It is an ironic fact that this phrase appears on our currency when so often it is money (or financial security) and not God that we trust in first. In these uncertain economic times, the tendency of our frail flesh is to be fearful. However, if the church is to be a faithful witness in such times this, fear must be replaced by confident faith in the sovereign God who causes all things to work together for good.
It was only by God’s merciful grace and providence that I was delivered from this very same fear and dependence upon the things of this world and it is this story that I wish to share.
In the late 1990s I was the president and CEO of a US subsidiary of a large multinational German manufacturer. I was active in my local church. I was by every account a “good Christian.” Then, by God’s grace, I was made to realize that I had been treating my relationship with Christ as a component of my life whose purpose, practically speaking, was to serve me. In other words, if I did my part—go to church, talk to others about Jesus, behave myself, and so on—then Jesus would come alongside and bless my life plans and goals. He would make me happy and successful. I was, for all intents and purposes, treating Jesus, the King of kings, as a means to an end.
However, Christ was not interested in being a component of my life, but the all-encompassing purpose! My life, my plans, and goals needed to be laid at His feet, offered entirely to His will, regardless of what that required.
In August of 1999, the chairman of the board appeared in my Dallas office to announce that the Munich-based parent company had decided to sell. Given the fact that the US operations were still in their start-up phase, the decision was made to liquidate all US holdings in order to render the company more attractive to any potential buyers. I was given six months to shut everything down and sell all the assets.
As I approached the end of that six-month period, facing unemployment for the first time in my adult life, I felt secure, confident that everything would be okay. Of course, I felt secure and confident because I had money in the bank! I wasn’t trusting in the Lord; I was trusting in the things of this world: financial security. It was then the Lord “reminded” me and my wife of our commitment to our church’s building campaign—a three-year pledge that just happened to be coming due the very month my employment would end. A pledge that was equal to every last penny we had in the bank.
Up to this point I had reasoned with the Lord, saying stupid things like, “Lord, you don’t understand, I need to hang on to this money in case I don’t have a job.” Suffice it to say, the Lord so convicted me of trusting in the work of my own hands that we wrote the check, which depleted our entire savings. And this is how we entered unemployment. To be honest, this was not so much a demonstration of my faith as it was of fear; I was afraid of disobeying the Lord.
Over the course of the next fourteen months we would watch as the Lord miraculously and graciously provided, meeting all of our material needs, not to excess and often at the last moment. Nonetheless, His provision was sufficient. It was during this time that I knew the Lord was calling me into vocational ministry. I did not know where or in what capacity, but the Lord had given me a burden for the church and the growing irrelevance of Christianity in the culture.
I shared this desire with my church and asked they be in prayer for guidance. Later, a friend invited me to join him for breakfast. The purpose was to meet a friend of his who had gone through similar circumstances and was now on staff with a global church-planting and missionary ministry. We talked for about an hour when his friend disclosed that he had initiated the meeting in hopes of recruiting me to join their ministry; but he said, “I can tell your heart lies elsewhere and not in foreign missions. Your heart is clearly for the culture here. You should speak to a friend of mine who is working in that kind of ministry.” So he immediately called the man, and he joined us thirty minutes later. Following three hours of discussion, I felt confident this was precisely where the Lord was leading me.
The next two months would involve a series of discussions with this man and the board, culminating in an offer to join the ministry. Included in the offer was a salary. At least that’s what they called it! I had had expense accounts larger than this, and yet this is where the Lord had led me. My wife and I were fully prepared to make some lifestyle changes, but I couldn’t possibly support a family of five on what was being offered. I became afraid and I panicked. I had a crisis of faith, convincing myself that this was all a delusion on my part; the Lord wasn’t calling me to do anything! I thought I must be having some sort of midlife crisis and I just needed to go get a “real” job. This burden, once so strong, I was now willing to cast aside for some small measure of earthly security.
In the midst of this crisis I received a phone call. The caller said, “This is Judge _____; do you remember me?” To which I said no. The judge responded, “I was the arbitrator in a case involving you and your wife eight years ago.” Eight years earlier we’d been living in San Antonio when a water pipe burst beneath our home, causing foundation damage. We filed a homeowner’s claim and the insurance company refused to pay the claim, so we went to arbitration. The man on the phone was the arbitrator in the case. Now he said, “Michael, I think I ruled incorrectly in your case.” But then he said, “Because I follow Jesus Christ, I want to make it up to you.”
After some discussion of the details, I hung up the phone and wept. I was so ashamed that I had so little confidence in our great God to supply my needs when I had just watched Him do so for the past fourteen months. He was clearly calling me to follow Him by faith and yet my sinful flesh wanted something more substantive. The Lord was merciful to me, once again demonstrating that He can be trusted. I joined the ministry, which has forever altered the course of my life. This dear brother, the judge, ended up sending us $21,800, which, when combined with the salary offered by the ministry, proved sufficient to meet our needs in that first year.
We sold our home, our cars, went down to only one car for a time, and adjusted our lifestyle accordingly. I can’t say it was easy but the Lord met every need and continues to do so to this day.
The Lord in his mercy taught me, in God I should trust and this is, frankly, the only hope any of us has. In the days ahead, may we be found faithful to the God who knows what we need and can be trusted to meet those needs. This is the first step, for those of us who call Christ Lord, to live free from fear and the idolatry of excessive consumption and consumer debt.