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!

 

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