(Revised, 11:02 p.m.)
I know a very sharp guy who was at one time on staff at a large and exciting church, but who later left to plant a new church. When I met him, he had already raised thousands of dollars and recruited several team members from across the country to be on the team. He had also won the admiration of the "funding crowd" of organizations and churches in the area. His time at the big church had apparently carried a lot of weight.
But there was a slight problem, and he really had been struggling with it when I had the opportunity to talk with him about it. The problem was that he had a dollar amount in mind that he felt he had to have before he could plant the church. I remember him telling me that if he couldn't raise "x" amount of dollars by a certain date, he wasn't going to commit to going any further. He had it in his mind that there was only one way to do what he was called to do, and that it took "x" amount of dollars to do it. Sure enough, when he didn't raise "x" amount (although he had at least half of it) he pulled the plug on the whole thing!
Did he do the right thing? Maybe. But not necessarily.
The reason for not continuing? A slippery excuse that may sound surprising:
"Where God guides, He provides."
The reason that this is slippery, of course, is because it is actually a true statement. Where God guides you to do something, He most certainly provides. So how is it that this phrase can become an excuse?
It becomes an excuse when the "what" and the "when" are in the wrong hands. When we narrowly define what "provides" means and we decide when we should receive the "provision." When we tell God what it is He is supposed to provide and when He is supposed to provide it in order to accomplish what He wants to do, we're on shaky ground.
It is God who says, "I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly." (Psalm 75:2) Quick reminder: He chooses, not us.
Often when people use this expression, they are simply talking about money. It goes something like this: "If God doesn't provide the money for this [you fill in the blank], He must not be in it, or we're not the right people to do it."
"Good grief, how safe do we have to make the plan before we trust God to provide?" I mean really, how many established churches raise their entire budget for the year before they begin to spend any of it, become good stewards, do what they're supposed to be doing and trust God for the rest?
Sometimes God provides like he did for Moses, where He opened up the whole blessed Red Sea before anyone took a step to cross it. Other times God provides like he did for Joshua, where the dudes carrying the ark have to be waist deep into the water before anything happens.
I'm not discounting the importance of planning, budgeting and wisely considering the cost of a task before entering into it. (Luke 14:28-30) To not do that would be unwise. I'm only talking about what we originally have in mind and how it sometimes contrasts with God's ultimate idea of what it is going to look like and what it is going to take to make it happen.
God sometimes unveils the story slowly, revealing and providing what is needed for this stage only. I believe that Jesus taught us to pray "give us this day our daily bread" instead of "give us this month our monthly bread" for a reason. He wants us to follow Him daily. He wants us to trust in Him more than His provision.
Of course God provides where He guides, but He doesn't always do it before you're feet are on the trail-sometimes it's not until you get around the next rock. But if you didn't go around the rock, you'd never discover the provision, and the journey around the rock might just help you to realize that the provision didn't look anything like you thought it would.
Sometimes where God guides, He simply guides some more, and His guiding is the provision.
So what does God provide? What does that look like? Money? Sometimes. But sometimes it comes in other ways that can help validate His calling, guiding, and shaping of things into His better plan.
I'll share some of those ways in another post...