I remember the first big ministry-related fight my husband and I had. We’d been on the field six months when he came home from a meeting and said, “So we’re joining the church plant team.”
In our line of work, this of course sounds like a pretty great thing. And for most it is. Even for us, we came to Europe as church planters and saw a future filled with new spiritual beginnings and sustainable fellowships.
And yet, a still, small voice whispered in my ears.
The three words no one ever wants to hear—least of all my husband as I repeated what I’d heard in my heart, in maybe a less than still and small way.
We had plenty of reason to go for it, to jump at the chance at starting a church from the ground up. I mean, it was what we came here to do! But there were some valid reasons to put the brakes on. Several North American families were already involved. Our hearts and strategies were focused on the village we had only just moved to. We recently discovered we were expecting our third child.
And perhaps the strongest reason of all… we weren’t ready.
Matt didn’t want to hear it and I didn’t want to say it. But it was true.
Still, we went for it. He had already agreed and it was too late to back out and we wanted to do something, and, and, and… all the other reasons we do things we shouldn’t.
It wouldn’t be the first, and it certainly wasn’t the last time I felt that gentle pull away – or push towards – something. And obviously, not our first or last fight. But it was a doozy, and in the end, the decision made was the wrong one. We would spend years recovering from that year, both in work and in our marriage.
And while many can say, “Yes, the cost is worth it!” we know now this particular cost wasn’t. And in some ways, we’re still paying it.
There’s a great scene in Friends I come to time and time again. I call it a missed-discernment scene, but really it’s just Joey being Joey. Ross is trying to patch up (one of) his ill-fated marriage(s). His life is turned upside down and he finds himself facing a terrible choice:
Ross: I don’t know what to do.
Joey: You want my advice?
Ross: Yes, please!
Joey: You’re not gonna like it.
Ross: That’s okay.
Joey: You got married too fast.
Ross: That’s not advice!
Joey: I told ya.
A lot of times, when it comes to discernment, we catch on to the plot a bit too late. We want to go back in time, but instead we can only offer platitudes and overdue advice. We know now what we should’ve said, should’ve prayed, should’ve listened to then. But we’re now stuck in the what happens after.
And it’s not just the responsibility of the discerner, either. Those around the discerner, those with other gifts and callings, may have open ears and minds and yet choose to ignore or try for a better, quicker, easier way. Or maybe, as Spurgeon puts it, an almost right way.
I think about that cost, the cost of the almost-right way. What would’ve changed if after a few weeks of prayer and discussion, we’d both said no, not yet—together? I wonder if other areas of work would have flourished, if relationships with our team would’ve grown deeper as opposed to fraying like overburdened string. Maybe our support wouldn’t have dwindled so much, maybe our marriage would’ve been stronger, maybe if we closed that door a better window would’ve opened, a harvest planted, fruit sown.
But maybe not. Probably not. The consequences could’ve been the same or worse. Our inaction could’ve worried supporters, discouraged churches, angered our team, caused even more friction between the husband who was willing and a wife who was not.
The point, though, is it doesn’t matter. Listening to and trusting that still, small voice is priceless; a holy risk. It may come at a cost, but surely it is one we will not have to pay alone.
For the record (and our parents): the husband and I? We’re really good. He asks for my discernment and I pepper him with Joey quotes. And sometimes I give it to him straight up. We pray. We jump (or more often: we wait and pray some more. Mutual submission and all that.). And we’re in it. Together.
When has discernment – or lack of it – cost you, your plans, your work, or your relationships? How do you make time to listen for that still, small voice?