On March 7, 2006, God said I got this. I had just lost my job, but God gave me an assurance of his faithful presence through the familiar words of a hymn. However dark the path ahead might seem, nevertheless – he let me know he was by my side.
I've written about this event, but a brief summary is in order. I had been recruited to serve as Director of Mission Advancement for our regional conference of churches, leading a fund-raising effort to plant churches. A subsequent study showed it wasn’t feasible to raise the planned ten million dollars, nor to pay my salary.
On August 8, 2006, we were able to affirm: Yes, God had this; he is faithful. Linda and I began the long drive from Southern California to Olympia, Washington, starting an eventual twelve-year chapter of pastoral ministry at River Ridge Covenant Church.
It’s one thing to hear an assurance that God can be trusted, as I did on that day in March 2006. It’s quite another to let his promises guide your steps daily.
Today’s post looks at that five-month interval, a learning laboratory for Linda and me – and hopefully for you – on what it means to rely on God.
How can I adequately summarize almost half a year of pleading and planning, of deliberating about God’s intentions for us and depending on him? The 23rd Psalm is a great organizing principle for trusting and following the Good Shepherd.
The natural reaction to loss is to attempt to regain what you had. Since I was the primary breadwinner, I wanted a job. But God knew that I wasn’t ready to polish my resume’ and put my name out there. The greater need was the restoration of my soul, and to that end, I sensed the shepherd was calling me to rest in that first month.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
To follow the shepherd, we often must face an uncomfortable truth about ourselves: something good needs to happen within us before something good can happen to us. To facilitate that inner change, the sheep are directed to lie down. To rest. To reflect and to listen.
I recently reread my journal entries for this period. This may sound odd, but trusting God wasn’t the glaring omission that I needed to address.
Why is that? Over the previous thirty years I had witnessed God’s prodding and providing hand, and so learned to follow David’s advice on how to keep one’s spiritual equilibrium in distressing times: Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.*
If I hadn’t experienced the dozens of times that God had stretched out his hand to lead me – and written them down to remember them – I’m quite sure I would have been in a manic panic. Instead, I had a strong sense of peace, knowing that God would lead us well.
But yes, some soul work was needed in those first weeks, due to the cacophony of voices in my head.
The protests of family and friends were the loudest and the most passionate: You never should have been hired. Or fired. I was inclined to agree. But I also knew that dwelling on the perceived injustices of the past would not help me to follow God into my future.
Four regional superintendents of my denominational family called me, wanting to know if they could present my name to congregations seeking a pastor. I declined out of confusion; although it was the obvious choice, I had left pastoral ministry after twenty-four years, and wasn’t ready to make a snap decision to resume that role.
My self-talk was noisy and negative. Like a bad song repeating in my head, I played and replayed the specific words used by my former boss to describe her lack of confidence in me. This only served to fuel my tendency towards self-loathing and condemnation, flailing myself with the vocal coulda/shoulda/woulda stick.
Family and friends, leaders, inner thoughts – powerful voices all. But God purposely leads us by the quiet waters so that our souls may be stilled, and his words of assurance can overpower our anxiety and our fears. This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength….**
As God restores our souls, we are slowly transformed from raging rams into trusting sheep. We move forward in trust, thus arriving at that place where we can hear the most important voice of all, God’s tender words: I got you. I love you.
In Psalm 23, David simply transitioned into the next phase; no longer resting, the sheep again follows his shepherd.
He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
On March 31, 2006, the final day of my job, I brewed a full pot of coffee for our morning routine. Just after it finished the complete cycle, something happened with the electrical system, and the coffee maker died. No digital read-out. Nothing.
But it wasn’t just any old appliance. Nine months prior, on the day I started my new job as a development officer for the regional conference, our son Ben and Linda gave me a gift: an expensive brewing system that included an insulated double-walled carafe to keep the coffee warm. As an avid coffee drinker, I loved it.
I don’t want to read too much into this event. But it seemed oddly ironic that the symbol of my new job died on the very day that my career as a development officer met with the same fate.
April dawned with a new energy, as I strongly sensed God’s presence with us in our journey. I began to explore employment opportunities. Over the next month, I filled out applications for numerous endeavors – Corporate Chaplains of America, positions at Christian colleges, non-profit management, and writing/editing jobs.
