Since my last blog we’ve moved into a new decade. Maybe you’re entering it with mixed emotions. You’re challenged by the new opportunities, but alarmed at how fast the world is changing. You’ve memorized some of God’s promises, but you’ve also seen your share of heartaches. Worry-filled whispers disturb your peace.
What will this new decade bring to your life?
Recently, while sorting through my files, I found a journal from the 1980’s. Reading those entries I was reminded of a long forgotten period in our lives that included some of our most difficult days. At that time my family and I were missionaries in Taiwan.
Due to a rapid decline in the value of the US dollar and a new financial commitment in our ministry, we were not making it financially. Things were breaking that we could not afford to have fixed. Our finances were inadequate and I could find no other reasonable ways to cut corners.
We were going through one of our most stressful times of personal conflict in a situation that had developed there in Taiwan. As a result, we backed out of a group in which we had previously found friendship and emotional support.
During the most painful part of this conflict, a family in our tiny mission church felt overlooked and quit coming over a very trivial matter. They shared their complaints with singles in the church.
In the same couple of years that these things happened, some missionary friends of ours, a family and a single, had to leave Taiwan suddenly due to extreme personal problems and failure.
It was a scary time for us, but we lived through it and continued our ministry in Taiwan for nearly ten more years until the Lord led us away from there and to our current ministry in New Zealand. Why am I sharing this? Because tough times can shake our resolve or even our faith. Or they can make us stronger. In the moment of crisis we just want to survive. In tough times we all need encouragement. Looking back to this difficult time in my past gives me help and hope for the future that I want to share with you.
Hindsight is 20/20.
At the moment of decision we often wonder which choice is right. In hindsight, of course, we can see things that would have helped us make that decision, had we but known. Looking back on my situation from the 1980’s in hindsight encourages me as I approach the 2020’s with confidence. God brought us through those days and He will bring me through my future. When I forget that, it’s because I’ve lost my spiritual focus. How can you and I adjust our spiritual vision closer to 20/20 and see more clearly? It’s a matter of focus.
Focus on God’s promises, not your fears.
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19
The future is as bright as the promises of God. But sometimes we can only see the problem and not the provision. As our finances tightened in the 1980’s, we wondered if we would have to leave the field early to raise support. Then several churches raised our support. Also, due to a sad situation in the life of another missionary, a church from Singapore started supporting us, sight unseen, and became one of our highest supporting churches throughout the rest of our ministry in Taiwan. Philippians 4:19 proved true once again.
The future may look dark, but God sees it perfectly and He promises to give us everything we need to follow His will. When we get discouraged, it’s a sure sign that we are focusing more on our problems than God’s promises.
Focus on the future, not the past.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14
These verses liken the Christian life to a foot race. To run the race of the Christian life well, we have to forget the things behind and press forward. The past can hold us back if we hold onto it too tightly. In the midst of our difficulties we need to come to terms with the challenges and resolve problems when possible. But then we need to move on.
During the conflict in the 1980’s, we were unable to resolve our differences with one family, but we learned to greet them in a friendly way when we ran into them. That didn’t make us best friends, but it did allow us to breathe when they were around. Time healed that wound and the experience of moving past a painful situation taught us how to handle a similar situation years later.
Reading my journal from the 1980’s also made me thankful for a poor memory. These years were some of our most difficult, but thankfully time has dimmed the memory and healed the pain. We chose to remember the good times and let the bad memories fade. That tells me that, when life seems so difficult you can scarcely breathe, that is not the end. Healing and hope ahead call us to keep running the course God has given to us.
Focus on where God is leading.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. Psalm 37:23
Sometimes a disturbing event signals a change we need to make. In the 1980’s God used the conflict we were experiencing to lead us to change schools for our daughters. Later, in 1996 the Lord led us away from Taiwan, but we stayed until God’s leading was clear and certain. Leaving before God’s time would have been failure. Staying past God’s time for us to leave would have been failure as well.
The Lord not only orders our steps. He orders our stops as well. When God stops you, take time to refocus. Perhaps God is leading you in a new direction. If so, that stop is actually progress.
Focus on your own course.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Hebrews 12:1-3
These verses compare our life of faith to a race to be run. It’s easy to get distracted by other runners or worries that weigh us down. We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the finisher of our faith, who endured His course all the way to the cross. He will help us finish our course.
In the 1980’s, it was scary seeing other missionaries fail and become disqualified from ministry. Later on, some of our closest missionary friends left the field to move to other ministries. But their race was different than ours. We needed to persevere in Taiwan as long as God’s will for our ministry was there.
When we face fears, conflict, failure, confusion, or any other obstacles, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus and get on with the race.
So how will you greet the 2020’s? Will you shrink back in fear or welcome the decade with faith? I choose faith. Will you join me?
I close with a quote from Our Daily Bread about 60 years ago. Times have changed, but God’s wisdom, power, and control are as strong as ever.
“The year ahead is untried – it is beckoning tomorrow fraught with new experiences and possibilities. The wise in heart will enter it with faith, hope, and Scriptural optimism, and determine to take advantage of every God-given opportunity.”