I struggle with the concept of faith. The whole idea of trusting in a God I cannot see is difficult for me. I often wish that I could see God, or at least see some miraculous evidence that He exists. I understand that life itself is miraculous, as is the universe and everything in it, but I often long to see the type of mind-boggling, law of nature suspending, spectacular act of God I see described in the Bible. I know that God has given me more than enough proof of His existence and that the historical evidence for Jesus’ life and resurrection is compelling, but I still find myself sometimes wanting… more.
This sentiment was a part of my morning prayers a few weeks ago. I often pray as I walk our dogs before getting ready for work and on that particular morning I was in an especially whiny spiritual mood. “God, it has been over 2000 years since Jesus walked earth. It is hard to believe in something that happened so long ago. I wish I could see you move.” I knew my prayer was wrong and selfish but it was reflective of how I felt at that moment. I moved on to praying for others and soon forgot about my words.
A few days later I was doing some year-end financial planning and turned my thoughts to end of year charitable giving. Lisa and I have always given a portion of our income to Christian ministries and, since I typically receive an end of year bonus from my medical group, we tend to make a donation of some sort at the end of December. I had bounced a couple of possible recipients off of Lisa in previous weeks but we hadn’t yet made a decision on where to donate. On the morning of Saturday the 23rd of December and I got an idea to give somewhere new. I went out to the kitchen to see what Lisa thought of my plan.
“We’ve been talking about end of year giving for a while,” I said, “what do you think about giving money to Bill?” Bill is a retired pastor with whom I have become friends this year. He works for a unique and small organization that provides support to pastors. His job is to be a listening ear and encouraging voice to pastors, particularly those who are struggling with the intense scrutiny that comes with a life of full-time ministry. In addition to this work Bill teaches adult bible classes almost every week. He is a busy and faithful servant of God. From hearing him speak I had come to appreciate his heart and his commitment to others. I had also come to the conclusion that he and his wife live on a very modest budget. As he had encouraged me greatly in 2017 I thought giving a gift might be a way to encourage him.
“That would be good,” was Lisa’s reply to my proposal (which was surprising, because Lisa is the one who usually chews on ideas for a while before making a decision.)
“I am thinking of giving a chunk,” I told her, making sure she knew that this would not be a token gift.
“You usually do,” was her answer. In my typically impulsive manner I walked out of the kitchen and into the extra bedroom where we keep our computer. I searched online for his ministry organization, found the website and clicked on the “donate” link. I typed in chunk dollars and zero cents, entered my credit card information and clicked “submit.”
The next morning Lisa and woke up debating whether we should go to church on Christmas Eve. We wanted to attend the service but Lisa was feeling overwhelmed by the season and still had a long list of things to get done. We ultimately made the decision to go and hurried to make it to the 10:00 service. We pulled up to the curb at 9:55, feeling proud that we had made it on time.
Our church is rather large so we were surprised when we did not see anyone as we walked around the corner from the parking lot. It was not until we were almost to the door that we encountered any other people. We saw one of the Pastors and his wife and stopped to say “Merry Christmas” and exchange hugs. As we greeted them we saw Bill standing several feet away, as if he was waiting to say something to us. Indeed he was, and he walked up to us a few moments later.
“I got an interesting call from my boss yesterday asking me if I knew a Bart Barrett,” Bill said. He had been taken aback that his boss had known who I was, and he told us he had been racking his brain trying to decipher the connection until his boss told him of our gift. Bill told us he was hoping he would see us so he could thank us personally. He then shared with us details of his financial situation that were completely unknown to us.
As with many in ministry, Bill and his wife rely on the donations of others. Just days earlier he had been reviewing their records and realized that there had been a significant decline in their contributions in the previous three months. So steep was the drop that he was thinking that either God would have to come through with unexpected donations or they would have to find a way to make do with a lot less.
“Bart and Lisa, I want you to know, that after PayPal took their cut from what you gave, the amount we received from you was exactly the amount that we were short,” He told us. He repeated this detail a few times for emphasis. Our gift matched their need almost to the exact dollar amount.
We were stunned. To us it had seemed a whim, a barely thought out impulsive gift. I hadn’t spent time in prayer asking God how much to give, hadn’t thought much about it at all. It was just the amount that popped into my head when I sat down at the computer. And yet it was the exact amount that was needed. It was a “God thing.”
It was later that I realized that God had not only answered Bill’s prayer, he had answered mine. In that moment He had pulled back the eternal curtain and given me evidence that He is real and He is working. As He did, He also showed me why He does what He does. He does things so that He will get the praise and the credit. If I had given more, it is possible that Bill’s focus could have been on the gift. Because we gave the exact amount, Bill’s immediate response was to give thanks to the only One who knew what the exact amount was.
This small miracle was a huge blessing to us, and it did not carry with it the risk that can come with more flashy miracles. We see in scripture that when Jesus did some of His great miracles there were some who became obsessed with the miracles, who became more interested in the deeds than they were in the doer. Years after Jesus’ returned to heaven early Christians had a similar problem. The church at Corinth was so focused on showy signs of miraculous power that they were at risk of losing sight of Jesus' most important command, His instruction to love one another. Aware of this, Paul specifically told them that as desirous as miraculous gifts were there was a more excellent way, the way of sacrificial love.
It was the way of love, the desire to love and serve a friend who had been an encouragement to me, that led Lisa and I to give. It was loving God who allowed Bill's need to arise and it was God who moved me to give the exact amount needed. It was God who had us arrive at church at just the right moment, and to walk to just the right place so we could hear Bill share his story.
It was God who answered my selfish prayer, who showed me that He is real and that He is moving in my life even when I cannot feel Him or see Him.