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).

Holding on to Hope

For months now, I’ve held a strong sense of anticipation that God is up to something big. Between the far-reaching promises He declared over me in January, the ever-growing wisdom and influence He has gifted me with, and the significant open-heart surgery He has been conducting in the secret place, my anticipation of a new season and new opportunities has gently but exponentially grown since April.

However, anticipation, or hope, often comes with it a fear that what we want or expect to happen, will not happen. There is a constant tension between the anticipation of what we believe God has spoken and the fear of hearing Him or understanding Him incorrectly.

In this battle, we must be diligent in the focus of our hope. Are we placing our hope in a particular outcome, or are we hoping in the One who holds all outcomes in His hands, and promises to be faithful?

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:1-5

In this holding-pattern of hope, I’ve been pondering the testimony of Naaman (2 Kings 5). He was a commander in the king’s army; well-respected and powerful. However, Naaman had leprosy.

His young Israelite servant girl suggested that he travel to her homeland, believing that the God of Israel would heal her master. Naaman dared to hope; he began his journey, believing that it would end in his healing.

The commander first visited the king of Israel, laden with great riches and a letter from his own king demanding healing from his leprosy, but the king of Israel was angry and distraught, concluding that the Syrian king was simply picking a fight with him by making such a ridiculous request.

No doubt, as Naaman left the presence of the king – the most powerful man in the land – his hope dwindled.

But the prophet Elisha heard of what was going on in the king’s palace and invited Naaman to visit him at his home. Once again, the army commander arrived with his great caravan of pomp and riches in tow, with his own expectations of how his meeting with the prophet might go down. But Elisha was absent, sending a messenger instead.

Now faced with a servant, instead of a prophet or king, Naaman’s anticipation ebbed further.

“Wash in the river Jordan seven times and you will be healed,” the messenger told Naaman.

Eh, what?

The little expectation that remained in Naaman’s heart vanished. This was not at all what he had imagined when he had left his home, holding on to hope and expecting a miracle.

Naaman had expected healing. He was willing to hope for it. But when faced with the circumstances that would eventually lead him to it, he wasn’t so sure…

“Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.”

2 Kings 5:11-12

He had expected a king to help him. He had hoped that the prophet would make a great spectacle as he called upon God for healing. And, as none of these expectations were met, Naaman reasoned that, at the very least, he could choose a cleaner river than the Jordan to bathe in.

But that was not where healing was to be found. Naaman had allowed his own expectations to distract him, even blind him, to the work that God was seeking to do; to the journey that God was leading him on. For this journey was not just about physical healing, but included lessons in humility and obedience too. There was far more in play than just Naaman’s own desired end product.

We, as Christians, are called to hope (Ephesians 1). It is good to anticipate and believe for all that we believe God has spoken over us. But that does not guarantee us the easy or most straight-forward route there. Are we willing to trust Him anyway? Are we willing to be patient? Are we willing to lay aside our pride? Are we ready to be obedient, even when it feels foolish? Are we going to dare to keep hoping, keep believing, keep anticipating, even when the journey looks nothing like we expect it to?

Eventually, Naaman discarded his pride and obeyed the messenger’s instructions to dip in the Jordan river seven times, receiving the longed-for healing and complete restoration of his skin. He saw the manifestation of his anticipation, but not before God had drawn Naaman’s eyes to see the true Provider, and prepared his heart to receive it.

I expected to see the manifestation of my anticipation in July, however two months later I am still waiting, still journeying, still trusting that I will see it one day soon. Though the timing, the pace, the route are not what I expected, still my anticipation remains. I see the lessons I have continued to learn in the time since. I see the careful placement and positioning of people and circumstances that God lovingly orchestrates for my good. I endeavour to repeatedly re-focus my eyes on the Provider, trusting His timing and His process. I see progress, even when it has been a struggle, at times, to keep hoping.

But Naaman’s journey, the pilgrimage of the Israelites to the Promised Land, Joseph’s story from dreamer to diplomat, and so many other Biblical examples all illustrate the same message: a detour or a delay does not mean denial.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Hebrews 10:23

Dare to keep trusting, keep hoping, keep anticipating. Breakthrough is coming.