In 1984, Gail and I were serving in Southern California as missionaries with the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board (HMB). Living in a small apartment in West Hollywood, we were working alongside veteran missionaries Bob and Glenda Tremaine, nurturing the small First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills congregation, and laying the groundwork for new churches to be planted in the greater Los Angeles area.
In so many ways, Bob became a “father” in the Lord for me. His walk with God had been shaped by years of ministry and church planting experiences in New Mexico, New England, and south Florida. By the time we had started working together, the Tremaines had planted over thirty churches. They knew God, loved God, and walked with God. When Bob told me that the Lord was going to do something… that’s what happened. Over and over again, we saw God at work. Bob taught me to bring everything to the Lord in prayer… even routine business and ministry decisions.
We were doing ministry on the border between two cities. West Hollywood was truly a mosaic of cultures and lifestyles, composed of high density housing in the form of apartments and condominiums. Beverly Hills was a secure enclave of wealthy financiers, physicians, attorneys, media executives, and a few celebrities. Each Sunday, the persons attending our worship services reflected a variety of occupations: accountants and actors, waiters and writers, maids and millionaires. How could our little church develop a presence in our community?
In the early eighties, the use of direct mail by churches was a new idea. Affectionately known as “junk mail” today, direct mail campaigns seemed to be helping businesses and organizations get the word out. Bob asked me to develop a pilot project, experimenting with direct mail as an outreach tool for the church. The HMB also embraced the project, putting in $2,000 to the budget. I went to work.
Our church budget had a few hundred dollars to spare. Based on the available funds, I prepared a proposal that involved using our state-of-the-art copier to produce black-and-white brochures. I went to school on direct mail campaigns, attending seminars and contacting the best direct mail vendors in L.A. for current pricing. My plan was to do a single mailing to all of the addresses in the zip codes associated with West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. I vividly recall the meeting with Bob where I shared my best ideas.
“You’re going about this in the wrong way,” he said. I was stunned and a little indignant, but I listened. “You are pursuing a plan based on your budget. But if you had all the money you needed, what would you do then? Determine the very best approach first, then come back to me with what it will cost to do it right.”
Okay. So I went back to my office and started over. What would it take to really test the value of direct mail as an outreach tool? Well… I needed color brochures if I was mailing to the upscale residences around us. I needed to mail it more than once. I needed to experiment with repeat mailings and different frequencies. My budget swelled to several thousand dollars. I felt sure Bob would choke when he saw the new number. He didn’t. He didn’t even blink.
“Good work,” he said. “Now, let’s take this to the Lord and see what He wants to do. Too many times we limit God by focusing on our resources alone. It’s much better to expand the idea to the limits of your imagination, then let God hem you in to what He wants to do. His provision will determine the scope of this project.” So we prayed.
Within two weeks, God had provided all of the funding we needed… for the entire project. Everything.
I was basing my plan on the current, visible supply of resources: the money the church had in the bank. I did not consider God’s resources or what He wanted to do with the project. Asking me to “push out the walls” and think about what I could do with unlimited resources, Bob helped me discover that God was willing to do more than I was planning!
Since then I’ve learned that many times there is a gap between what I’m thinking and what God is thinking. He is often prepared to do more than I am expecting. Today, when I pray about something, I keep this in mind: God has a will and a plan. Rather than superimpose my expectations on a situation, it is better for me to try and understand what God wants to do — and then ask Him to do that. Centuries ago, the apostle John understood this when he wrote:
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. (1 John 5:14–15).
Prayer is not about me getting what I want. Prayer is about getting what God wants (which is much, much better). I know this raises lots of questions, especially when I don’t like my circumstances or when I have needs that are not going away. I can still trust Him. He does not abandon me. He is still listening. He is still working.
Walking with God is seeking His will every day. As each new question and decision arises, ask, “Lord, how do you want me to respond to this?” Then wait… he will answer you.
Learning to pray and trust God in daily life propels you out of the rank-and-file world of just being religious.
[Author’s Note: This post was originally published March 7, 2012 at DonPucik.com and migrated to EquippingSaints.com]