There are two keywords in my life. One of them is choice and the other is attitude. One affects the other – and it goes in both directions. My attitude affects and determines choices I make, and my choices affect and determine my attitude. How we look at life is an attitude thing. And, what we do is a choice. As a teenager, I chose to give my life to Christ and surrender to Him. I chose at that time to say, "Lord, I believe that you died for my sins." And I put faith in that work on the cross, so not only do I have forgiveness but I have eternal life. That's a choice I made.
Because of this choice, God has opened doors and has led me throughout my life. One of the important things was, what would I do with my life? Before coming to Christ, my plan was to go into forestry. I love the out-of-doors. But God called me to the ministry. And because of His calling on my life, I made a choice to go to Bible school. I became a pastor; then became a missionary; later ended up teaching at Northwest University, and now, I'm pastoring again. All of these are choices that I made. And it's so interesting, I love to travel. However, when I made that choice to be a missionary, I never realized that God would take me all over the world in all kinds of situations. I can't think of a more exciting life to live than the life He has given me as a result of the choices I made.
In life, there are people that we meet – and we have attitudes towards them. This impacts our lives so much. Sometimes we get angry with someone and we don't want to forgive them because of what they have done. On the other hand, they usually don't even know about it. It doesn't impact them, but it impacts us. And so, our attitude towards this determines our choices. Do we forgive? Do we go to that person? Do we follow what Christ said to do in the Scriptures?
One significant choice I made in life was the choice of a wife. A wife that ultimately, I would spend almost 61 years with. God brought her into my life, and as the years went by we ended up in some of the most remote places you could find in the continent of Africa, in the jungle and on the equator. Most women would never have gone there, especially not with a four-year-old, and a two-year-old, and a five-month-old. And then two years later, another child that joined our family. But my wife, Mary, was not like most women.
We had no electricity for the first two and a half years – and we had no running water. The rainwater that came off the roof was our water source. We had poisonous snakes and Mary hated snakes. On top of this, there wasn’t another English-speaking woman within 135 miles of us, so Mary had no one to interact with – and yet, never a complaint from her. So many women would have said, "Let's go home." And yet, this woman, was the right one that God provided for me. And like I said, we had almost 61 years of a wonderful life together in marriage and in ministry. She was such a complement to me, and helped me through all those years.
With all of the triumphs, joys, excitement and pleasures also comes the reality that life has hardships. A year and a half ago, one of the greatest ones I have faced was the loss of my Mary. I thought, “oh my, can life get any harder?” Then almost exactly a year later, one of my sons, Phil, who was a missionary in Africa got cancer and died of it at 54 years of age. During these times, we say, "God, why does this happen?" I found myself in that place, especially after my son passed. He was so young. He was in the prime of ministry. Why would God allow this cancer to take him?
Five days after his death, I was awakened at five o’clock in the morning, and as I lay in bed talking with God, once again saying, "God, why didn't you take me instead? Phil was doing such a great job.” And the Lord stopped me and He said, "You know, you were a runner in high school in track and cross country.” (And then I ran until I was in my mid-50s, when my knees said, ‘Don't run anymore.) And He said, "You know, there are different distances in races. In my Word, I said, ‘run the race I set before you.’ And Phil ran the race I set before him. You're still running the race I set before you."
Hebrews 12:1(b) – 2(a) . . ‘Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.'
Rather humorously, I said to God, "Either, I'm a slow runner, or you’ve got a marathon picked out for me because I'm still running." But after hearing this from the Lord, what peace came into my heart. Although I still so miss my son, to know that he had run the race that Christ had given him to run makes all the difference. It’s not, what I wanted, not what his wife and children wanted, not what friends wanted for him, but what Christ wanted for him.
As I walk through life each day, I still miss my wife. But, rather than dwell on, “why did you take my wife to be with you?” - it goes back again to attitude and choice. I have chosen to say, “Lord, thank you for all of the good years and the wonderful woman you gave me to share life and ministry with, and to raise four children for you.”
It's a choice and, you know, I could get up each morning bemoaning what I've lost, or I could think of what I have and what has happened over all these years. It's been my practice to pray for my family when I go to bed at night. I pray in the morning for other things, but family is at night. I didn't realize it until a couple of months after Mary had passed that almost every time I started praying for my family, the prayer began with, “thank you, Lord, for the wonderful wife you gave me. Thank you for all the years we had together. Thank you for the memories that I have of sharing life together.” This, I think, is an attitude, an attitude of thankfulness, and it makes all the difference in my life. I don't go around moping. Like I said, I still miss her terribly, but the whole point is I made a choice and I'm going to remember the blessing that she was to me and to all those we ministered to.
As we look at life, all of us are going to have wonderful things happen, but, we're also going to have those things that break our hearts. Throughout this, we make choices. Our attitude determines how each day goes. We can choose to get up in the morning and rejoice and say, “Lord, thank you for the blessings you gave me.” When I was a young man, someone shared with me, Lamentations 3:22, “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness.” I need to remember that His love, mercy and His grace are new every morning. He didn't just bless me back in the past somewhere, but each day He does. And that helps me face the day and whatever is coming my way.
And so, I challenge each one of us because we all make choices and determine what our attitude is. But when we are walking with Christ, He helps us have that right attitude and make those right choices, and with Him, life is rich and full even though at times it's very hard.