PAYDAY’S COMING: 3 STORIES FOR EASTER
(Part 2 of 3 – You can read Part 1 here)
by Eric Elder
We had a fire here at our farm yesterday, one that almost took out our whole house and garage! A neighbor had started a small fire in a field about 1/4 mile away and across the road when the wind picked up and carried some burning ashes across the road. Within minutes the dried cornstalks from last year’s harvest were in full flame and the fire was rushing across the field and heading for our house in the shape of a perfect wedge. (You can see the wedge leading up to our house in the trail of burnt cornstalks in the picture below.)
By the time I dialed 911, got the kids out of the house and the cars out of the garage, the flames were as high as my head and just 50 feet away. Then just as suddenly as the flames came up to our house, they miraculously died out as they hit the dirt and the grass all along the edge of our property, blazing right along past us and jumping another road and into another field. Four fire trucks and a couple of hours later, the last of the fires in the fields were put out.
Thankfully, no one was hurt and our house and garage and everything in them were spared.
You just can’t avoid disasters in life. You don’t even have to go looking for them; sometimes they just come right up to your doorstep. And while not every disaster has a good outcome like we had yesterday, you can trust that in all things God really can and will work things out “for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
As we approach Holy Week this week, I’d like to tell you a story of a disaster my wife and I went through almost 17 years ago which seemed tragic at the time, but which God worked out for our good in the end, even culminating in one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever preached just a few weeks ago. I’ll also share a bit from the life of David. My goal is to help you see that you can keep trusting in God no matter what you’re going through, knowing that it will all be worth it in the end.
Our disaster started with a blessing about 18 years ago when a start-up church in Texas called to see if I’d like to come down for a month or so and minister alongside their senior pastor. They had heard about me through a mutual friend, and thought it might be a powerful mix of gifts. It turned out it was.
During those weeks I spent in Texas, I saw God work in and through me in some powerful ways, ministering alongside people who shared my vision for seeing people healed, restored and set free in Jesus’ name from anything that was hindering them in their lives.
But near the end of my stay, I got a call from my wife back home in Illinois saying that the she was afraid she might be starting to miscarry our recently conceived baby.
I jumped on the next plane out of Dallas, flew home and walked in the house to find my wife in tears. She had just miscarried the tiny baby, not more than 8 weeks along in its little life. As I held that tiny baby in my hands, the tiniest I’d ever seen with my own eyes, I looked in amazement at its precious little hands and feet and sweet dark eyes. Although the baby would never get to take a breath, it was still one of the most precious of God’s creations that I’ve ever held in my hands.
We named that little baby “Valor,” which means courage or bravery, “strength of mind in the face of danger.” We had no idea that God was going to use those qualities to build up our own faith in the months ahead, taking what looked like utter defeat and working it out for good in the end.
The church in Texas called again a few months later, this time asking if we’d consider moving to the Dallas area and serving with them full time. They couldn’t pay us much, they said, but they’d take care of us if we moved there.
So we had sold our house, loaded up our 3 kids and everything we owned, and made the move.
Again, we saw God work in powerful ways. But at the same time, my wife, Lana, had another miscarriage. Then more ministry, then another miscarriage. Then more ministry, and yet another miscarriage. Four times in that year Lana had gone through the excitement of a pregnancy and the grief of a loss. Then about a year into our stay, we got another piece of crushing news. Some of the strongest supporters in our new church had recently lost their jobs, and the church could no longer afford to support a 2nd pastor. They could pay me for one more month, but after that, I’d have to find something else to do.
I was devastated. I was shocked, disappointed and confused. We had already sold our house back in Illinois and had bought another house in Texas. We had planned to stay there for many years, putting down roots with our growing family. Now those fresh roots were being pulled up overnight, and Lana had now lost more children (4) than she had delivered (3).
I don’t want to belabor the point, but it was hard. It was painful. And to be honest, I felt hurt, rejected and betrayed by those who invited me to come and who said they’d take care of me if I moved there. I didn’t feel particularly cared for, and after serving so successfully together during the entire year, it broke our hearts to have to say goodbye.