Despite the significant training I had received, I didn’t apply to be a fundraiser. I sensed that God had gently encouraged me to let that go. On my life journey, at that time, this was not the right path for me.
What I did sense was God was guiding me back onto the path I had formerly walked – pastoral ministry. I was slowly warming to that idea, moving from no way to maybe. After having preached recently, Linda said to me: you’re a pastor. That’s who you are. Hmmm. Maybe she was right.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. ***
Two details marked the first weeks of May.
The first – Linda and I proceeded with our long-planned twenty-fifth anniversary trip to Hawaii, specifically Oahu and Maui. The flights and accommodations had already been arranged and paid for. But canceling the trip would have been for one reason – fear. But we weren’t going to let that supersede our faith in the Lord’s provision for our future.
The second was I was admittedly discouraged about our overall finances. Linda and I did the math, and the final tally was depressing. My severance pay was ending soon, and although we had just moved into our home in February, we figured we needed to sell it and move in with Linda’s parents in Los Angeles.
Yes, I was still convinced that God was going to provide a new position, but wondered how long that would take. Pastoral Search Committees generally work at a slow, deliberate pace. I wasn’t optimistic about being able to quickly sell our home, or how we would make the monthly payments until then. I even considered switching gears, putting my focus on quickly getting a temporary job – driving a delivery van or stocking shelves – before attempting to secure a career position.
Side note: we have a wonderful God, one who doesn’t scorn or scold us when our faith starts to fade, when pessimism threatens to overpower our perseverance. I take great comfort in verses that assure us of God’s unfailing love through it all.
On Wednesday evening, May 17, I was knocked flat emotionally. With a heavy heart, and probably an audible sigh, I plopped down into the chair in my office.
But as I made the downward motion, a verse popped into my head: No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.****
One word prayers are often the best, and that night I uttered one of my favorites: Wow!
No, I didn’t have a job.
No, I didn’t have a solution for our looming budget crisis.
But what I did have is a God who listens and cares and prepares.
I had a God who stood up, confidently played his hand, and assured me once again I got this!
I had a God who makes promises, who writes them down for us, and then follows through with his word!
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help. The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.*****
That evening God tenderly spread a sweet blanket of Shalom peace over Linda and me, and we wondered what God had prepared for us.
I didn’t have to wait long to find out. Later that week I received a call from Mark Novak, the Superintendent of the North Pacific Conference, telling me to expect a call from River Ridge Covenant Church in Olympia, Washington. They were on the fast track to call a Pastor, and Mark knew that I had already laced up my running shoes – ready, set, go.
It’s so fun to re-read my journal for those ten weeks. God was driving the car, and I was spread out in the back seat, watching him work, looking out the window and singing songs of praise.
The phone interview went great, as did the face-to-face visit in Olympia. Our relationship was a timely merging of hopes and dreams. They were healing from recent trauma as we were. They wanted to become a church involved in the community, which was front and center for me. The congregational vote to extend a call was 89 to 1. ( I've always wondered: who was the one?)
We got a pre-approved offer on our home in Rancho Cucamonga, and sold it for the same price we had paid for it five months earlier. Nope, we didn’t need to camp out at Linda's parent’s place.
What a God we have! As David reminds us, his goodness and unfailing love pursues us all the days of our lives -- for the entire five months, and every day since then.
Thanks for reading my story. Yours is undoubtedly different from mine, but I hope you too have experienced God’s unfailing love, as you continue to put your trust in him. For all of us, at the intersection of our faith and our fears, the Good Shepherd firmly declares – I got this!
Instead of our usual Benediction of Blessing, let’s tie this all together with some reflective questions.
Have you heard God’s assurance of his faithfulness to you?
Will you only follow the Shepherd if his direction merges with your desires?
To which voices do you listen when you are struggling?
What makes it hard for you to hear God’s voice above all the others?
Who picked the path of life you’re on – yourself or your shepherd?
Who's driving the car of your life?
Here’s a wonderful song about God’s unfailing love. May you sing it with gusto & joy!
* Psalm 77:10-11 . I highly encourage you to read this Psalm whenever you are in distress.
** Isaiah 30:15
*** The first portion of Psalm 23 is from the NIV. The last two are from the New Living Translation (NLT)
**** I Corinthians 2:9
***** Psalm 34:15, 17-18
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM