My husband and I have lived on my husband’s income the entire time we’ve had kids, with me working here and there to supplement and cushion the budget. Recently, I decided that in three years, when our youngest starts high school, I need to get a full-time job and pigeonhole most of what I make for ten or so odd years so we have money when we’re old.
That’s a very American way to think, and it fails to take several factors into consideration: 1) we won’t always have four additional mouths to feed and clothe; and 2) if I work full-time, I’ll have to give up most if not all of my ministry endeavors that have become a pretty significant part of my life.
Not coincidentally, I also read George Muller’s autobiography. The man is unlike anyone I’ve known but everything like what I want to be. If you’ve never heard of him, here’s the gist:
As a pastor, George didn’t take a set salary but lived on whatever donations his poor parishioners could give him. While living day by day, trusting God for his needs to be met, he saw a need for orphan care. So he prayed about it, and after feeling confident it was indeed God’s will for him to help, he rented a house and hired people to take care of orphans. Early on he decided he wouldn’t take on any debt but would only use, buy, and pay for things with cash. He constantly went to God with his very real needs, like bread and milk for the orphans and money to pay his employees. Day by day God met his needs and the orphans’ needs. Eventually George built houses for orphans—feeding, housing, and giving a Christian education to over one thousand orphans at a time.
I read the book mostly agog, at times even frustrated (speaks volumes to my lack of patience and complete trust that God will provide) that George was there again, with hungry orphans and waiting to see if there’d be bread for dinner. Spoiler alert: There ALWAYS was.
It’s no surprise to God that I am an impossibly slow learner. While I probably should have learned a lesson about worrying about the future from that book, I didn’t. I continued to worry about the days ahead and wonder how much if any ministry I’d have time to do in a few years.
My husband and I have become close friends with a couple who live in America for short seasons and then go back to a country where Christianity is becoming less and less tolerated. They go back to this country to work in legitimate, government-recognized occupations, but truthfully and covertly, they are missionaries who have brought many people to know Jesus.
At our farewell get-together, I spoke openly with the man concerning my thoughts regarding retirement and the direction I thought I needed to go. And in a manner I could only describe as what must be very similar to the way Jesus must have spoken to many people, this man corrected my thinking.
He pointed out the value I’ve added to our family by being at home. The meals and the hours I’ve disciplined, corrected, and encouraged kids have value. And all of the volunteer ministry I’ve participated in these last 15 years: VBS, Sunday school, youth group, teaching Bible studies, writing, speaking, being on committees at church . . . they all have value too. This mission-minded man concluded by saying, “It seems to me, Amber, we’ve been promised food and clothing. We can do kingdom work knowing we will have our needs met.”
I might not have heard this from anyone else. But this man is living it. He’s giving up all kinds of comfort to do kingdom work at great risk to himself.
Because God knows me and he’s more merciful than anyone could be, he drove the point home even more. The gospel reading at church the next day was Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34. “Do not worry . . .” it began and concluded: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Westerners have blurred the needs/wants line. We’ve fallen for lies about what it takes to have a good home. And maybe you’ve done a better job than I have, but at times I lose sight of value in family time and time with friends and fellow believers. I forget the investment I’m making—constantly speaking the truth into my kids—because for the most part it’s an investment unrealized until much later.
So, if today this finds you at a time when you’re worried about money or the future or what you might have to give up to make ends meet, read Matthew 6. Pick up a copy of Muller’s autobiography. Wonder, like I did, what you could do for the kingdom if things had no hold on you and you believed in a big God.
I’m sure in another year or two, and again in 10 or 12 years if I’m still alive, someone will need to remind me of this again. And because God is good, I’m sure he will.
Amber Albee Swenson is a writer, speaker, and blogger. Her husband and four children keep life exciting and give her lots to write and pray about. Mother, wife, and author are treasured positions, but child of God is her identity.