The week after being let go from the church, God spoke to my heart to move back to Illinois and start our Internet ministry at theranch.org full time. So we packed up the kids again and everything we owned and moved back to Illinois, staying at a house my in-laws said we could use, and starting all over again.
Within a few months, we started to see how God was beginning to work through us in new ways. When I spoke at the church in Texas, my words went to about 100 people. But when I spoke on the Internet, my words went to about 100 countries! Lana conceived again, and this time the pregnancy lasted! Within 5 years we had added another 3 kids to our family.
I could see God at work in so many ways, but the hurt and pain of having to leave Texas so abruptly lingered. I knew that our work and our friends there were significant, but it was hard to keep up with the friendships without the hurt and pain getting in the way. As is often the case, it was because of the great love we had shared that the hurt ran so deep.
Over the years, however, I visited the church again from time to time when we were in Texas. I felt God still had a plan and a purpose in it all, and I needed to keep His goals in mind. It was hard at first, but I felt it was the right thing to do. Throughout the process, I had some tremendous conversations with the leaders and the people that did much to restore our friendships again.
Looking back, and with much more age and experience under our belts, we all realize we could have and should have handled things differently. And while it’s taken time and effort to restore some of those damaged relationships, it has been effort that was well spent.
A few months ago, I was invited to attend a reunion at the church celebrating 20 years of ministry. And that’s why I began my 14-hour drive to Dallas which I mentioned to you last week, when I listened to a romance novel that blew me away, and how God spoke to me through the book about the recent loss of my own sweet wife.
On Saturday night in Dallas, I got a text from the senior pastor asking if I’d be willing to share my testimony at one of the services the following day. I hadn’t planned to speak, as I was just planning to hang out with some of my friends from all those years ago. I said I was willing, though, and he said that would be great.
When I stood up to speak the next day, the power of God came on me in an incredible way, which I’ll share with you in more detail next week. But the bottom line was that the message I shared was perhaps the most powerful message I’ve ever shared in my life. We prayed for and ministered to people for another 2 hours after the service ended, even in the midst of a rare Texas ice storm. (You can still listen to My Testimony here.)
What I thought was going to be a simple trip to a church reunion in Texas turned out to be a powerful time of healing, reconciliation and deliverance for many people–including me.
I was reminded again that God is able to work through anything, even some of our biggest disappointments and losses in life. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. And I was glad to be able to publicly thank and honor the church and its leadership for taking the risk on my so many years ago and bringing me onto their staff.
Sometimes you can avoid the fires of life, like we did on the farm yesterday. But sometimes you just have to keep walking through them.
I was reminded of this as I read part of King David’s story again a few weeks ago. Even though he was anointed king over all of Israel when he was just a young shepherd on the hills of Bethlehem, he didn’t finally take over the kingdom until he was 30 years old. Even then he still had a lot of battles left to fight to regain the whole kingdom over which he was anointed to rule!
I was reading just a few paragraphs of his story in the book of 1st Samuel and it says:
“David defeated the Philistines…David also defeated the Moabites…David fought Hadadezer…And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.” (from 1 Samuel 8:1-14).
And this was just a few paragraphs out of 23 chapters that describe his life up to that point! Sometimes we get lulled into thinking that if we have battles to fight, or people to forgive or tough times to walk through, that maybe we’re not walking in the will of God. But sometimes those battles and people and tough times are the very things that God will use to complete the victory! After all that he went through, “Payday” finally came for David, and it can come for you, too.
If you need encouragement that God can work all things for good, take a look at the life of David, as found in the Bible in the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel, starting with 1st Samuel, chapter 16. You’ll see how God can bring good out of any situation, even if it looks impossible at the time.
God really can and will work through any situation, whether it’s trouble at home or trouble in the field, trouble at work or trouble at church, trouble with your kids or trouble having kids. Remember in ALL THINGS, God can works for the good of those who love Him. As the Bible says:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
I pray you have a great Palm Sunday today and Holy Week this week. Next week we’ll look at one more story from my trip to Dallas, a story about a white handkerchief, plus the biggest payday of all time–the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
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