I’m on my way to Belem, an hour flight from Altamira, to pray. We face a decision as to whether to move to a more remote Amazon region for the next season of our lives. We could stay in Altamira for two or three more years and continue to reach the interior from there. We can continue to search for a yet to be determined new base of operations for the mission and be part of that team. We can move to Porto de Moz, a remote river town of about ten thousand where the mission has a team working into its interior. All would be good choices. All would involve some risk and/or cost.
How does one make a major decision like this? It feels all too familiar, coming about 2 ½ years after our decision to move to the Amazon region. What should take precedence in such a decision? I really would like us to live and work where God wants us to go. However, C.S. Lewis said, “I’ve never had an unselfish thought,” and my self-assessment draws the same conclusion. With this in mind, how do I proceed, knowing everything is tainted in this manner?
There are so many variables and, as I make my lists of pros and cons for each choice, there are always conflicting items on the list, along with much unknown because I’m trying to decide what will be best in the future. I’ve made such lists for the following: What does God want me to do? What’s best for the kingdom? What’s best for Bets? What’s best for each of our kids? What’s best for the work of the mission? What’s best for our friends? What do I desire (since, based on the above self-assessment, this WILL be part of the equation)? As I’ve made my lists over the past several months, I’ve quickly tired of the analysis because so many items point to conflicting conclusions. What, then, do I do?
I’ve searched out the options. I’ve made trips, examining the areas and the possibilities, each with its upsides and downsides on the above lists. I’ve searched the scriptures, knowing that they are much more than mere words, looking for pearls and clues. I’ve had conversations, with Bets (I think I wear her out with my constant analysis – her tolerance of her husband is worthy of much admiration!), with my kids, with friends and colleagues. I’ve talked to everyone who will listen. I’ve listened to everyone who will talk. I’ve sought counsel, especially from those who lead me. I’ve prayed. And I’ve prayed. The only time I’ve had more heart to heart conversations with my Father is when I prayed over our move to Brazil.
And where am I? I’m on a plane, running away from distraction, trying to sort out the confusion that all of the above has created. It’s a familiar place. I’ve been here before. Some decisions are difficult. Especially when they either involve perceived risk/cost to me or to someone I love or if I allow the “What if…” questions to gain a foothold. Decisions like this make it appear that I have the ability to affect the future. I’ve questioned this perception of power as a physician. Does a physician have the power to save or, by implication, to cause injury or death? I’ve known excellent physicians that have had great difficulty dealing with their humanness and the mistakes they’ve made in their medical decisions. Does my current decision and its resulting journey have the power to set me or someone else up for success or failure? Regarding kingdom decisions, I’ve heard missionaries say, “If I hadn’t decided to come here, many would have spent eternity in hell.” I’ve heard Christians say, “If I hadn’t have decided then to share the Gospel with them and done it the right way, they wouldn’t have believed.” Or, “If so and so wouldn’t have decided to pray, I wouldn’t have come to Jesus.” Are these accurate? More on these statements in a moment.
I think on these things because, immediately ahead of me, the way divides into several paths. This forces a decision. The decision will potentially affect many people’s lives. Each path’s choice will affect my family and friends. The people I treat medically and/or love and share Jesus with will be completely different in each location. I remember last year returning from a three hour motor bike trip alone. I knew that if I chose a wrong turn, I would be spending the night alone in the jungle. I felt the consequences of a wrong choice. As I drove, I remember my conversation with Jesus changing from, “Oh Go, oh God, oh God, show me the correct path,” to a conversation centering around my trusting Him. When I settled the trust issue in my heart, the decisions on where to turn were less burdensome because the primary issue became His control. I gained a sense that, either way, whether I slept in the jungle or slept at home, I would be cared for and the result would fit into His purposes. Trusting Him. It brings rest and peace. When trying to decide whether to come to Brasil, the issue went to the same place. Trusting Him. He now seems to be leading me to the same holy place.
