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Medicine Conference / CMDF Annual Fellowship Meeting 2012
Date: 14 July 2012

Clarity of Affection rather than clarity of Direction

Medicine Conference 2012 – Dr. Louis Sutton’s introductory remarks

We like clarity. We like formulas. Even the medical world trains us to expect and seek ‘clarity’, to avoid risk and uncertainty with our patients. As Christians we can also get lured into an overemphasis on seeking clarity of direction i.e. ‘a call’ in our lives with the negative consequence that lack of ‘clarity’ can paralyze us in making decisions and moving forward.

However, scripture would teach us that we don’t need complete ‘clarity of direction’ before action and obedience. There is a wonderful passage in 1 Samuel chapter 14 where the Israelites are faced with an overwhelmingly strong Philistine army. In verses 6 and 7, “Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”

Verse 6 is intriguing. Jonathan says “maybe the Lord will help us”. Maybe! If I were his armour bearer faced with such odds, I think I would have said “I don’t know about this ‘maybe’! Why don’t you go pray about this, and when you are certain the Lord will help us, then I’ll go with you.” But that’s not what the armour bearer said. He said “go ahead, I am with you heart and soul”. How could the armour bearer follow a leader who had such uncertainty? It was because Jonathan had a healthy combination of certainty and uncertainty. He had such a deep certainty in some things, that it enabled him to live with uncertainty in other things. He was certain about the reality and power of God. (‘nothing can hinder the Lord from saving’). Therefore he could live without knowing the exact details of how it would work out (‘maybe the Lord will help us’). He could take the risk to obey. He could move forward even when the full details of the path ahead were not clear.

Other Biblical heroes moved forward without seeking clarity of call before they obeyed. There were indeed clear calls from God, but these men weren’t seeking their calling nor demanding all the details before they took the first step. Think of Noah, Abram, Moses, David, Peter, Matthew and Paul as a few examples.

And clarity was not the determining factor for obedience. Jonah’s call was very clear and very specific; yet he disobeyed. Abram’s was not specific (‘go to the place I will show you’) and yet he obeyed.

What we as Christ followers need to seek is not clarity of direction but clarity of affection. In order to make choices what we need most is not guaranteed outcomes, but deeper love and confidence in Christ. What we really treasure, really desire down deep inside is often what truly determines our choices. The call to obedience is ultimately a call to love Christ; to love him as our first place love. This question of first place love was Jesus’s question to Peter as he re-commissioned him to a fresh calling, ‘Simon Peter, do you truly love me more than these?”(John 21:15) That is Jesus’s frequent question to us. What do we really desire? What is our number one love, our first place affection? It is an important heart issue to grapple with because other things, even good things compete for first place in our hearts. Larry Crabb, a Christian psychologist and author, says “the primary battle in the life of a Christian is to keep first place things in first place, and second place things in second place.” Truly resolving the issue of what we treasure most is key to resolving many of the life choices we are faced with.

In this world that tempts us to seek clarity, Scripture would seem to challenge us to not worry so much about the details of our ‘calling’, but to “worry” about what is 1st in our heart, to seek clarity of ‘affection’ above clarity of direction.

The call to obedience is a call to love Christ, to really love Christ as our first place love. This is what should underscore our choices and guide us in remaining faithful to Christ..

louis afm


Dr. Louis Sutton’s afternoon remarks - Medicine Conference 2012

No one would question that there are huge changes in the global healthcare climate. We all feel the impact. Some changes are wonderfully positive. We have new technologies and better capacities for healing than ever before in history. Global access to healthcare has made some significant strides forward in the last decades. However, not all changes are positive, especially from the point of view of the health practitioner. Some examples would include:

• A global ‘consumer mentality’ where demands for a positive ‘product’, or outcome is a high expectation. When the ‘results’ are not as expected this leads to complaints, or lawsuits, or in some parts of Africa, attempts to kill the doctor! The end result is ‘defensive medicine’.

• In the days when our grandfathers practiced medicine, they made the decisions. Now increasingly insurance companies, government, and health care corporations are becoming ‘decision makers’ in the health care process, even having a say in how we diagnose and treat our patients through what they will or will not reimburse.

• Global economic pressures affect the healthcare climate, leading to competition, time pressures, and even the subtle influence of the greed and me-first mentality of the world we live in.

One could mention more. But the real question before us is “what is the primary impact” of all these changes on us? My conclusion is that these negative changes risk robbing us of our joy; joy in the profession, and joy in life in general. That is significant for us, for our patients, and as Christian physicians, for the honor of Christ.

Many of my medical school colleagues are very unhappy with the practice of medicine in the USA today. This rising sense of discontent is not limited to America. Globally physicians have the highest suicide rate of any other profession. On the average one physician worldwide takes his or her own life every day.

This loss of joy is significant. But it doesn’t have to be, especially for Christian physicians. We can be people of joy. Joy is after all a Biblical value. Nehemiah reminds us that the “joy of the Lord is your strength”(Neh 8:10). Proverbs states that a cheerful heart is good medicine (Prov 17:22). The psalmist exhorts us to delight ourselves in the Lord (Ps 37:4). Jesus himself says that he desires that “my joy be in you, and that your joy be complete”(John 15:11).

We need to fight to retain joy as Christian medical professionals. We can’t easily change the global context but we can:

1. Have joy in the greatest thing-Christ. That we do have. Someone once said “contentment is wanting what you already have.” We do have, no matter what, the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.

2. Have joy in the deeper things. Simple things can make a lasting impact such as the simple touch of a leprosy patient in Africa, who has not been touched for years. These “little delights” can contribute to our deeper joy in what we do.

3. Have joy in Christ as our very present and real helper as we treat patients. He is real, and with us and he does guide us. Patients can be blessed and even helped and healed as he guides our decisions and works beyond the power of medications.

4. Have joy in freedom from worldly pressures. We don’t have to conform to the pressures of competition and greed. We can have joy without a huge income, a beautiful condo, and without becoming the most famous doctor in our specialty. We have the greatest treasure. We are free to enjoy Him and the calling he has given us.

We do have joy. Sometimes out joy gets a bit buried in the pressures of the day. Someone once said “If you truly have the joy of the Lord in your heart, maybe you should inform your face!” We need to fight for joy. Joy in Christ. Joy in the profession he has called us to. When we as Christians profess joy, even in the midst of a difficult medical climate it gives honor to Christ, it is good for us, and it is good for those we care for.