Burn the chariots and lame the horses

Do our plans rely too much on human resource and too little on the power of God?

J. H. Zachary is an associate secretary of the Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

The speaker's statement stunned me. It has troubled me, haunted me, prodded me. "Of all the work the church has accomplished, 95 percent of it could have been done without the aid of the Holy Spirit." There was a stir in the headquarters church in Burma as the Southern Asia Division president spoke.

The voluminous reports raced through my mind: 187 countries entered, thousands of schools and medical institutions established, more than 4 million (now more than 5 million) members worldwide, and more than 1,000 souls joining the church each day. Had all of this been accomplished by mere human plans, budgets, and personnel? I was reluctant to believe that there was any truth in the indictment.

What is the truth?

We are Laodiceans. The Spirit of Prophecy makes this clear. "The mes sage to the Laodicean Church is highly applicable to us as a people. It has been placed before us for a long time, but has not been heeded as it should have been." 1

Remember the first Laodiceans? Their city was located on one of the main trade routes of Asia Minor. Their banking system, medicine factories, weaving industries, and agricultural products made them leaders of their world.

They were proud, self-centered, and economically independent. When their city was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60, they refused to accept Nero's offer of financial help. They had plans, budgets, and personnel to finish the rebuilding task.

Take a look at modern Laodicea. We know that we have the truth. We are rich. Our stewardship programs have made us the envy of most other churches. The Sabbath school emphasis on missions has helped us circle the earth with Adventist institutions.

Today we are a multinational organization. And the church is beginning to act more and more like such an organization. Many of the committees on which I have sat in recent months have placed before us the organizational philosophy and policies of these international companies. We are busy trimming the system and gearing it up for action.

But the downside of this businesslike strategy is that it often seems impossible to make a move unless every cent of the budget is in hand and every detail of the program has been approved by several committees. Only when we are certain that the plans and budgets will guarantee success do we move forward.

Faith makes a difference

We need to let faith add a different dimension to our planning. Faith moves forward to follow God's bidding even when the path is not clear and the coffers are not full. It moves forward when defeat seems certain. The poorest, weakest person who distrusts himself can, through the prayer of faith, move the arm of God.

Which is not to say that planning is unimportant.

Financial planning is crucial. Jesus made this clear by reminding His hearers that a king who wages war without counting his men and equipment is a fool. Likewise, the man who lays a foundation without sufficient cash in hand to complete his project will never finish his task (Luke 14:28-33).

But when Jesus sent His followers to enter villages with the gospel, He gave instructions that present another aspect of His counsel regarding planning. "Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep," He told the disciples (Matt. 10:9, 10, NIV). What a challenge to faith! The worker was not to wait until he was fully equipped with extra shoes and clothing. He was to go in faith and trust the Lord to provide for his keep.

The builder to whom Jesus referred was a fool if he did not have sufficient material resources to complete his building. The unfinished skeleton would be a monument to his lack of careful planning.

Likewise, workers for God must have sufficient spiritual resources to finish their tasks. The worker with a living, personal relationship with God, the worker who is filled with the Holy Spirit and supported by a dynamic faith, has access to more than enough material and spiritual resources to complete whatever task God may give.

Plan we must! But there are two ways to plan.

There is a type of planning that is so self-sufficient that it gives humanity all the glory and pushes God out of the picture. It may include formal prayers. But this kind of planning makes intercessory prayer that confesses that nothing good can happen without God's blessing seem unnecessary, because that program rests secure in human plans, budgets, personnel, and equipment. We are ready for all the contingencies. There is no vital faith relationship with the Lord to push our feet into the flooded waters of the Jordan, trusting the Lord to do His marvelous work.

Then there are the plans in which the participation of God is so obvious that He receives all the glory. This is the pattern found again and again in the Word of God. I have seen it happen in the mission field repeatedly.

In 1970 my wife and I arrived in the Philippines, where I took up the chairmanship of the Bible Department of Mountain View College. Just a few days after our arrival one of the senior ministerial students came to my office. He had an earnest request. Would I help the Ministerial Association present a formal request to the college board to raise funds to construct the college radio station?

The union had attempted to raise funds on two occasions, but had backed away from the challenge. What could a few students do?

The college gave us permission to raise 12,000 pesos ($2,000). With this money we could convert an old U.S. Navy 250-watt transmitter to 1,000 watts of power, set up a corner of the chapel as a broadcast room, secure some used recording equipment and micro phones, and place an antenna atop a bamboo pole.

