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Would you like Tim and Terri to come to your community?

August 30, 1999

Do our recent struggles reveal a lack of divine guidance?

Recently, a local woman challenged Terri to consider whether we may be missing God's direction in our personal lives and ministry. She explained that after her husband read Terri's July letter, which requested assistance with our financial needs, he responded "God can't be in this, or the Palmquists wouldn't be undergoing this struggle." That, she explained, is the reason that she and her husband would not support us.

We never take such comments lightly, so we paused to reevaluate our lives and ministry in light of our recent problems, asking ourselves whether we might be blindly following our own convictions, subjecting our family to a futile struggle. After a moment of reflection, the Holy Spirit seemed to lead us to ponder our struggles in light of the experiences of God's people as recorded throughout the Bible.

One of the greatest examples of God leading His people is recorded in the book of Exodus. But just two months after God miraculously delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, God's chosen people already seemed to be questioning God's direction, remembering that in Egypt "we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death" (Exodus 16:3). Why would God subject His people to such difficulties in the midst of their miraculous deliverance from bondage?

Although the Israelites were going through a barren desert, God assured them through Moses that He would be their constant guide, leading them to the Promised Land with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). Nevertheless, with God as their guide, the children of Israel wandered in the desert for years! (True, their years of wandering were compounded by their own disobedience, but the original route God led them on was anything but the direct route. It would be something like routing a trip from Bakersfield to Sacramento through Death Valley.) Why would God choose to lead His people on a long, difficult journey to the Promised Land, when He could have continued to show His supernatural power by expediting their journey through the wilderness?

God told the Israelites, "See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore he would give to your fathers..." (Deuteronomy 1:8). But when the Israelites finally sent out spies to see what the Promised Land was like, they found out that "possessing the land" wouldn't be easy -they would face significant opposition. They cried, "why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?" (Numbers 14:3). They must have been thinking "God can't be in this, or we wouldn't have to face such a struggle."

When the children of Israel finally entered the "Promised Land", their enemies remained, usually armed to the hilt. Although God had clearly laid out the expansive boundaries that He had already given them, they still had to struggle, laboring for the fulfillment of what God had already promised them! If Joshua had told the Israelites just to rest in God's promise, setting up their tents and saying, "God told us that He has given us this land, so we must wait until He removes our enemies from the land," he would in fact have been leading Israel into rebellion (even though such "trust" would appear spiritually commendable to most modern Christians). God had commanded them to possess His Promised Land by their struggles. By their works. By their feet. ("Every place where you set your foot will be yours"-Deuteronomy 11:24.) They should have remembered that God had already told them that it would be this way: "I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land" (Exodus 23:29-30). If God had given the Promised Land to the Israelites without a struggle, it would have been a curse instead of a blessing. Through the struggle, God allowed Israel to possess only as much as they could handle at the time. Those doubters who said, "God can't be in this, or we wouldn't be undergoing this struggle" may have appeared to be spiritually-minded to some, but this aversion to the necessity of a painful struggle comes from the spirit of Satan (Mark 8:33).

As I continued to reflect on our current struggle, many other examples from throughout the scriptures flooded my mind. I thought of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, David, Daniel, John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul, all of whom had to experience exceedingly difficult struggles as they followed the path God had laid out for them. (In fact, God's plan for every major Biblical figure I can think of seemed to involve a life of difficulty and struggles, with one exception: Adam, before he fell.) The struggles that each of these heroes of our faith experienced undoubtedly caused many of their contemporaries to comment "God can't be in this, or they wouldn't be undergoing this struggle." But the scriptures clearly commend them for trusting in God's promises even when the circumstances seemed to nullify them. They "died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off..." (Hebrews 11:13). God's plan leads us on a path only He can see, and to those who have no faith, the struggles we experience seem futile. But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Yes, we like to dream of the day when we can put our struggles behind us, especially when we consider our children and their future. We may wonder out loud why we need to be going through such difficulties. Undoubtedly, as with the children of Israel, a major reason for our struggles is our own sin and disobedience. However, even if we were perfectly aligned with God's will in every aspect of our lives, He would still likely call us to a path of difficulty and struggle. After all, even Jesus-perfect, God incarnate-experienced many struggles in his earthly ministry (struggles which could have caused any man to think "God can't be in this"). He didn't have a place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). Many of his disciples even stopped following Him (John 6:66). His struggles culminated, of course, in His horribly painful crucifixion. And He commanded us to take up our "cross," and follow Him (Matthew 16:24); can we expect an easy path when even God incarnate had to experience many difficulties in His earthly ministry?

Even though I disagree with this couple who pointed to our struggles as an indication that God is not leading us, I appreciate the fact that they shared their thoughts with us. God used their criticism as a catalyst in our lives to reinforce what He is doing-to help us to realize that we must not doubt His directions, even when circumstances seem to indicate that we must have missed a turn. If you have been holding back from sharing some of the concerns you have about us and this ministry, please know that we will appreciate everything that you share with us. In recent days, we have received several notes of encouragement, and several notes providing various levels of criticism. (Usually the critical notes have included a financial gift, which was considerate.)

Some friends wrote to remind us of the importance of our vocation as parents, and to ask if perhaps we might need to step back from the pro-life ministry in order to better glorify God in our family life. We have prayed and agonized over this, strongly considering whether or not this could be God's will. Terri has wavered less than I have on this point. Over the past several months, I have determined as a priority to focus on my vocation as the father of my children, to the exclusion of any pro-life work. However, I don't believe we are faced with an either-or choice (either continue the pro-life ministry -or- be good parents). At least, I hope we're not facing such a choice, because if we are, I believe that the scriptures are clear that we must choose to follow God even if it means denying our own family (Matthew 10:35-39)! But can we maintain our focus on our family's needs, while we continue to serve God in the pro-life ministry? This is the key question we have been grappling with in recent days. I believe that it is at least possible to do both, if we restructure our ministry activities to involve our entire family. (I said possible, not easy!) Over the past few months, as we have restructured our family lives, I have emphasized to our children that our family has one primary purpose: to glorify God. When we explained this new ministry vision to our children, they all willingly agreed to participate in this effort. (While we must lead our children, we would not consider it appropriate to coerce them into ministry involvement, as this could be considered exploitation.) Even though the children have agreed to be a part of the ministry, I will still not be comfortable with this plan until I believe that we are handling their educational needs appropriately. We are trying to find jobs they can do for the ministry which will also benefit them educationally.

My computer work has picked up a bit, but it is still very difficult to juggle the work I do for my computer clients with my other responsibilities. I'm supposed to be paid about $8000 for my current project, but I won't receive any of it until the project is done, and I've been experiencing many setbacks along the way. Please pray that God will clear the way for me to get this project done soon. I will also appreciate it if you will pray that God will help me to focus on my computer work when I need to. Quite frankly, my heart just isn't in it; it seems there are so many more important things for me to do. But I continue to work on the computer in hopes that our family's financial condition can be restored. I hope that God will either help me to do my computer work with all my heart, or that He will help me to find another way to provide for the family.

As we look back over the struggles we have experienced in recent days (not to mention the other struggles we've had over the years), we can see God's miraculous hand, protecting us through the storms (even though some may point to the storms themselves as an indication that God is not with us). Your gifts and prayers have been like manna from heaven to us during this time, God's miraculous provision for our needs in the midst of the desert. We hope you can rejoice with us that God has continued to prove Himself to be faithful in our lives.

In Christ's Service for those who cannot speak for themselves,

Tim Palmquist

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