“I will pay You my vows, Which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble….” (Psalm 66:13-14).
My wife and I sat on the back porch talking about the disastrous happenings at the church we were serving. A committee we had asked to be formed to help me figure out some things was now meeting without my knowledge and had jumped the rails concerning their assignment. The little group that had been on my case the entire length of my tenure in that church appeared to hold the winning hand, and their shenanigans were still hidden from most of the congregation. One thing after another.
One night, as we began to read Psalm 67, the Lord suddenly directed me away from that chapter. “Psalm 66.” Now, I could not have told one from the other. But obeying the inner voice of the Spirit, I opened to Psalm 66 and began reading. Soon, we saw why. In the middle of the Psalm, David describes the very thing happening to us…
“For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined; You brought us into the net; You laid afflictions on our backs. You caused men to ride over our heads. We went through fire and through water. But You brought us out to a place of abundance.” (Psalm 66:10-12)
I was stunned, as was my wife. This was what we had been enduring for three troubled years.
He knows our need
It took my wife’s discernment a few minutes later as we prayed, to see that God had not only accurately depicted our situation, but had also given us a promise. Margaret prayed, “And Lord, thank You for promising that You are going to lead us to a place of abundance. We claim that promise.”
I had not recognized that sentence at the end of verse 12 as a promise, but there it was.
Thereafter, we held onto that promise and frequently mentioned it to the Lord as we prayed.
After He led us to the New Orleans area to serve a wonderful congregation that had endured a tragic split 18 months earlier and was fighting for its life, we recognized that the “place of abundance” was not what we would have expected. Since it is true that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20), we began to see that this fabled city, noted for its abundant sin, was also the focus of the Father’s abundant grace.
New Orleans is indeed a place of abundance.
The years have only confirmed again and again that God led us here.
When we’re ready, He shows us more
One day, a couple of years after He coming to New Orleans, I noticed something in Psalm 66 that had escaped me earlier: I needed to fulfill my vows to Him “uttered when I was in trouble.”
But what vows did I make? I could think of none as such.
At no point had I said, “Lord, if you will do this, then I will do that. And that, and that.”
Then, I began to think back over the change of direction the Father had given us and some new priorities we had taken on. In one sense, these were vows I had made. Ever since, I have kept these before me as promises to the Lord.
I will live simply.
I will give generously.
I will encourage pastors.
Now, studying these three a full quarter of a century later, it’s easy to analyze them and see to what extent I’ve kept them and how God has worked in them.
First, they’re rather general. Thus they could mean anything. Or more exact, they would mean different things to different people, and vastly different things in different cultures. To live simply in Malawi would be one thing, living simply in Beverly Hills another.
For that and other reasons, I have not broadcast them nor informed others that these were goals for my discipleship. Until now.
Our decision not to live ostentatiously was made for us in our next church. We took a cut in salary of $32,000. Now, that will put a serious crimp in anyone’s budget. So, we rented living space for the next few years. (This came after living in a home with 5 bedrooms and four baths in North Carolina.) When we eventually bought a house, it was the smallest one we had ever owned.
We drove old cars and eventually, when we could buy new, we bought Camrys.
We tithed our income to our church and gave to numerous other ministries. And–this is important–we looked for ways to help individuals and groups that were off radar for established ministries.
I tip generously, remembering family members who served tables for starvation wages. Not long ago, my dinner guest watched as I laid money on the table. “That’s rather generous, don’t you think?” she said. I laughed, “I certainly hope so!”
I will not look to see how little I can give, but how much.
Recently, in making new wills, I named a number of ministries dear to our heart that will receive bequests off the top of my estate.
I am not setting any records. No one will ever write a book about my great deeds or sacrificial donations. What I give is nothing compared to the Lord’s gifts to me and many of His most faithful children far outshine me in the grace of giving.
Giving generously does however remain as one of the standards of my life.
Decades ago, when the Mississippi church I pastored made money available for any ministry purpose that suited my heart, I would sometimes purchase a suit of clothing for a local minister, and do so anonymously. That was fun. As the recipient of such generosity from others over the years, I wanted to pass this along.
During my five years as leader of the 130 churches and missions making up the New Orleans Baptist Association (2004-2009), I gladly assumed the role of “pastor to the pastors.” When Hurricane Katrina flooded our city, destroying neighborhoods and churches,, encouraging ministers and rebuilding churches became the central focus of our lives.
The direction of this blog–the website where this article is being posted–is toward pastors and other church leaders. If it has a bias, and I do not deny that it does, it’s toward those called of God as His servants. Since childhood I have loved pastors and their families. I suspect the Lord had a purpose in that even then.
Scriptural wisdom from several thousand years back has a word on this…
“When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it;
For He has no pleasure in fools; pay what you have vowed.
Better not to vow than to vow and not pay” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5).
Please note I’m not necessarily encouraging readers to make vows. And particularly, I am not suggesting you make bargains with the Lord, that if He will do A you will perform B. Forget that.
In my case, the vow came after the Lord intervened with His blessed leadership. Perhaps rather than vows, we could call these responses to His grace.
It’s always good to respond to His grace, and to bring thanksgiving offerings no matter the type.