By Chimezie Onyebilanma.
The two-hour trek from the public bus drop-off to the village in which my wife and I were living and working as missionaries was never a walk in the park for me on any day. But on this particular evening back in 1996, it was a lot more difficult than usual. And it wasn’t the weight of the large bag of our monthly supply of groceries that I had to carry on my head for the walk that made it difficult. It was a different kind of weight that was weighing down on my mind.
I had gone out to the big city market to replenish our family grocery supply. And I had dropped in to say hello to a friend who had been critical about the work we were doing among another ethnic group. Essentially he was concerned with the fact that it was taking too long to see huge results among the tribes we were reaching. Maybe I was overly sensitive on that day, but his comments ate deeply into me. My mind struggled with the question ‘Am I wasting my life holed up in the middle of nowhere trying to do the impossible?’; ‘Were the few small churches we had planted enough to give all my life up for?’; ‘Was it worth it?’ And the long walk with the huge bag on my head made the situation worse. The friend who had made the comment was my contemporary – and of a similar discipline as I had studied at university so I couldn’t resist the comparison. ‘Here was my mate already rich, ‘established’ in life and also serving the Lord in his local church. And here I am with a bag on my head walking through a forest into ‘nowhere’’’. It was a tough moment in my life. But I remember so vividly the exact spot I was at when God’s light broke through and helped my troubled soul.
The question that gave me victory that day was this: ‘Why am I here?’ I asked myself, (or rather, God helped me to ask myself). And my answer was ‘Because God told me to leave everything and take the Gospel to the unreached. Then the light broke through! For I realized that that was all that mattered – not location, or accomplishments but rather that a man can truthfully ‘look God in the eye’ and say, ‘I am faithfully doing what you asked me to do’. I was where God had posted me, doing with all my life the assignment he had given me. I had no reason to be ashamed.
The apostle Paul found himself in similar situations that may have looked shameful. Paul spoke of the experience he faced when he was imprisoned for the Gospel. In 2 Timothy 1:15-16, he said ‘everyone in the province…has deserted me…May the Lord show mercy to Onesiphorus…(who) was not ashamed of my chains’.
Imagine Paul a man of colossal intellect who could have been sitting at the same table with any of the highly regarded men of his day – enjoying the same privileges as they. Yet here he was – he had chosen a life path that meant ’suffering even to the point of being treated like a criminal’ (2 Timothy 2:9 NIV). Yet Paul said ‘…even though I suffer as I do, I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day’. Paul could look at his present life in light of that day when he was to stand before his Lord and say ‘I am unashamed’. An unashamed life is a life lived in the will of God. A life that faithfully pursues and accomplishes the call of God for him or her.
This question of living an unashamed life is so close to my heart right now as I turn 50 years this week (on the 23rd of January). Once again I am looking back as well as looking forward to that day when I will stand and give an account of my life to the Lord. And I am re-examining how I have lived the past half-a-century. And reflecting on how I am going to live the rest of my life.
One thing I can say is that, if I had to go back to 26 years ago when I answered this call to an apostolic full time ministry to the unreached, I would do it all over again and even faster, if possible. This is because I know that I know that this is what he has entrusted to me. And because I know I have obeyed him, I am not ashamed. And I want to live the rest of my life in such a way that I will be unashamed on that day when I meet him face to face.
The most important thing for us as Christ-followers, should be to live unashamed lives. To be sure we are where God has placed us and that we are faithfully doing His will. Of course we know the world lies when it says, ‘He that dies with the most toys, wins’. All they need to do is to go to the next funeral and find out how many such toys a dead man can carry with him! Or to step into eternity after death and see if any of the many highly esteemed (and even at times useful and necessary) worldly toys, matter there. No, it is not he who dies with the most toys (or even with the most toils), that wins. It is not even he who has the most suffering that wins. Or he who becomes a missionary that wins. No! It is, he or she who dies having pursued and accomplished the purpose of God for his or her life, who wins.
Like Paul such a person will be able to say at the end;
‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day’ (2 Tim 4:7-8 NIV)
God is the righteous Judge and it is only His judgement over our lives that matters. Not how others judge us. It doesn’t matter if men applaud us as successful or rate us as failures. What matters is that we are living out the assignment that God has given us. If we are on the race he has called us to run and running it well to finish, then we can be unashamed.
But if we know we are not in the will of God, then none of our present status will count on that day. It is possible to be ‘successful’ outside of God’s will. There’s still an opportunity today to turn around and get into the race God has assigned to you. Whether we are 20 years old or 70 years old we can go to God today and remember where we left the track, and get back into the race he has assigned to us.
●●Onyebilanma is a Nigerian minister, based in South Africa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org