Counting the Cost.
It Will Be Repaid.

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Count the cost/It will be restored

I was on the mission field for seven years and have been back four years. It seems strange that it would take so long to "recover" from a missions experience. Neal Pirolo told me it is normal to take around 2/3 of the time you were on the mission field for "re-entry". In my case, that explains the timing of this article. Gone for seven, back for four, finally coming to peace with my return from the mission field. I expected it to be a little rough for a year, maybe two.

I didn't expect most of what happened.

I had an incorrect view of what the Bible says. I also had an incorrect view of the length of my life. Now I understand the principals, even if I still can't completely grasp them.

Before I went on the mission field I thought God would restore whatever was lost because of my decision to follow Him.

When I was going through DivorceCare I loved the verse, Joel 2:24,25.

Joel 2:24 & 25 And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. And I will restore to you the years which the swarming locust has eaten, the locust larvae, and the stripping locust, and the cutting locust, My great army which I sent among you.

It seemed to fit so well with what I wanted to believe God was going to do from my divorce. That same concept is what I expected from the cost of going on the mission field. But it isn't just that passage in Joel that talks about being restored, the Bible is filled with this idea. I thought they all applied to my situation. No, I didn't consciously apply them all, I didn't think of them like a "contract" but they all helped me make the decision to go. Deuteronomy 28:1-14 says "Do good and God will bless you". In Job 42:12 we see that Job was faithful and eventually he was more than restored, then in Psalms, over and over again David talks about God's provision.

Then there are all the words of Jesus, just in Matthew alone we have:

  • Matthew 6:1 What you give will be rewarded by God
  • Matthew 6:19-20 You should store your treasures in heaven
  • Matthew 6:33 God will take care of you
  • Matthew 7:7-11 Ask and God will provide
  • Matthew 10:6-10 When Jesus sent out the disciples he said not to take money with them
  • Matthew 10:28-31 God will take care of you
  • Matthew 11:28-30 God will make it easy to work for Him
  • Matthew 14:20 Jesus feeds thousands from very little, meaning God will provide miraculously
  • Matthew 16:24-26 Give up your life to find it
  • Matthew 17:20 You can move mountains with faith
  • Matthew 17:27 Jesus will provide miraculously (Peter fished for tax money)
  • Matthew 21:22-22 With faith you can do anything
  • Matthew 25:16 If you work faithfully you will be given more

On some level I knew that there were no guarantees. I didn't leave to go serve the Lord because I would be rewarded, I did it out of love for Him. But always, in the back of my mind was the thought, the hope, the expectation, that God would reward and repay me for my sacrifice for Him.

Just after I arrived on the mission field I was at a conference where I heard another missionary talking about how God provided for him. He gave up his well-paying job and went to the mission field. After two years he was almost completely broke and praying about what God would have him do. At that point, God restored back to him almost exactly the same amount of money he had when he left, two years earlier.

That summed up my expectations. I thought whenever I came home from the mission field God would restore all I had given up. It wasn't a conscious thought, it was an unspoken expectation. I didn't realize how much I had believed in this expectation until it didn't happen.

Of course, I had hope. When it didn't happen as soon as we returned, I thought God must have a plan, restoration must be coming. Now it has been four years and I have accepted that it isn't coming.

There were two problems with my expectations, the view of the length of my life, and my Biblical understanding.

First, I had the totally realistic, well-grounded, normal expectation that my "life" ended at death. I know, I know, I am going to heaven, life doesn't really end in our death here. I totally get that. But in our day-to-day experience it is not "normal" to think of our lives as eternal. I have only lived here, in this life. So my expectations of being "restored" had to do with my view of the length of my life. I expected to be restored here. I expected that the things I gave up would be restored before that short blip of time when my body actually dies and I go to live in heaven.

My amazingly short-sighted view of life, is completely normal and rational. But it is not correct.

If my restoration or reward comes after I die, it is still a restoration, still a reward. I will continue to pay the cost of my adventure on the mission field until the day I die, my restoration may not come until after my body dies.

In my case, the best reward would be to forever get to meet people that got saved through my ministry time. That would be a far longer-lasting reward than to get back all the money I gave up to go on the mission field.

The other problem with my expectations was my Biblical understanding. While I believed all those "promises" of God, I ignored the sacrifices, or costs mentioned in the Bible also.

In Luke 14:28 Jesus talks about how foolish it would be to not count the cost before doing something. Specifically He was talking about following Him. So, in other words, there is a cost to following Him. That is pretty clear isn't it? I guess I must have expected to pay a cost then have it reimbursed when I got home. Which isn't really a cost.

David was appointed king but didn't take the crown for years, and then for awhile he was only king of half the kingdom. David also had to run and hide after he was appointed king and then again he had to run from his own son. 2 Corinthians 11:25 & Acts 16:37 tell us that Paul was beaten and put in prison, Acts 5:18 tells us that the apostles were imprisoned, Acts 5:40 tells us the apostles were beaten.

So yes, there is a cost.

The problem for me is those two concepts don't fit together. God's Word says He will take care of us, He will reward us, He will protect us, if we do good He will bless us, then it tells us that His closest followers suffered beatings, prison and death. So, because those two concepts didn't fit together in my mind I ignored the tougher concepts.

That was not very smart.

The two parts do go together, I just don't understand how. Because I don't understand doesn't mean they are not both true, it just means I don't understand.

Which is it? Will you have to pay the cost to go on the mission field, or will you be restored and rewarded for your service to the Lord?

