100$ bills, Diamond Rings, and Completely Free Weddings
This is life at the mercy of Jesus.
A few days ago, my friend Aimee burst through my front door and began telling me an incredible tale. Characteristically, she started her story somewhere in the middle and zigzagged her way back to the beginning via several interesting tangents, delivered at speed, but I soon understood that her family had found themselves that week in the midst of an unexpected financial crisis. Aimee and her husband, Sean, had been challenging themselves to grow in faith by increasing their giving to the church beyond what they could afford. However, they had miscalculated. Somehow they had left themselves with only a few dollars with which to feed a family of six for the next four days.
The few groceries they were able to buy couldn’t cover even the basics. They couldn’t put gas in their car. They had to ask a friend to take their daughters to Ballet class. They considered asking people in the church for help, but decided instead to keep quiet about their lack of cash. After all, this was the point of testing their faith. They needed to know whether or not God would take care of them. Were they reliant on their own efforts to provide for their family, or was God the one looking after them?
The answer came a few days later in the form of a mysterious envelope addressed to Aimee and left on the desk of another church staff member. Aimee guessed it contained money, and was sure some kind soul had given them $10 or so. That was all they needed to avoid disaster. She was wrong. Inside the envelope was a single $100 bill. She rushed to the house to find Sean, who was busy frying the one egg he had rationed himself that lunchtime. She left him with tears running down his face.
What was my response to this wonderful story, happening not on TV or to someone preaching from a stage, but to people I am close to and see almost every day? Happy surprise and excitement, yes. But also nagging doubt. Could this situation have come about by chance? Was this really God? I’m ashamed to admit it, but the thought even crossed my mind that it might not be a real $100 bill.
I know this response, from someone who knows Jesus and is constantly surrounding by overwhelming evidence of his kindness and goodness, is ludicrous. It’s embarrassing. However, I’ve learned not to ignore those thoughts. They are a window into a piece of my heart. Why, after so long following Jesus, do I still doubt that he would answer a prayer so magnificently?
Aimee’s story wasn’t the only unexpected blessing in my community this week. A few days before that, on my way to the office, I bumped into Kim, glowing with excitement, and clasping a small jewelry box in her hand. “Sarah, have you seen it yet, have I told you yet?” she asked, smiling. Kim works at a frozen yogurt store that helps pay the bills at our church. She often gets the opportunity to pray for her customers and to tell them about Jesus. One lady, whose sick husband Kim had prayed for, had come in that day with news and a present for Kim. The husband was getting better, Kim’s prayer was surely the reason why, and here was a gift from Jesus: a beautiful ring with a blue gem (that we think must be a sapphire) in the center and two diamonds on either side. It fit perfectly.
How did I respond to this situation? Well, firstly by thinking that if I was to buy a diamond ring for anyone, it would surely be for the beautiful, faithful, incredible Kim who is one of the nicest people I have ever met, despite having survived one of the saddest upbringings I will ever hear of. Jesus got it right! But I also wondered whether prayer really did heal the yogurt-loving lady’s husband, or whether he just got better by himself. And that despite having been miraculously healed myself as a baby.
The truth is, my experiences with people, fickle and unreliable as they often are, and with life, brutal and heartbreaking as it sometimes can be, have colored my view of God. The apostle John, who writes about a God he really saw, heard and touched, describes Him as Light without a hint of darkness. But my eyes have built-in darkness that constantly obscures my view. What can I do to change? The solution is a long process of untangling the lies and putting myself in a position to discover the truth. I have to know from my own experience who Jesus really is.
My final story has been unfolding around me for the past few months and will reach its completion on May 16th with the marriage of my housemate Lisa, and her fiancée Johnny. This wedding has been miraculous from the start, coming after a very long wait. Lisa started praying for her husband at Freshwind conference in Toronto at age 13, but didn’t have any serious relationships until she met Johnny at age 33, despite being very pretty, very smart and passionately in love with Jesus. It was a tough wait. At the time of Lisa’s first prayer, Johnny was a redheaded ten year-old living thousands of miles away in California. He grew up to be a charismatic heavy-metal front man, in his words, “a crazy party animal”. In 2013, he found out Jesus was real.
Fast-forward to the start of 2015 and Lisa and Johnny were engaged and had no income, no money in the bank and a wedding to pay for. They already knew God had a plan. They had both separately received prophecies that God was going to take care of the wedding, and Lisa’s engagement ring had already been miraculously paid for. But now the fight was on to believe Jesus rather than to listen to the fear inside, desperate to take control.
As they began their preparations, $400 was given to them in anonymous gifts. Then they found the perfect venue, but it cost $1,500 – an impossible sum for people with no income. Lisa asked Jesus to pay the bill. The next day she was handed an envelope containing $1,100. She sat in our shared office and wept. Next came $150 anonymously addressed to them and placed in the church offering. Then Lisa won free wedding photography in a prize draw. Then came the dress.
Lisa told Jesus she only wanted to pay $300 for her dress, but would go to $500 if she had to. She fell in love with the first dress she tried on, but it was $599. She had a $50 off coupon, and got another $50 off in the store – making the total $499. Then the friend who accompanied her to the store announced that Jesus had told her to pay $200 towards the dress. With tax included, Lisa got her dress for $347.
Over the next month and a half, money came in for wedding rings, outfits for Johnny and his groomsmen and even some wedding party gifts. Countless friends and family promised to pay for food and decorations and got together to help prepare everything that would be needed. A few days ago Lisa was handed $100 to pay for their marriage license. With 16 days to go, Lisa and Johnny need $1,780 to finish paying for their wedding. I have no doubt they will get it.
My response to Lisa’s story is different to my reaction to the other incredible events of this week. Like them, I don’t have a normal job with an income (I also work for the church). As a result I now have three years’ experience of God’s provision. I may struggle with stories that show His incredible generosity, but I know God provides what you need. He lowers the price of your shopping, gets you rides to where you need to go, sends money across the ocean and hands you gifts before you realize you need them. I’ve been put in a position to gain real faith in this area though experience, and I’ve changed!
What’s the moral of this week in my little community? Jesus is real. He is faithful. He is magical. But we can only discover who He is through pursuing real experiences with Him. Through living the kind of life that requires His direct, unmistakable action to prevent us from falling on our faces. And when we have those experiences, when we see evidence of the presence of God around us, we have to choose to acknowledge Him. I’ve told you the happy stories, but they come in the midst of hard days, with many other things vying for our attention. We have to decide to focus on the truth and the good we see, rather than letting the enemy distract us with victories yet to be won. Above all, we have to live at the mercy of Jesus. He needs to be the one in charge, leading us and taking control of our lives. It’s nerve-wracking at times, but it’s the only way to find out who He really is.