This week we have been house hunting. Unpredictable, exciting, disappointing, stressful, and even fun. We are moving back to the mountain city where we spent our first term as a family, and where I first served as a single twelve years ago. This was the city where I first felt the strangest sense of fit. As an American TCK (third culture kid) who was raised in Melanesia, I didn’t expect to find myself so alive in a place like this – a cultured mountain city of Central Asia. It still surprises me. I can’t really explain it, but the mountains, the locals, the culture, it all seems to enliven my soul such that I’m better able to do ministry in the power and joy of the Holy Spirit.
Should a geographic locale have that kind of effect on a Christian? I’m not quite sure. The idealist in me says no. I should be just as free to minister in another city and culture as I am in this one… right? And yet I can’t escape the repeated experience. When I’m in this city, I come more fully alive. I have more openings to share the gospel. Those gospel conversations seem to bear better fruit. This is all very subjective, but it’s so prevalent that even locals and foreigners have commented on it. “You are meant for this place,” seems to be the steady feedback we get.
Leaving this city two and a half years ago was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. A local church plant had been established. Dear local believers were growing in their faith. We had solid teammates and partners with whom we had walked through fiery trials. We ourselves had loved and been deeply shaped by this context. But a critical leadership need in another city emerged, and we felt that God would be honored if we moved in order to serve that team and work. We left, we grieved, and we tried to do good work. Two and a half years later, another critical leadership need has called for us to return. It’s as if the beloved city and people we had given up for Jesus were now being given back to us in a way we never expected. It has felt very much like coming home, after we had been called to give up home for the sake of the gospel. Well, we say to ourselves, I guess now we know it’s not an idol. We gave it up for Jesus. Now he is graciously giving it back. And we are at times afraid to believe that it’s actually happening.
Christian, pay attention to the desires that won’t go away. In previous years I had a wonderful job as a missions pastor at a healthy sending church. On paper it seemed to be the perfect fit. But every time I took a short-term trip overseas, I felt the desires to return and minister in this type of missions context growing stronger and stronger. I experienced a similar dynamic over the last two and a half years. Try to suppress it as I might, stubborn desires for a very specific kind of place and ministry simply would not leave me alone. I have learned that those stubborn and good desires that won’t go away – especially on the good days – are often indications of the Spirit’s leading. As those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, deep repeated desires for good things are often right and godly. We have new hearts, and this means He often leads us through his gift of specific and long-term desires. “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim 3:1).
But isn’t this selfish? What about duty and honor and loyalty to the greater good? These virtues are all weighty and important. But to wisely and patiently respond to the strong and biblical desires given by the Holy Spirit is not selfish, it is in fact obedience, walking in step with the Spirit. In fact, the desires are often present because of some providential need you don’t know about at the time, but which you are meant to fill.
Don’t give too much weight to the strong desires that emerge occasionally and only on the bad days. But those good desires that come back again and again, even on the best of days? Lean into those. It’s there you’ll likely find your calling – and some of your deepest joys.