Trusting God's Delays

If you ever find yourself in God’s waiting room, pacing around and waiting – for an answer, a change, a breakthrough, a miracle – you need to stop and remember something: God knows best. More than that, he’s never late, never in a hurry, and always right on time. When there’s a delay in your life, the best thing you can do is simply trust him to do what’s best.

A real encouragement to me over the years has been this verse from Habakkuk 2:3: “These things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient. They will not be overdue a single day.”

When I started Saddleback Church, I had no idea that it would take 13 years of delays before we would get land and it would take nearly 15 years before we would build our first building. This church was running more than 10,000 in attendance before we built our first church building. No church in America has ever gone that long or grown that big without a building. God had his delays in mind from the start.

At the very first service I stood up and said, “Someday we’re going to buy at least 50 acres of land. But we’re not going to do it for the first five years because we’re going to put all our money into people and programs.” I’ve always been more interested in building people than building buildings. So for the first 15 years we used 79 different buildings. We’d outgrow one, we’d move into another.

But on the fifth anniversary of the church I said, “It’s time to start looking for land. If you have background in real estate financial development, show up at my office tomorrow night.” The next night, 13 men showed up. Half of them I didn’t know. I said, “Let’s go around the room and you tell me why you should be on this task force to find land for Saddleback.”

The first guy said, “My name’s Tom. I buy all the sites for K-Mart.” The next guy said, “My name’s Dick. I'm vice president of First Interstate Bank.” Lyle, the next guy, was in home building. He said, “Last year I closed $91 million in land acquisitions.” We continued around the room and I discovered I had 13 incredibly powerful leaders there. I said, “This isn’t going to be a very long meeting.” I turned around and wrote “50 acres” on the board. I said, “I believe God wants us to go after at least 50 acres. It is your job to find it. Thank you for coming. Meeting dismissed!”

A week later they came back. They’d found one of the last remaining pieces of property in the Saddleback Valley. It was 72 acres of cow pasture – for $7.2 million. They said, “You want to go after it?” I said, “Of course!” You never say no just because something’s impossible.

We put $10,000 down on a $7 million piece of property. We didn’t have a lot of brains, but we had a lot of faith. Over the next year, we got the zoning changed, the use permit, the water rights, we got them to allow a church to be built on it. But we couldn’t find anybody to loan us money to buy it and build it. Finally, after about a year and a half the owners came to me and said, “We want you to start putting up $20,000 a month, non refundable, to keep the escrow open.” I said, “I can’t do that. I can’t gamble our people’s offerings. We’ll have to drop out of escrow and when we get the financing we’ll come back and buy it.” We dropped out of escrow and the next day that property was bought by a shopping center. We lost a year and a half of time and $100,000. I was down!

It took us a year to find the next piece of property out here in the canyon. It was 300 acres, and 200 of it went straight up the mountain – it was totally unusable. We went to the owner and said, “We’ll buy the front hundred acres for $6 million.” He said, “If you do that I’ll give you the back 200 for free just as a tax write-off.”

We went back to the folks and said, “We need to raise money now to buy the land.” We did a financial sacrificial giving campaign called “Possess Our Land.” During a 60-day period of prayer, fasting, and serving, our people planned for a big offering. And on that day we got half a million dollars cash given in a single offering – which was incredible for a little church – and commitments for $2.5 million more to be given over the next three years.

Some people took on second jobs to give more. Some canceled vacations. People gave their pensions and retirement plans. People gave their diamond wedding rings. Some sold their homes and bought smaller homes and gave the equity. I know people who sold their television set to be able to give. Our staff gave their life savings.

So we had half a million in cash and $2.5 million in commitments. I went back to the owner the next day and said, “We’re ready to close!” He said, “I’ve changed my mind. I'm raising the price to $8 million.” My heart sank. I looked to God and said, “What am I supposed to tell the people next Sunday? They’ve worked, prayed, sacrificed, and given all they’ve got.” I said, “God, You’ve got a problem. It’s not my problem because it’s not my church. You keep bringing all these people in so what are you going to do with them?”

Two days later, a third piece of property came up for sale out in the canyon – 113 acres offered at three and a half million dollars. The same amount of land for half the price. That was the cheapest piece of land I’d ever seen in Orange County. Seven developers bid on it and four offered cash. I went to the owner of the property and asked, “What would it take to sell to the church? We don’t have all cash.” He said, “If you can close the deal by the end of the year then I’ll sell to the church.”

He said that in October. I went back to the people and asked, “We’ve either got to raise more money in the next 60 days or we lose this piece of property. What do you want to do?”

The people said, “Let’s go for it!” and in the last 60 days of 1987 the people of Saddleback church gave an additional $1.2 million. And we closed the deal.

Remember: Delays are not necessarily denials. God’s ways are always better than ours – and his timing is perfect.
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Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Adapted from Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for pastors and church leaders, available at Pastors.com.