It was exactly what I asked for and everything that I didn’t need.
I’ve written previously about my firing from ministry twenty years ago and my subsequent five years of self-imposed exile from full-time ministry. In those days I occupied myself with a job that I did not enjoy but which paid the bills. There’s nothing like a job you hate to fuel the imagination about the job you love–or might love.
A little over a year after my firing we were living in an awful little apartment that had formerly been a spacious garage. I had been puzzling over ways to get back into ministry and had begun considering new avenues. One day I found myself contemplating starting a new church. Would I be up for that challenge?
It would be so easy! Get a group of people together with a common vision, start a small home group and continuing to work this awful job while waiting to see if God would bless our efforts. Others had done it, why not me? Surely this could be a good use of my talents and skills and would eventually get me back into the work I love.
I distinctly remember walking back into the hardware store after my lunch hour. As I came through the door I threw out a fleece. “Lord,” I prayed silently, “If you would like me to start a new church, please put me in touch with someone who also has a vision for a new church in this area.”
I cannot stress this enough. I had no sooner silently muttered my prayer and opened the door (surely that’s a metaphor for something, right?) when I was greeted with a smiling face and a handshake. A man I had never met before said, “Are you Bret Hammond?”
“Uhh, yes,” I replied.
“How would you feel about starting a new church?”
He had my attention. There had been some strange and wonderful answers to prayers in my past, but none quiet so purposeful as this one. God put this man in this spot at just the perfect time. Heaven and earth had come together and this was a moment of destiny.
And then he began to speak.
He represented a small group of dissatisfied members of a large nearby church. The leadership had made some decisions that they felt were in the wrong direction and their opposition had gone unheeded. They felt that the only course of action left was to take a stand, walk out and start a new church of their own.
I immediately knew I wanted nothing to do with this new church–this was a rebellion, not a move in step with God’s Spirit. However, rather than reject him outright, I offered to speak with him and the others who were hurt and considering this move. I thought I might be able to offer them something more substantial than a new church.
A few days later, on my only day off, my phone rang at 7:30 in the morning.
On the other end was one of his friends, a very hurt and angry man who blamed all sorts of things on ungodly elders who wouldn’t listen to their concerns and complaints and were taking their church in the wrong direction. He spoke passionately and a bit too loudly for my ears at 7:30 in the morning.
My advice to him went something like, “It’s very obvious to me that you still love this church. You’re hurt and that’s understandable. However if you don’t address this hurt head-on you’ll simply take it into another church and be even more miserable there.” I quoted some Matthew 18 and made a comparison about wanting to marry a new wife while you are still in love with your current wife. It was the best I could do given my desire to go back to sleep.
And thus ended my brief career as a church planter.
[pullquote]Why did God even bother answering my prayer? Why did he go to the trouble of doing exactly what I wanted only to show me exactly what I didn’t need?[/pullquote]
The whole situation still baffles me. Why did God even bother answering my prayer? Why did he go to the trouble of doing exactly what I wanted only to show me exactly what I didn’t need? Was it all some cosmic lesson in “Be careful what you ask for?”
Or was it a test? An opportunity to demonstrate what I valued more; the prospect of getting out of my dead-end job or the unity of the Body of Christ and Spirit-led reconciliation?
I love Psalm 37:4, I mean, who doesn’t! “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It’s like a blank check from God, right? What this verse, coupled with my very bizarre answer to prayer, teaches me is that God is less interested in giving me the desires of my heart than he is in me knowing his heart. When I delight myself in Him my heart changes. My desires follow.
Over the past twenty years I’ve delighted in unity and reconciliation. I’ve delighted in building bridges and connecting believers. I feel in doing so I’ve known God’s heart better than if I had helped birth a church out of division and discord.
God answered my prayer by showing me his heart.