While family and friends my age were getting homes (mortgages), upgrading cars and furniture, Natalie and I were getting ruthless calls from banks demanding repayments whilst wondering how we were going to afford basic meals and rent.
As a father of 3 young children, this was tough. In a culture where success is largely measured by material possession, it was made even tougher. But the toughest battle I faced was with my faith.
You see, I left a good paying job with a training company that was keeping our head above water financially speaking – a job I was blessed to have.
I left the job because I felt God calling me back to Christian ministry service. A call that had been costly in the past. A call I’d been avoiding.
But the choice was mine to make and within 2 months of giving notice of my resignation I was offered two part-time church/ministry roles. Total income? Half of what I was on previously.
If you’ve listened to my Heart of Provision album, you’ll be familiar with our journey through a deep four-year financial struggle which ended up in us facing and choosing voluntary bankruptcy in December 2013. It was confronting, hard and humiliating.
Here’s the deal. It was February 2013. I was full of faith that God would miraculously pay off the $40k of unsecured debt we had accrued.
After all, I had left a well-paying job to work for Him. Not only that, we’d sold up all that we had to serve on the mission field 5 years prior to that. He owed us! We had sowed! I had scriptures to support it too! Well, so I thought.
When I said ‘full of faith’, I should have said ‘full of assumption‘. I was full of assumption that God would pay off our debt. Not because He promised me too, but because I had an appointment for Him to meet. Deliver me from my pain! My shame! My embarrassment! My debt!
Have you ever heard testimonies of how God delivered families from bankruptcy miraculously? These stories get pulpit time and are written into best-selling books right? They make the PRAISE REPORTS on a Sunday morning alongside the testimony of the couple desperate for a child who are miraculously pregnant;
Or the person who was delivered from 10 years of clinical depression in a moment when the visiting healer came through town.
Or cancer healed in a home group prayer time.
Or the child who returned to the Lord after 5 years on drugs.
We clap and give God the glory. And that’s good! We praise God more when it’s our glory story right?!
But what if it’s not your story? It wasn’t our story. Our story ended in me choosing to file for bankruptcy of which I was subject too until December 2016… and I’m still dealing with the pain. It’s fair to say I was very disappointed in God.
I wanted to go to friends and family who thought I was crazy to leave my better-paying job for church/ministry-based roles and say, “See! God pulled through and delivered us. He paid off the debt!!” But I couldn’t do that.
Your pain may not be around the brokenness of bankruptcy but perhaps, like mine, your story didn’t make the Sunday Praise Report either.
Perhaps your disappointment is around another IVF treatment falling through.
A marriage that didn’t work. A decade-long porn addiction you can’t break.
A battle with cancer that a loved one lost.
An adult child who you are deeply estranged from.
Depression that won’t lift.
(I must add that I can not and WILL NOT pretend I know what your pain and journey is like. I’ve sat in pools of tears with too many people in prayer and counsel to know that I cannot fully relate and totally understand things from your perspective. Even if you’ve gone through bankruptcy like me, our stories are unique to our own journey. And that’s OK! We can share stories, hope and compassion.)
Can I share with you two things that have helped me through? These have been expensive to learn and remain invaluable in my journey forward.
Firstly, I learnt that any disappointment I have with God (and others) is a good indication of an appointment I have.
Masters make appointments. Bosses do. Lords do. Oh, the day that I realised I had been lording it over my Lord! Oh Lord!
Yep, we can do this. We skip the friend, servant and child of God relationship that’s on offer and go straight to boss and master. As if we have some sort of say in how Christ conducts things..? Ouch!
That revelation fell hard. Then I fell hard on my proverbial knees in repentance. I’ve been a Christian for 20 years and I’m still learning that central to the Christian life is a two-way relationship based on invitation and love. Not control, coercion or power.
This revelation was really a massive one because this was affecting my relationship with Jesus.
Secondly, I found great comfort in the story of Jacob’s wrestle with God (figuratively speaking) at Jabbok in Genesis 32.
The wrestle ends with Jacob refusing to let go of relationship despite the circumstances and as a result of his striving with God gets an identity upgrade and is called Israel. But his wrestle and struggle cost him.
He walks away with a limp.
A little like my financial status. A black mark on my record.
A limp from my struggle.
For some of you, the limp may be a marriage status.
It may be a tarnished ministry history.
Perhaps a home without kids you longed to have.
A son or daughter who won’t talk to you.
A wine cabinet that haunts you.
Extra pounds that you can’t shed.
All these limps may really be indicators of a deeper wrestle. A wrestle for blessing. A wrestle to know who we are. A wrestle with God. A wrestle for identity.
My advice? Keep going beloved! Keep wrestling. Stay in the game. Stay in His face. Keep laying hold of Jesus and don’t let go.
But instead of wrestling to win control and escape the suffering, wrestle to give over control and find deep connection in the suffering.
Do you know how we get stuck in trauma? Research shows it’s through disconnection. Yes, relationship.
When pain comes and we are disconnected from safe, joy-filled relationship, we get stuck in trauma.
Beloved, Jesus Christ is a self-giving, co-suffering God and He gets it. He’s alive. In you. For you. With you in the valley. His face is towards you. Make the most of it. You’re not alone.
Find Him. Grab hold and don’t let go. You may walk with a limp, but like Jacob, you’ll also have a new identity which will leave a legacy for generations… Israel – Striven with God.
P.S. If you are facing financial difficulties, I would highly recommend getting help from a ministry called Christians Against Poverty. They are in a few countries //www.capmoney.org/. They were a tremendous blessing to us.
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