Tuesday 31 January 2012

Measuring success

Well done, good and faithful servant.

These are words every Christian longs to hear. Success can be seen as a very loaded term as it is increadibly subjective. Yet we slip into measuring, rewarding and boasting success so easily and apply our world view to the measure. By doing so, what can be a great success for some is a dramatic disappointment for others and vice versa. Just take any football match, for example, it's only a success if your side wins!

For some industries, success and failure are black and white (or used to be), such as in banking, for example, where a successful year would be measured by how the balance sheet looked (although that's probably a bad example, given the current climate!). For athletes the ultimate measure of success would probably be competing (and winning) an Olympic medal.

So what is success in mission? How is it measured and what should we celebrate it? Should we celebrate it at all?

As I travel and meet more and more people involved in full time Christian service I find that the measure of success varies greatly. The easiest way to see what people's view of success is, is to attend a few meetings. More often than not, the leader of the meeting will be abundantly clear by body language, tone of voice and message whether the message they are bringing is positive or negative. Also, positive/success messages are often celebrated with clapping and cheering.

Many will celebrate success by number of volunteers/staff working for the mission. Some will measure it by how the finances are looking. Others will mark it by the output (number of outreaches/schools/activities).

This week, as some of us in YWAM are gathering to chat about how we can serve those working as volunteers in Africa better. Many of us are starting to feel really feel challenged not to measure our success in any of the above ways. Rather, spend time asking God where he is leading us, and try to be obedient to what He calls us to do. Only when we have achieved this, can we speak about success. And, of course, when we do that, we can only give the glory to God, as He did the work for us, we just obeyed.

Walking in obedience sometimes means going into the hardest places with the least support and little-to-no recognition. It means humbling yourself and serving - raising others up, not yourself.

Yet despite all this, as I sit and listen to the stories of people who have given up everything to serve overseas, I see how God has given them the strength, ability and will power to complete the tasks He has set before them. I see how they are simply men and women living extraordinary lives because of the God they serve. I hear about many miracles and examples of provision and guidance in some incredibly difficult circumstances - yet these stories are told without cheering but rather a deep sense of joy and hope. What a God we serve that allows us to journey with him like this!

So, how will I know if I've been successful?

When my God says: well done good and faithful servant.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Tie up loose ends

It's a strange thing to think of stepping off, or at least stepping away from the career ladder, to go and do voluntary service overseas. Some call us brave, others wonder how we're going to provide for our family, while others still question our wisdom in quitting paid jobs in the UK. Yet we know that it was a calling that we had to take.
However, when we first went out to South Africa, we weren't 100% sure what we would be doing and how long we would be there for. It was a step of faith in itself to even go. This meant, however, that there were many 'loose ends' that were left untied. One of these was our house. We bought a small house in the UK for us to live in, right at the peak/boom, and just before the credit crunch. Although that was a few years ago now, the market still hasn't recovered and our house is still in negative equity. Friends have been looking after the house while we've been away, and helping us towards the mortgage and bills. However, now that we're committing to a much longer time South Africa, we need to look to rent it out properly - which is not as easy-a-task as we had first anticipated! This past couple of weeks has been spent clearing, sorting/preparing the house for renters whilst meeting with prospective agents and contacting various services to take our names off council tax, water, gas, electricity, telephone, internet, tv etc.

Initially we booked our flights to return to SA for 3rd January, but due to complications with Joshua's visa, we had to move it back to the next available ticket with the same price/conditions - 22nd January. I'm so grateful for that extra time - much needed to get everything sorted here in the UK. Due to the wonders of the internet, I am able to work from 'home' (home being wherever I can get internet access!) during this time. It's not the same as being with the team in SA and I know there are many things that will be left piling up for me to take care of when I return. My prayer for today is that I will complete everything that I need to, to ensure good stewardship of what we have in the UK. Any loose ends are much harder to tie from such a long way away!

Friday 6 January 2012

Lessons learned

Many of us have mini crises in our lives - often that is manifest through loss/injury/hurt of someone, but sometimes it can be slightly more removed from that - such as the losing of important documents whilst travelling. This can become an incredibly stressful event, even if nobody's life is in imminent danger. This happened to me this week when I was in London to collect Joshua's visa. The small bag that contained all our precious documents (marriage certificate, passports, birth certificates and important receipts) was with me no more. The worst part about it was I didn't notice that the smaller bag was missing until I was almost home because it was 'supposed' to be contained within the bigger rucksack I was carrying on my back. 

When such a crisis hits, many of us turn to prayer. As you would imagine, my experience started with panic. Anyone who has gone through the process of getting visas for their family to work overseas will know the expense and time and energy needed to replace any/all of them. I called my wife, Becky, immediately who worked hard at calming me down (though I could feel the tensions rising on the other end of the phone too). I was in Luton market at the moment I realised, getting my new mobile phone unlocked. I felt all-of-a-sudden claustrophobic and a tightening of my neck muscles. I asked the guy at the market stall to hold onto my phone for a bit whilst I take a walk. I went to the toilets, expecting to throw up, or something, but nothing. It was then that I turned to prayer. Not caring how I looked to others in the shopping centre bathroom, I started praying fervently to God for his help (I resisted dropping to my knees, but I did metaphorically). The first answer to prayer came immediately - it was in the form of an amazing sense of peace that came over me. My breathing returned to normal and I felt that somehow (though I didn't know at this stage how), everything would be ok. 

I began the painful process of retracing my steps back from Luton through every shop, back to the train station and back to London, making sure to pick up my newly unlocked phone in the process. Eyes focused on the floor, wishing somehow that it was lying somewhere nearby. As I gradually went through this painstaking process, a couple of glimmers of hope turned out to be false (including the train guard telling me that 'they've found a bag with passports in St Pancras'). Finally, in London, slowly tracing my steps back, I continue my prayer, which went something like: "Lord, my worship of you is not dependent on my circumstances. But please help me find this bag with all the documents in it." That is when the second answer to prayer came. I heard God say to me: "You prayed with such passion then, but why do you wait for a crisis to pray like this?". I felt thoroughly rebuked, but knew deep in my heart, the truth of it. Over the past couple of months, I have become so busy that my prayer life has reduced down to very simple, and often half-hearted quiet times. 
As I acknowledged this and pledged to turn around and spend more serious time in prayer, I received a phone call from my brother-in-law. He had been called by lost property at St Pancras station and told that the item that I was looking for had been found.And it was. All the documents in tact and collected. Back in my hands. I held onto that small back so tightly, never wishing to see it depart from my sight again!

I don't believe God took that bag from me, but I see how he used the situation to get my attention - for which I am so grateful. Now is the task of follow through. Quiet time is a must. Please Lord help me to spend more time with you.