While preparing to plant New Circle Church, Barry and I handed out prayer cards that read:
Please pray for the Ragers as they become missionaries in the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood of Indianapolis. Pray that: “The favor of the Lord our God would rest upon us,and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Ps. 90:17)
We legitimately and desperately wanted people praying that prayer for us. We knew that in order for a church to arise out of the work of two pairs of young, naive, idealistic, already-overwhelmed hands, the Lord’s favor would have to rest upon us.
My momma hung that prayer card on her refrigerator ,and she and Dad prayed that prayer every day. So many folks throughout these five years have reached out to tell us they have done the same. We are interceded for daily.
And we are keeping up our end of our deal. Boy, do we work!
But I’m still not sure why God is doing it. Why is he letting his favor rest upon us? Why is he establishing the work of our hands? Barry and I see so many faithful, obedient planters and wives enter the city with our same goal: to see Indy saturated with the presence of God and his people. And yet so many of those folks pack up and leave. Surely they feel the work of their hands is less than established.
Some days I feel survivor’s guilt over the results we see in church planting, and some days I’m envious over someone else’s blessings.
You see, New Circle Church isn’t exactly the church of our prayers. We’re less diverse. We’re smaller. We’re not a church-planting church yet. We’re not meeting the tangible needs of the community around us to the degree that we had hoped. We’re not quite a financially stable church. And despite our prayers, no landlord has yet complained the water bill is too high due to all our baptisms.
For some of these “unanswered prayers,” the Lord is kind enough to show us why He sees fit to do differently. For others we’re unsure, but He’s always faithful to remind us that He’s in control.
When I begin to think I could design Indianapolis’ roadmap to redemption better than God, He faithfully brings to mind, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9)
When I’m tempted to find that one church plant that is bigger, or more financially stable, or has planted a church in their first year, or is located in the tropics (just kidding), God reminds me of the conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 21. Jesus foretells Peter’s own suffering and death in a forthright way and then gives him a very pregnant command: “Follow me.” Peter quickly looks around and sees John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” the one who seems like he might get the better end of the stick. He asks his Savior, who was just tortured and crucified on his behalf, (in my own interpretation), “Well then, what about this guy? Is this suffering going to be handed out fairly?” “And Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!'” (John 21:22)
In other words, stop worrying about what others get, Peter — and Amy. Stop worrying about the one who gets “less” and the one who gets “more.” Keep your eyes on me. Be faithful. Trust your Father to do as promised: to care for His children in ways that are higher, different, and more glorious than you would ever come up with or think “fair.” (See Eph. 3:20 and Matt. 10:29-31)
Those who have less tangible results from the work of their hands, perhaps their favor looks like “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as (they) look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” (2 Cor. 4:17-1)
Favor is not made-to-order. It’s given — oh, how it’s given! — to all God’s children, including every church planting couple, but sometimes it takes a bit more faith and discernment to see it.
Today marks five years of meaningful labor in Indianapolis. Five years of “answered exactly” and “answered un-exactly” prayers. Five years of learning dependence. Five years of watching for signs of his stirring. Five years of attempting to heed the call, “Follow me.”
In the end, isn’t this enough favor in and of itself?
Published March 22, 2018