I had not dealt with those opposing ideas until I returned and God did not provide in the way I expected. In my experience I can now see both, the cost I will pay for the rest of my life and the rewards I have already received.

For me the cost is staggering. Had I not quit my job to go on my seven-year mission field adventure I could now retire and go serve the Lord anywhere, for the rest of my life. I would have enough income and savings for the rest of my life. I only needed to work 11 more years when I left. But because of that decision I will be working for the next 20 years.

While the financial restoration did not happen as I expected, and the financial cost is much higher than I expected, the rewards have been too. The people I got to meet, the Lord's work I got to do, the expectation that I will get to see the results of some of that work eternally, that is a bigger reward than I expected.

Would I do it over again?

(insert long, multi-day pause here while I think that over)

No, not under my current circumstances. I just can't get past my responsibility to take care of my wife's financial future. While I know I should be able to trust God for that, still it feels like my responsibility. And that is the trade off. Quit work and leave to serve the Lord will (did) hurt my wife financially, in the long run.

I have thought, and prayed, and thought some more about the trade off; long-term eternal rewards for leaving to serve God now, as opposed to the "short-term" rewards of trying to take care of my wife financially for the rest of her life. I get it, at least I understand it. My wife doesn't see it as my responsibility to take care of her for as long as she lives, but I still can't do it. I can't walk away from that responsibility.

But I have also examined the circumstances that led to my decision to leave to go on the mission field. It sure seems like God piled up a bunch of circumstances to convince me that was the right decision then. I was dying to do full-time ministry, my job was not going as well as I would have liked, I was not married at the time so I hadn't even thought about long-term financial security, my complete trust that God would take care of me in the way I thought He would, and many more circumstances led to the decision to go then.

I believe if I was in the middle of all those circumstances again, I would make the decision to go again. Except for one thing that I hadn't realized until recently...

My dad died in 1994. I have missed his wisdom ever since. He was the wisest man I ever knew. I still treasure wisdom so he is still greatly missed. If my dad was still alive when I was considering quitting my job to go on the mission field, I now know what he would have asked me.

He would have let me talk through all the reasons I wanted to go, he would have agreed with them. But then he would have just one point, one possibility to question. He would have known I was in love with the lady that would later become my wife. At that point we weren't discussing marriage, but my dad would have asked me if marriage was possible. I would have answered that yes, it was possible that we would get married.

Dad would have then asked me how this decision would affect her future financial stability. I would have told him my optimistic view points about how God could provide, but I would have had to admit that it may not work out that way and that this decision could mean we would have to struggle financially when we were older.

Then he would ask the one question I needed to hear "can you live with that?" Meaning can I live with the knowledge that a decision I made forced the woman I love to live without financial security.

I have a very over-developed since of responsibility. I have felt that way ever since I was a kid. So I completely understand that it is my responsibility to take care of my wife. If my dad had been there to ask that question, I would not have been able to answer it. I would need a week to think it over.

My decision to go on the mission field would have hinged on that one question. I know that because everything else in my life was pointing me to go. Yes the risk was high, yes it was going to be a big change, yes I didn't know what to expect, but everything in me and around me was pointing to making that decision to go on the mission field.

That one question would have stopped me, made me think through this aspect of my decision. It would have made me more accurately count the cost. The decision I made at that point would have been more calculated and it would have made me more prepared for the life I have found since I returned.

I was willing to pay the cost for myself, I was willing to make the sacrifice for myself, I was willing to struggle financially for the rest of my life for the chance to go serve the Lord. But the effect it would have on my future wife, the cost, the sacrifice she would have to make because of my decision, that is an entirely different question.

That would have been a great question to have been asked, and to answer, before I went, "Can you live with that?"

But there is one other question my Dad would not have asked me.

If I had decided that the cost was too high to go on the mission field when I did, my dad wouldn't have thought to ask me "What if this is your only chance?"

While it is true that had I kept working those next 11 years we could have served anywhere for as long as we liked, we could afford it and we wouldn't have to struggle financially. But there is a really good chance that later in life we would not go at all.

At this point in our lives we have more commitments than we had years ago when we left to go on the mission field. At the time we left we had no commitments. Now with grandkids and older parents there is a good chance we wouldn't go at all.

Even if we could afford to go out on the mission field now, it is highly unlikely we would go in the next five years. After five years maybe, but one of our parents may need more assistance by then and we will not have as much energy then either. Quite probably that was our only chance to go, when we did.

So to come up with my final answer I need to combine those two questions "can I live with the fact that a decision I made forced my wife to live less financially secure for the rest of her life?" with "what if this is the only chance we will ever have to go on the mission field?".

The answer is, I would have to go.

Even if I knew how it would turn out, even if I fully understood the cost, I could not turn down our only chance.

Note: I asked my wife these same questions. Her answer to the first question surprised me.

I asked her "If you had known how much our 7 years on the mission field would cost us financially, like it is now, would you still have wanted to go?" After she thought it over she said no, she wouldn't have. I then asked her "What if it was our only chance in life to go? Would that change your decision?" She considered that for awhile. She said she realizes that is most probably true, that was our one chance to do a long-term missions adventure. She thinks that is correct, if we had not gone then we wouldn't have had the chance to go at all. That realization did change her mind. Because that was our only chance to go, she said, yes, she would want to go in spite of the cost.

For me, I didn't expect how tough things would be when we returned. I hadn't counted the cost as accurately as I should have. Yes, I will be working for the next 20 years.

But had I fully known the cost of going out on the mission field when we did, I would have still decided to go.