February 5, 2019

The Happiest Place on Earth

Abandoning a career that promised financial prosperity, John shares his testimony of how life improved after surrendering to God's will.

“Daddy, I’m praying for you to get a new job.”

As we drove home from a family dinner, my daughter’s voice broke the silence in the car and halted my brooding over another long day at work.

“Do you think things would get better if Daddy had a different job?” I asked.

“Well, it couldn’t get worse.” It was a startling assessment from a 3-year-old, but she was right.

Life had fallen apart since I’d accepted a promotion at work. My wife, Ashley, and I had prayed about the offer. The department I would be leading was facing major challenges, but the job promised financial security and an open door to even brighter future prospects. Ultimately, God had convicted us that I should decline the promotion. Yet, instead of accepting His answer, I accepted the job. When would I ever have another opportunity like this?

It didn’t take long to recognize my mistake. There were more problems in my new department than I had realized. I began working harder and harder until I was spending nearly every waking hour at the office, even on weekends and holidays. I rarely saw my family. I resigned as an elder and youth leader at church and often stayed home on Sabbaths. Exhausted and discouraged, the last thing I wanted to do was go to church and pretend that everything was okay.

My daughter was right. It couldn’t get worse.

Finally, Ashley and I decided to attend a weekend prayer retreat. It was the first significant time we’d spent praying together in the year since my promotion. But God had been waiting for us. On Sabbath afternoon, as we poured out our hearts to Him, we experienced the overwhelming conviction that He was calling us to full-time ministry.

It sounded crazy at first. I would need to go back to school, and Ashley was pregnant with our second daughter. How would we pay for school? How could we uproot, let alone support our family? For a time, I refused to even entertain the idea unless God provided the answers in advance. But, as we continued to pray, our faith grew.

The moment we surrendered to God’s will, life began to improve. It took time to recruit and train my replacement at work but, once accomplished, we put our house on the market. It sold in two days. A few weeks later, we were on our way to Andrews University, where I enrolled in the seminary.

My first year back in school was challenging. While I enjoyed the classes, I was uncomfortable with the nature of my calling. I’d dreamed of serving God in other ways, perhaps as a missionary or a writer, but never as a pastor. Had we made another mistake?

That summer, I worked extra hours instead of taking classes. I also started volunteering at Advocates for Southeast Asians and the Persecuted (ASAP) Ministries, a nonprofit organization working among the poor, persecuted, unreached, and refugees from the 10/40 window. Before my ill-fated promotion, Ashley and I had been active in local and foreign missions. Now this passion was reignited, and God began opening doors.

I transferred from the seminary to the Community and International Development program at Andrews University. Shortly thereafter, ASAP offered me a part-time position. It is such a blessing to be involved in missions again, and I am excited to transition to a full-time role with ASAP when I finish my coursework this spring.

Among the great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 11, Abraham is commended because when God called him, . . . he went out, not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8b, NKJV). Of his unquestioning faith, Ellen White says, “. . . the happiest place on earth for him was the place where God would have him to be” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 126). 

She continues, “Many are still tested as was Abraham. . . They may be required to abandon a career that promises wealth and honor, to leave congenial and profitable associations and separate from kindred, to enter upon what appears to be only a path of self-denial, hardship, and sacrifice. . . [God] calls them away from human influences and aid, and leads them to feel the need of His help, and to depend upon Him alone, that He may reveal Himself to them” (Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 126‒127). 

I don’t profess to have the faith of Abraham, but my family and I can testify to his experience of God’s faithfulness. Abandoning a career that promised financial prosperity was a struggle. And balancing graduate school, work, and family life isn’t always easy. But knowing that we are where God wants us to be, using the time and talents He’s given us to fulfill His purpose and our passion, is a blessing beyond words. In fact, it’s the happiest place on earth!