In 1990, during a 12-month break between two pastorates–what most call unemployment–I kept a journal recording what was happening, what I prayed would happen, and what I feared might happen. Below is a little reverie from that time when I was praying for the next pastorate, worrying whether there would be a next one, and anxious to get on with it. In this piece, I imagined the Lord stepping in to answer our prayers.
God said to Gabriel, “This guy has me cornered.”
“He came when I called him to the last church and served where I sent him. He turned down a bigger opportunity and a hundred thousand dollar bribe to see a difficult situation to its conclusion. In the process, I showed him the 66th psalm.”
Background: One night in the middle of our firestorm, Margaret and I had sat on the back porch reading Scripture and talking. I began to read Psalm 67. Quickly, everything inside me said, “No. Psalm 66.” Now, I could not have told you the difference. One psalm was the same as the other. But I read Psalm 66 out loud, and we were amazed. We saw the Lord was sending us a message. In verses 10-12, He perfectly described our situation.
“For Thou, O Lord, hast tried us, Thou hast refined us as silver is refined. Thou didst bring us into the net; Thou didst lay an oppressive burden upon our loins. Thou didst make men ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; Yet Thou didst bring us out into a place of abundance.”
The Lord continues with Gabriel.
“In the middle of that psalm–I was trying to comfort him!–he picked up on an obscure promise. Well, his wife did, to be exact. She sees these things quicker than he. (He tends toward dullness sometimes.)
“It said, ‘But you led us out into a place of abundance.’
That’s at the end of Psalm 66:12.
“Joe and Margaret quibbled slightly over whether a place of is in the Hebrew. They wondered whether I was promising them abundance or to give them a place of abundance. Either way, they grasped that promise as being from Heaven with my signature all over it.
“It comes down to a matter of my integrity. I either promised them abundance or a place of abundance. So far, they’ve not seemed to try to dictate what it means. They’re actually leaving that to me.
“Now, Gabriel, as you know, I hate to waste good experience. They will be much better prepared for the next pastorate.
“So, let’s pick them out a good one. And Gabriel, keep your eye on the calendar. August 31 is upon us and I don’t care to put their faith to the test. It’s really not all that strong, even though it’s more dependable than before. But let’s get some pastor search committee to moving. Have them interrupt their plan and move his name to the top of their list. Joe has made the vows that I called for in Psalm 66. So, the only part lacking now is the place of abundance.”
Explanation: Verses 13-14 speak of “the vows which my lips uttered and my mouth spoke when I was in distress.” I recall asking myself at some point, “So, what vows am I making to the Lord?” I came up with three, which I’ve tried to observe to this day, some 27 years later. I would live simply, give generously, and encourage pastors.*
In my little fantasy, the Lord continues speaking to Gabriel.
“Look. We could indulge my sovereignty and send him to Podunk. But he already knows all that. We don’t have anything to prove. Let’s give him a good dose of grace and send him to a dilly. Let’s overwhelm him with opportunity and support. Along the way, if those who bucked me and hammered him in his last church see it and feel a heavenly rebuke, so much the better.
“I’m not getting any rest with all the prayers people are sending up on his behalf. So, let’s answer them and put the man to work in a fertile field. Go to it now, Gabriel.”
Not long after this, Pastor Frank Pollard called from the FBC of Jackson MS asking if Margaret and I would stay in their home for 3 weeks next summer while he and Jane went on a vacation. On Sunday, July 1, 1990, the last day of this extended visit, the pastor search committee from FBC Kenner, LA, a suburb of New Orleans, came to hear me preach, then took us to lunch. On September 1, I became pastor of their church. Don’t miss that: My support from the previous church ended August 31, and the new church kicked in the next day.
I pastored the Kenner church for fourteen eventful years. (And yes, that’s a story in itself. Perhaps a full-length book.) Then, the Lord made me director of missions for the Southern Baptist churches and missions in metro New Orleans for the next five years. I was there in August/September 2005 when Katrina blew through and flooded the city, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes, ending hundreds of lives, and forever changing the city.
Margaret and I used to discuss whether New Orleans was the “place of abundance” promised in Psalm 66. It seemed like anything but that. Charlotte NC was one of the newest, cleanest, most modern cities in America, while New Orleans was old and troubled and dirty. So, was this the promised abundant place God had in mind?
One day, the Lord directed my attention to Romans 5:20, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Ah, yes, New Orleans abounds in sin. And thus in grace. We have exactly what He promised. And more. Ten thousand times more.
God is so good.
Please. Let no one stumble at the above or wonder about it. In no way did we ever feel the Lord owed us anything. As I say, this was merely a reverie. Musing, dreaming out loud.
I’m now in my 77th year of life, my 56th year of ministry. I pastored six churches for 42 years, served as director of missions for five years, and have been in a retirement ministry (traveling near and far) since 2009. God has been incredibly generous to me and faithful beyond words.
My favorite “old person” Psalm, the 92nd, ends with this: “The Lord is upright; He is my Rock; and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” No teenage shepherd-boy guarding his flock on a blissful hillside could have penned that. That is the testimony of one who has been through the fire and come out smelling like roses, who has been tried and beaten down and then lifted up and honored by a generous Father.
(*As for my three-fold vow, I recognize that “living simply, giving generously, and encouraging pastors” can be interpreted in various ways. What is simple in one culture is lavish in another. But I have strived to live by these, as God has enabled me.)