Monthly Archives: September 2016

When subtraction equals multiplication

dscn3701-2We find ourselves in this 55th year of our marriage extremely wealthy. Oh, we don’t own a yacht, or many stocks and bonds. We are struggling to fulfill the conditions for one small mortgage on a little condo. We have a car from 2004—which runs very well, by the way. We don’t winter on the Riviera nor take round-the-world cruises; but we are extremely well-off.

How is that possible? Let me go back a few years. Back to when we were about 19. When Mary Helen and I didn’t know the other existed. We separately, a thousand miles apart, were moved to faith in Jesus Christ. We confessed our sins, bowed to the Lordship of Christ and were born again.

My growth was slow; two steps forward and one step back. But early on, due to the godly mentor-ship of more mature Christians, I was led to become a committed follower of Christ. Although different in detail, Mary Helen’s experience was similar.  Both of us independently felt the call of God to give up our secular pursuit of success and prepare for overseas missionary service. (This, of course, is not the experience of all Christians, many of whom He calls to demonstrate godly discipleship in secular occupations. He doesn’t call all to missionary or Christian service.)

But in our case, he led both of us to go to Columbia University in preparation for missionary service among Muslims. It was there we met, sensed our similar callings, and fell in love.

In the course of our Christian walk, we both had been confronted with the challenge of Jesus Christ. “If any man would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross DSCN1448daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That means subtraction. All genuine Christians have to learn subtraction—to subtract from their lives a passion to fulfill the desires of the world, the flesh, and the devil; to subtract selfishness; to subtract choices that contradict God’s revealed will; to subtract a determination to follow a course of life that leads us to our own glory…and so on. We cannot be followers of Christ without serious subtraction.

Like other disciples, Mary Helen and I independently and together, repeatedly sought to surrender our wills to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Surrender, subtraction, was often a struggle. It scared us to think of leaving North America as missionaries but the burden would not leave us. We often failed to be courageous and submissive to his leading. But ultimately, he led us to serve in Pakistan and then later in Ontario in a pastoral and writing ministry.

That meant we had to give up the dream of a home and retirement plan. But God had other OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAways of providing for us. An English woman, who had offered my father hospitality during the First World War when he was pilot, included us in her will with a small bequest.  When we were led from missions into pastoral ministry, we discovered that my mother had left us the family home in Toronto knowing we would never be able too own one. God provided in a multitude of ways.

God is no man’s debtor! As Paul reminds us in Romans 8, “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things” (Rom. 8:32)?

As we look back now, we realize how much Jesus’ principle has proven true.  Jesus said, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29,30).

We have received many times more than we could ever have expected. What a return on a tiny investment. We enjoy connections with a huge missionary family. Love for Pakistan, a beautiful but needy country. Pakistani friends. Scores of friends in Australia, England, the US, and Canada. Wow, we are wealthy. In the kingdom, subtraction does mean multiplication!

 

Our Plans–God’s Surprises

dscn3446After serious downsizing to fit into an apartment, we got notice to vacate from what we thought would be our last move before the Lord took us home. The owner wanted to sell the condo. Agh…! And we had loved the location, near Cobourg’s waterfront and harbour. Why did this happen? What to do?

We madly scrambled to find other rental accommodation. Cobourg’s vacancy rate stood close to zero, and with some mobility problems, we needed a one-floor apartment in a building with an elevator. We madly searched the town, taking down contact phone numbers–to no avail. Some of those we did find were so small that our bed wouldn’t even fit into the bedroom.

Lord, you have cared for us down through 55 years. What do you want us to do? Should we move away from the town where our daughter lives? Should we move further away from our doctor and the local hospital? Somehow that doesn’t make sense.

From seeking a rental we moved on to searching for a small two-bedroom dscn3623bungalow or condo, that we could buy with our limited resources. Three or four times our hopes were raised only to be dashed. When friends told us about a lovely little one-level condo coming available, we were sure this was it. We made an offer that was a little higher than the asking price to be sure it would be accepted. But no, with multiple offers, the winning bid came in at $27,000 more than ours. We hadn’t figured on Cobourg’s red hot real estate market fuelled by empty-nesters selling their inflated homes in the Greater Toronto area and buying up bargains in Cobourg.

Through this period we kept on down-sizing even more than the year before. I cut my library by another half. Negotiations with the landlord to extend the deadline to vacate were unsuccessful. The weeks slid by.

The promise of another ideal condo, made by our real estate agent, had been deferred again and again for weeks and weeks. And hope deferred makes the heart sick. Lord, please show us the way. We want your will, but darkness and puzzlement obscure the way ahead.

Our daughter reminded us that the Lord has always provided for us–often very special accommodation–even during our 18 years of missionary service. Just trust Him. Yes, but we are so tired. We’ve had 27 or so main moves, plus every summer in Pakistan we had to move to a home near the kids’ boarding school–hardly minor moves since we had to set up house-keeping for them during the summer.

dscn3692I guess we’ve earned our PhD in moving…but with energy depleted, we thought we would settle down!

Finally, we returned to a new development of small condos in a neighbouring town for the third time and providence unfolded a special opportunity. Unknown to us, the man we had been talking to about the units and their availability was the actual owner-developer. He told us to wait while he got a key and then to follow him. He showed us a unit that he had used for his daughter while she waited for her house to be built. It was wonderful with extra upgrades! “I can make this available to you in mid-October,” he said. He quoted a price much less than similar units he had built in Cobourg. Yes, we almost shouted. This is it.

And so, while we are nomads for 6 weeks, we are no longer potentially homeless!

Throughout our lives, God has surprised us again and again and again with a direction or
provision much better than wedscn3701-2
had planned. How true is Proverbs 16:9 as preached by our pastor (David Daniels), “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” We plan, we imagine, we ponder, and sad to say,
we often worry…but God sovereignly modifies our plans to bless us in a place and time of His choosing. Blessed be our Triune God, our shepherd, our rock and high tower!