference in Germany with 850 other youth and young adults. With ages ranging from early teens to 30(ish) – I reckon I’m one of the oldest here! – I recognise the immense pleasure it gives me to see so many young people worshipping God so passionately and engaging with what the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives. However, I’m also left challenged by the incredible responsibility we have as the older generation to lead these youngsters and to lay the foundations for all that they will achieve in God’s Name in the future.

Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  But this raises two challenges;

1. Are we developing ourselves to BE spiritual giants? And,

2. Do we allow the next generation to STAND on our shoulders?

Practically, this prompts me to consider:

  • Am I investing in myself with an earthly perspective or a heavenly perspective?
  • Am I laying firm foundations for those I influence around me?
  • Do I allow myself to be vulnerable and honest about my challenges so that they might learn from my mistakes and avoid repeating these same mistakes themselves?
  • Does my life act as a springboard for the next generation?

Yet we need to examine ourselves deeper still… you see, when you build a house, no-one sees the foundations. So am I willing to be unseen, unrecognised, without appreciation in order to be a catalyst for the future development of the Church? Am I secure enough in my leadership of the next generation – and in my faith in God – to allow them to identify and develop their gifts, even if it threatens ‘my’ ministry/role?

I’m passionate about seeing everyone, regardless of age or stage of life, identify and nurture their gifts and to walk confidently in the unique purpose God has called them to. But this calls for a generation of leaders willing to invest time, energy and wisdom into those that follow.

This morning I was reading 2 Kings and I was struck by 2 Kings 2:9 when Elijah asks Elisha, his successor, “what shall I do for you before I am taken from you?” And his young apprentice requests a double portion of his leader’s spirit.

Are we secure enough in God’s ways and wisdom to allow the next generation to be more, see more, believe more and receive more of God’s Spirit than we ourselves have experienced? Do we create opportunities and cultivate faith in such a way that catapults young people into an even greater Church than that of today?

As I look ahead to my hopes and desires in ministry in 2017, I’m challenged to be more mindful of the next generation and of my responsibility to them and to the future of Christ’s Church here on earth.