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).

A Tale of Two Tests

As I reflected over the Easter period, I was struck by two different perspectives of the well-known Easter narrative. Each describe a test of faith, and each have relevance in our own faith journeys two millennia later.

The first, is that of Jesus Christ, Himself. A.W. Tozer said, “True obedience is the refusal to compromise in any regard our relationship with God, regardless of the consequences.”

When I think of the cross, I think of Jesus’ determined obedience to His Father. He knew what was ahead; He knew what God was asking of Him; He knew the pain and suffering He would have to endure. He fully understood the consequences of His obedience. But He did it anyway.

He did it because He loved the Father, and because He loved us, but ultimately He did it because of His obedience. Just before He was arrested, He uttered this prayer, “Abba, my Father, all things are possible for you. Please – don’t allow me to drink this cup of suffering! Yet what I want is not important, for I only desire to fulfill your plan for me.” {Mark 14:36 TPT}

I find this incredibly humbling, for I know that there have been many times (I don’t need to think too far back) when I have either hesitated in my obedience, or flat-out disobeyed the prompt of the Holy Spirit because I have been afraid of the possible consequences of my obedience; whether it be awkwardness, rejection, or something worse (and let’s face it, in the western world, we are rarely faced with much worse).

Often there will be pain, or discomfort, or rejection, as a result of our obedience. Jesus experienced that too (on a much greater scale). But this momentary suffering led to something exponentially greater, with eternal consequences.

When commanded by God, we must seek to look beyond our own discomfort and fear, and trust His bigger plan; His sovereign perspective. If Christ had thought only of His own impending suffering, He could have chosen to save Himself from His agonising crucifixion. But He trusted God’s greater plan. He recognised that God was outworking something far greater than just His own destiny. His obedience made way for the redemption of mankind!

Just as I shared in a previous post, Humility: Redefined, we need to resist being distracted by our own interests, and instead consider the impact of our obedience on others. Don’t allow your fear to steal breakthrough for someone else.

The second perspective I have been pondering on is that of Jesus’ followers, specifically in the hours after his death. They had spent three years listening to the teachings of Christ and witnessing His miracles. They had hoped that He was the much-anticipated Messiah, but it now appeared that their hopes had died with Him.

As He breathed His last, they wept; they mourned; they felt broken, empty, disorientated. They were not only faced with the emotional grief of losing a loved one, but also with the devastation of lost hope.

Slowly, one by one, they turned their faces away from the cross and began to imagine a life without their friend, their teacher, their Saviour.

The disciples had held a vision of what the manifestation of God’s Messiah might be like, but when their current circumstances didn’t match their expectations, all hope was seemingly lost.

They had never anticipated Christ’s resurrection. And yet, Christ had spoken of it (Matthew 27:63). His disciples, too, would have known the writings of Isaiah and the other prophets, and the promises that God had made to the Israelite nation. God’s Promises had not been broken, they had simply been received through the microscope of human understanding.

Proverbs 3:5 reminds us that we cannot depend on our own understanding. We cannot depend on what we think the end product of God’s guidance is going to look like. Rather, we need to depend on what God says and then simply trust Him.

Despite the panic, despite the confusion, despite the fear, despite the tears amongst the believers at the foot of the cross, God knew what He was doing. No moment or outcome was a surprise to Him. Everything played out the way He wanted and expected it to. And the greatest sadness unfolded into victory!

God had a perfect plan to redeem us through His Son, Jesus Christ. His love and foresight aligned everything up perfectly so that, at just the right time, Christ went to the cross and paid the price for the sin of the world; our sin. His blood bought our freedom; freedom from punishment and death, freedom from fear, freedom from isolation and loneliness apart from Him. Christ became the bridge that connected us directly to God, and made a way for us to be in relationship with Him again.

How do we respond when the expectations that we have seem to die before us? Do we lose hope? Do we allow panic, confusion, and fear to consume us? Do we turn our faces away from Jesus, concluding that our hope, our anticipation, our trust was in vain?

When we look back on the Easter story, perhaps we know that the disciples only had to wait until the third day to see the glorious end to their perceived tragedy. But when you are still waiting – when you are in the midst of hopelessness – it can feel like the consuming darkness is endless.

Here’s the simple, yet challenging truth: It is not our responsibility (or even a possibility) to dictate the outcome of our current circumstances. It is our job, however, to trust God in those silent moments and not to allow confusion or doubt to fuel those fears that threaten us.

One of the most freeing lessons I’ve learnt in the last 12 months is to resist spiralling into doubt and depression in the dark hours that follow an unexpected turn of events. In an effort to self-protect, I would have always sought to think through every possible outcome and begin actioning thoughts or plans in an effort to protect my heart from further disappointment. Then God began to reveal to me a pattern of behaviour in myself that actually made the experience for me worse, not better. The enemy played on my vulnerability and fed my fears with lies and gleefully watched me spiral into misery. But as I learned to identify those lies, I began to resist them rather than partnering with them, and rather chose to hope. I chose to trust. I chose to wait with expectation to see what God would do next. He held the final word. I only needed to patiently and courageously (and it does take courageous) walk it out, one hour, one day at a time.

What I found was that God would often reveal Truth within 24 hours of my disappointment. Now, this is not a hard and fast rule, I don’t believe, and not every experience fits this timeline, but these experiences taught me to always wait a little longer, hope a little longer, trust a little longer, and allow God time to outwork what He had planned and purposed for me in a particular trial. And let me tell you, I saved myself a whole lot of tears in the process!

The grace that God offers us is sufficient for every challenge that we face (2 Corinthians 12:9). In difficult times, His peace buoys us up in the midst of the waves. We may try to jump to conclusions or guess what will happen next in an effort to self-protect, but God does not ask that of us. He asks us to trust Him.

There will be many times in our lives when it appears that hope or promises are lost, and yet God has the ability to raise them back to life. He will finish what He starts; He will bring His work to completion, but He determines what that completed work looks like, not us.

The recount of Christ’s death and resurrection reminds us that no matter how bleak our circumstances look, God has a bigger plan. We may not recognise it immediately. We may need to blindly trust Him in some of our darkest moments. But we can trust Him to allow His plan to unfold in the way it should – no delays, no absences, no detours – simply the best way.