I have always believed that the Lord knows exactly what it takes to get the people he wants to the places he wants them. He also knows what it’ll take to keep the people in the places he wants to keep them too. Sometimes the Lord hedges you in and other times he makes the option to do something such a no brainer that it seems like evidently the only thing you would countenance doing differently under the circumstances.
It is quite easy, in a deprived town like ours, to get plaudits for what we are doing. My wife and I are frequently reminded that the decision for us to come wasn’t grounded in some deep sense of inner-calling. The fact is, when I was called to the ministry I wasn’t even looking for a ministry role. But I was called by a church and the question of desire came after the fact. Evidently I did desire the job on some level because I said ‘yes’ to doing it, but it bears saying that didn’t come about as a sense of deep conviction that I should be in ministry nor any sense that I should serve in a deprived area.
I won’t go into the whys and wherefores of how we came to see it as right. But I will point to one. It is not the most godly of reasons (though not ungodly of itself) but underlines the point. I began my working life as a teacher and, after an extremely severe bout of depression, ended up leaving the profession not long after I started. I spent around two years in recovery (one year severely ill and one progressively getting better) that kept me out of work altogether. Having decided not to go back into teaching, and applying for a range of jobs and getting nowhere with them, I eventually went self-employed and set up a small business.
Working for yourself has its advantages, for sure. But my work wouldn’t have been enough, by itself, to support our family. But combined with my wife’s salary, made things credible for us. At the point I was called to ministry, like most self-employment, I was earning sporadically and not earning, despite working chasing leads, when I wasn’t working on a specific job. My wife has said in the past – and I think I agree with her – I can’t say with any great certainty that, were I doing a job I loved and earning a regular and handsome wage doing it, whether I would have taken the post.
Now, of course, if that were my only reason for taking on my ministry role, I should expect everyone to worry (don’t worry, it wasn’t!) The fact is, I was happy doing what I was doing and my wife and I were happy serving in the church we were in at the time. We had just had our first child and, generally, were quite content where we were. But I am conscious that the decision to take the role was remarkably easier given my specific circumstances. We had less to ‘give up’ in going.
But it bears saying that the Lord knows what is required to get who he wants to where he wants them. I had applied for dozens of jobs, getting interviews for things I was clearly qualified for, but failed to get a single one of those jobs. That led us to follow my wife’s work for a time and took us to places without which I certainly wouldn’t be in ministry today. My self-employment freed me up to serve in my church in ways I wouldn’t have been able should I be in almost any of the other jobs I applied for. It also prepared me in all sorts of ways that I look back and see how it was specific preparation for what I am doing now. Looking back, it was obvious that the Lord was keeping me for this ministry role and he placed me where he needed me, putting me in the circumstances he wanted me, knowing I would say ‘yes’ when the call (that I wasn’t expecting) eventually came.
I am conscious that the Lord sometimes hedges you in too. There have certainly been times that I have considered quitting for one reason or another. I won’t rehash any of the reasons here. But I will say, whilst some of those times I stayed because of some high principle or deep resolve, there are definitely times in which I stayed because the Lord hedged me in. What else am I going to do? Is it really credible to leave? Circumstances just won’t allow for it.
But a missionary friend said something similar to me. People sometimes wonder why they do what they do when they could live somewhere else on far more money. But my friend let slip that their circumstances were such that, should they return home, they would actually be worse off. They said they would like to believe they would stay for much more godly reasons than that. But they were also self-aware enough to see that the Lord had set their circumstances such that it made it much easier for them to stay put. The Lord, in some sense, had hedged them in. These were the people the Lord wanted in that place and he made it such that the decision to stay was obvious.
Now I don’t want to suggest here that should the Lord want you somewhere he will give you money or helpful circumstances or any such thing. There may be a whole load of means the Lord uses to make it clear as to why you should or shouldn’t go, stay or leave (including your own deep-seated resolve). But the Lord knows what it would take to get those he wants to where he wants and to get them to stay where he wants and to cause them to leave too.