“Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?” (1 Corinthians 9:4–7, KJV)
While I answered the call to the pastoral ministry late in life, the Lord put this burden on me much earlier. You see, I had one big struggle. I was working as an engineer and making a lot of money. I did not want to give up the high income. I wanted to live in both worlds so to speak. While in Savannah Georgia, I started my own business, doing consulting work. Also in Savannah, I began serving as the director of single adult ministries in a medium sized church. In an effort to do a better job in this church responsibility, I began working on a Masters of Ministry degree by extension. I still sensed a calling to the pastorate. Yet, I was not ready to surrender the high salary.
After receiving my Masters of Ministry degree, I came under conviction. I knew that I had to surrender everything to the Lord. So, I made a decision. I would give up my consulting business and seek to serve the Lord in fulltime vocational ministry. As I prayed about this, the Lord opened a door for ministry. It was to plant a church on a college campus. This I did. With the money the convention supplied and the offerings given by those in the church, my first year’s salary was $100 per month. Yes, it was quite ironic. When I decided to surrender it all and serve fulltime, the Lord put me in a bi-vocational ministry.
I had already begun shutting down my business, but had not officially closed it. I just did not look for any business. In my view it was miraculous. Every time our savings hit near zero, the Lord provided. Someone would call on the phone asking for my consulting expertise. This went on until the convention indicated we needed to move out of the Collegiate Ministries building on the edge of the campus, which essentially shut down our campus church plant.
Following this, the Lord called me to a small church in New Hampshire that was in financial difficulty. They told me that if things did not change, they could only keep me on staff for about six months. They asked me to keep my business open so I would have enough money in case things got worse. Now, the Lord spoke to me that I should close the business and just trust Him. This I did and we served there for ten years in one of the church’s most historically prosperous periods.
What is the point of all this? It is that there is a unique relationship between our ability to make choices and God’s providence. Paul alludes to this in this section. He and Barnabas worked with their hands in the market place while ministering in the church. Paul indicated that they had the right to earn their living from the church. Yet, the Lord had a different path for them. One that fit His purposes. The writer of Proverbs captured this thought, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, KJV).
God has the best plans for us in ministry. He never fails. We cannot fathom how our choices and God’s providence fit into the most perfect plan for His glory. However, they do. Wherever you are today, realize that, as a believer, you are in God’s plan. Sometimes we find that our wants are fulfilled perfectly in this journey and other times they are not. Yet, God is working in all our choices to paint a beautiful big picture that someday we will see in all its splendor.