Have you ever been excited for something to happen? Perhaps you’ve prayed for God to show up in a mighty way in something you’ve been involved in. But what actually happens is different than what you expected and you find yourself disappointed and questioning God. Earlier this month, I found myself in that very place.
For months I had been praying, preparing, interacting with Cru staff at a university to speak at a fall retreat and an outreach event on campus. Earlier this month, I boarded a plane for my destination filled with great expectation of the wonderful things that God would do over the next five days. I thought of the hundreds of students that God would use me to help grow in their relationship with Him and the many that would come to know Him by trusting Jesus. Oh the joy of partnering with God in His work!
As I got off the plane and picked up my rental car, the anticipation and excitement to preach God’s word to those He was sending me to only intensified. I arrived to the camp three hours before the retreat was to start. This gave me plenty of time to prayer walk the grounds, spend time in the Word, get settled in my cabin and rest. I wanted to be spiritually and physically refreshed and ready for however God would use me.
A half hour before the evening program, I showed up to the meeting room. I was expecting to see a crowd of students bustling about before the meeting. To my surprise there were only about 10 students sitting around and talking. I thought there must be a lot of students who are either slow in arriving or putting their belongings in their cabins. I introduced myself to most of the students present and was excited about meeting the many others who were on their way. During the next 30 minutes instead of a stampede of students there were about 15 more that showed up. At 7:30 p.m., the student leaders were alluding to the fact that everyone had arrived and that the meeting would start in about 5 minutes.
Through all my months of interacting with the Cru staff, I never once asked how many people they were expecting at the fall retreat. I just assumed that if a ministry was willing to fly me in 800+ miles to come and speak then it must be a decent number of students. I was thinking 75 students minimum, not 25. This was not what I had expected and almost immediately I became sad and disappointed. I did my best to mask my disappointment and as enthusiastically as I could introduce myself to students who had recently come in the room.
The students were having fun with icebreakers and some games but I was distracted by the small attendance. After the games, they sang songs of worship to the Lord and as much as I tried to refocus I still found myself distracted. Finally, it was time for me to get up and speak and half-heartedly I shared the story of God’s grace in my life and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like a bottle of Coke opened prematurely the message seemed flat. As I wrapped up my message the disappointment was growing into discouragement.
Later that evening, I spoke with my wife. Being a woman who is in tune with the Spirit, she could sense that something was wrong with me. I was not quite ready to allow my wife to see the shallowness of my heart. How exactly do you say that there should be more people here for me to speak to and since there is not I am disappointed? I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ so of course people should mean more to me than numbers. Yet here I am more concerned about numbers than people. So I told her ‘the message did not go how I wanted it to but I’m ok.’
When I finally got alone in my cabin, I began questioning God’s leading of me to this place. ‘God, surely there is someone from around here that you could have used to minister to these 25 students?’ ‘Wouldn’t it have been a better stewardship of money had they not flown me here from Orlando, Florida?’ ‘Why did you take me away from my family for 5 days to minister to these few people?’ ‘Why does it seem that the multitudes flock to hear other speakers but not me?’
In the midst of my questioning, thoughts of my last ministry trip to this part of the country began to come to mind. In January 2013, I was flown into this area to speak at a chapel service for an NFL team on the eve of a playoff game. At max, 20 guys showed up for chapel and I was not disappointed by the number. These men were professional football players in the NFL and I was excited to have the opportunity to share God’s word with them. As those thoughts danced in my mind, I realize that I was ok with God leading me 1,000+ miles away from my family (when we lived in Cleveland, Ohio) to speak to 20 NFL players but not 25 college students.
I began to realize that I had bought into the world’s ideas that there are some people who are more important than others. I was showing partiality and placing different values on people based on what they do, what others think of them and how much money they make. What God began to remind me of, in the quietness of my cabin, is that every human life is precious to Him. Every human being is created in the image of God and the same price was paid to redeem every soul, the blood of Jesus Christ.
Right there in my cabin, I began to confess my sin to God. I had made this weekend about me when it was about God, His glory and His gospel. He wanted to use me to share His grace and truth with these young men and women and I had allowed the small crowd to distract me from the glorious Christ. God began to do a great work in my heart as He began to fill me with His love and compassion for these students. He gave me a fresh excitement to be on mission with Him ministering to these students.
By the end of the retreat many of these students had shared with the Cru staff and volunteers how God had spoken and ministered to them in personal and powerful ways. Little did these students know of the ways that God had been at work ministering quietly to the depths of my own heart. I was expecting great things this weekend – a
large crowd to minister to and God showing up in undeniable ways. Yet, I believe that some of the most
powerful work God was doing was in me – exposing my sin, leading me to confess it and making me more like Jesus. Perhaps in your disappointment and discouragement God is doing the same thing.
This was just one of many lessons that God taught me
during my time at this university. I look forward to sharing more in my next blog post. God bless!