I face this current decision with some confidence (mixed with all my doubt and confusion, thus this writing) from seeing the results of the decision to come to Brasil and how God demonserated His trustworthiness in that move. I can see now, clearly, without doubt, that we were to be here, in this place, at this time. I see that placing my trust in Jesus does two things, both of which are supremely important, neither of which makes the decision. Trusting in another removes burden from the one trusting. Confidence is necessarily transferred to the trusted one (His character, His ability, His love for me). It’s up to Him to guide me, to show me, to communicate with me. Also, it takes me to Him, the object of my trust, in dependence and submission. My relationship with God becomes primary and the decision secondary. Perhaps my times of conversation and heart-sharing with Him are what delight Jesus more than which direction I choose. The more I walk with Jesus, the more I’m convinced that it is my relationship with Him that is His primary concern. Not the work, not the place of my work, not how well it’s done. Rather, am I walking in intimacy with Jesus? Am I allowing Him to know me? Am I seeking to know His heart? Not, am I working for Him, but rather, am I working in submission to Him and trusting Him with EVERY result. Not, am I praying, but rather, am I sharing my deepest questions, hurts, doubts and struggles with Him.
Jesus placed significant value on His relationship with the Father as He carried out His tasks. Perhaps He can be our model. Task without relationship is not valid in His kingdom. Love relationships in the church (vertical and horizontal) carry far more weight than does the "success" of the church. This is illustrated in the first few verses of ICor 13, which are totally illogical if the results and the tasks are primary. The total emphasis is on the motive (love), rather than the result. If results matter to God (and they do, because success in the church is tied to more people coming to Jesus, more people rescued, more people seeing Him as He is, resulting in the glory He deserves), there is no way this can be acceptable unless God is in control of the results. Every good organization monitors, motivates, and survives on, good decisions and their results. Jesus’ kingdom appears to be totally different. This focus away from the decisions and their results, and placed instead on the love relationships, would seem to indicate that He is willing to completely bear the burden of the decisions made by His people. Of course, the love relationships could be means to the end –> loving relationships = good decisions and successful church growth. Good organizations do try to build good inner qualities in their players, believing that good decisions will follow. But I think it is otherwise in His church. It appears that the love (between Father and child and between child and child) IS the end, and the decisions and their consequences (results) are completely His to manipulate and control, as He sees fit.
So where does this rambling bring me at this moment. No decision! But perhaps it centers me where I need to be: trusting a beautiful, caring, ALL-powerful God; staying at His feet in sober dependence and in honest conversation; cherishing His love toward me; focused on my love toward Him and others primarily, before and after the decision; acknowledging His power in accomplishing His purposes, whether He uses me or someone else. Those quotes above about the perceived influence of our choices on others’ eternal destinies are in error because they place us central rather than the only One who is worthy of the center. If I choose one place to serve, will God send another to the other place? If I forget to pray, will God still fulfill His purposes? If my words aren’t perfect in introducing someone to Jesus, will God still communicate to that person’s heart what He wishes to communicate? As a physician, if I make a poor decision … I’m sure if a hammer had human qualities, it would be tempted to talk about how if it didn’t pound in certain nails just right, the house would fall. We, of course, acknowledge that there are many tools in the tool shed, and the burden of a well-built house rests on the carpenter, not on the tool. If a tool “chooses” to not participate, the work doesn’t even slow down. Another tool is chosen and the work continues, with no loss of quality or time. But … there is the remarkable JOY of participating in the work, rather than the burden of responsibility of the outcome. Physicians and their decisions are tools in the Great Physician’s medical bag. To serve people in this manner is a joy, participating in God’s care of someone at a time of vulnerability and need, but He determines the outcome. In the kingdom, I believe it is exactly the same. The Lord is building His house, His kingdom and I GET TO play. I have the incredible, grace-filled joy of being used by the carpenter. But it is HE who builds, not me. So … He will use me wherever I decide to go. He will care for me and my family wherever I choose to serve Him. He delights in me coming to Him and submitting to Him, because this is appropriate. After all, He is God and I am made by Him, to be used by Him, for His delight and joy.
Do you face decisions today? Perhaps you would join me in the battle for perspective. Do you carry the pain of “poor” decisions in your past? I do. Perhaps today is the day that the acknowledgement of God being the carpenter of your life, (past, present, and future) and of His kingdom, will bring the rest He desires you to have. He would love to go for a walk with you, and talk it through. There is no counselor like Him.
Do please pray for us. When I left Altamira, I would have asked you to pray that we make the correct decision. Now I would ask you to pray that we push even harder into intimacy with Jesus, and that we make our decision from that place. Nothing else really matters. My selfish heart can acknowledge without difficulty that this is my utmost desire. My battle for perspective will continue tomorrow. I so come and go and I so alternate between trust and doubt. I’m so far from where I want to be, and yet … How I love being His! And how I long that others may know Him.