I had been in fulltime ministry for about 4 months when I had begun working on my strategy to quit forever.
The beginnings of ministry for me was like a whirlwind moving at light speed. The week I moved to Little Rock from Georgia was crazy. It was late August of 1996. At the beginning of that week, I had most everything in place for me to move to New Orleans to attend a seminary there. I had even said my goodbyes to my family. By Thursday of that week my plans altered in the most unexpected and gracious way. God had opened an amazing door for me in Little Rock, AR. to serve with a mentor of mine from college and attend an extension of Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. I literally had to buy an atlas to find Little Rock, AR. Explaining that change of plans to my parents was fun. I can still remember my dad saying over the phone, “you’re going where?”
It was like I was living in a Bible verse I had learned from my Granny, “A man’s mind plans his ways but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9
So, seriously, just like that I was following my atlas to Little Rock, AR. At the end of that day I walked in the door of the Baptist Student Ministry building at University of Little Rock, AR. I hugged my friend Tim. Then served at an event that night. It was my new life, nine hours away from home where I knew two people, Tim and his wife Lynnette.
Fast-forward to Christmas. Four months of fast paced ministry had gone by and it was time to head back to Georgia for a few days to be with my family. It was so good. I really love my family, warts and all. When those few days were over and it was time to make the drive back to Little Rock, I did not want to go. I was sad about leaving family. Ministry had been good but, man, I did not like being that far from home.
I remember driving out of Atlanta on I-20 west and looking in my rear view mirror and seeing the city’s skyline. I did not like it. I wanted to be home with my family.
So for the next nine hours I devised a plan to power through until summer, quit and move back to Georgia. Ministry wasn’t worth it.
But, remember that verse, Proverbs 16:9?
On January 1, 1997 I had to take a group of about 10 or 12 college students to a conference in Austin, TX called Passion97. In my heart it felt like a “I had to” not an “I want to”. I didn’t know what Passion97 was. I had never heard of any of the speakers or musicians. I wanted to be in Georgia. I was getting bitter pretty fast that I “had” to be away. But it was my job to take those students to Passion97 so I did.
There were about 2000 college students there. I had never been to anything like it in my life. But, I still didn’t want to be there. I was fighting God in my heart and words. I have a vivid memory of sitting in my chair and thinking “this is all pretty cool, but You are going to have to do more than this God”.
So, yeah, I challenged God. You should try it sometime.
It was the final night of the conference and I remember there being several banners brought into the convention center and placed around the room. They all had different names or attributes of God on them. The communicator challenged us to ask God to show us which one of those Names or Attributes we needed think on, thank God for, worship Him for, and remember. I knew almost instantly.
It was the banner that said “I AM”. He was telling me, “Trust me. I AM good. I am in control and that is a good thing. Trust me.”
I broke into tears, realizing that what “I AM” had for me was eternally greater than anything I had for me. He assured me that he understood the desire and love for my family back home. He also assured me that He was trustworthy even when the plans of my mind were altered by His directing of my steps.
So, God won which means ultimately I won.
I said “yes God. I will trust you. I will not quit.” (There have been other times I wanted to quit, and tried, maybe that is for another day.)
Now, Ioving and missing my family “back home” has always been a part of my journey. There have been plenty of other moments when it has been hard to be far from them. I love them now more than ever, warts and all. But, along the way in the moments where I have struggled, God has reminded me that He is “I AM”. He is in control and that is a good thing. He knows what is right and good and bigger than me. Now, 20 years later, God has allowed me to be much more “back home” than ever and I am grateful.
More than that, I am grateful God did not allow me to quit. But, He has been Trustworthy. He is good.