We were working against time. The government permit was about to expire. In answer to our prayers the Lord gave those students 2 million pesos! And almost every month we found it necessary to enlarge our plans to catch up with the funds the Lord was bringing in. Not because of our human planning and budgeting, but because that station was part of the Lord's plan.

There were so many other blessings: three loads of logs were donated. In return for half the timber, a sawmill cut them down into lumber. Scores of students and villagers donated thousands of hours of labor for the construction of a studio. A typhoon closed the road to the American bases. We were the first to get through the flood to the surplus office. A brand-new 180-foot antenna was waiting for us, along with a truckload of office equipment. A Chinese business man who had learned his English at Philippine Union College gave a very special discount on a 5,000-watt transmitter.

The Lord also opened the way for a new hydroelectric plant that supplies more than enough power to keep the latest transmitter of 10,000 watts on the air almost 18 hours each day.

At no point did we make plans beyond the money in hand. But the Lord had bigger plans. He rewarded the faith of that young senior and his friends a thousand times.

Entering new territory

As I write these lines I have just returned from a 15-hour hike to visit the Da-a tribe of central Sulawesi. What a hike! We traveled through rain, mud, fallen logs strewn across the path, rocks, steep mountain trails, slippery, slimy wet clay until four o'clock in the morning!

The Da-a are a primitive people living in the remote highlands of the island. They do not have a cash economy. The mission currently has calls pending from five villages requesting that teachers and pastors be sent. If the mission moves forward, they will have serious financial problems. It is expected that there will be no tithe income to speak of from the Da-a for years to come.

Many times work has been started in similar situations. But as soon as the division or Sabbath school funding stopped, the mission has had to retreat because of financial hardship.

A strong faith coupled with some new methods is needed to move ahead. The Lord gave a Da-a woman a dream 25 years ago that a Sabbath-keeper would bring them the truth of God. But it required strong faith and creative plan ning to enable the mission to follow up.

The plan calls for tribal chiefs to provide each teacher and pastor with land and a house. Tithe will be paid in produce to the pastors and teachers. Leaders will be trained in the first treehouse tribal seminary in the world (the Da-a build their houses in trees).

The 10 struggling Da-a companies are expected to double by 1990. And this will be done by figuratively scraping the bottom of the widow's barrel.

But we know God responds to the prayer of faith. During one of the major crusades in Manila, the 11,000 church members prayed for Bibles for the 350 cottage meetings that were planned. They needed 100,000 Bibles. A request went to the Quiet Hour. Pastor LaVerne Tucker discussed the request with his father. The Quiet Hour had never before taken on a $200,000 project. They realized that it might take two years to reach the goal. But that very day the Lord impressed a woman to drop by the Quiet Hour office. "I feel convicted that you need some funds for Bibles," she said. "Here is $15,000. As soon as my hus band agrees, we will send the funds from his portion of the property that was just sold." Thirty thousand dollars brought in by the Lord before the fundraising started! It took only five months to raise the $200,000 and print the Bibles! Everyone knew that God had done a marvelous thing for those who prayed in faith.

At no time in the above experience did we sign a document that would place the church in debt. Planning and faith can go hand in hand. I have seen it happen again and again in the construction of 40 churches around Mountain View College in a six-year period.

Just six days after a Manobo tribal chief requested a school, a check for $1,000 arrived from a total stranger. He was ignorant of the existence of the Manobo tribe.

Just a few days ago I returned from a trip to Bangladesh, where there are so many needs. The brethren requested help to secure motorcycles to assist pastors in making their rounds. Upon my return home, there was a letter from a lady asking if she could help with a project in Bangladesh.

There is no greater joy than to see God open doors to give His work new directions, bring people together from opposite sides of the earth to accomplish His mission, and provide funds to run His errands when there are no funds in sight.

We are told that angels direct the work of evangelism (The Great Controversy, p. 312). If we are in close fellow ship with heaven, we will begin to see more and more of the planning, funding, and accomplishment of God's work in God's ways.

Biblical examples

Let us take a closer look in the Bible at a few examples of planning that gave God all the glory.

Look at Joshua. The army of Israel was about to start its campaign into the north. The Commander in Chief gave this order: "Cripple their horses and burn their chariots" (Joshua 11:6, TEV).

What a strange command. Soldiers are careful to keep their arsenals filled with weapons. What did God have in mind?

The loot from the victory over Jabin and his allies would have more than filled Joshua's armories, but God's command was clear. Get rid of all the enemy's weapons!

God does His work in ways far different from the planning of people. Again and again God had promised His people: "I will give you the land" (Gen. 35:12, TEV). The army of Israel had sufficient evidence that faith in God would do just that: there was manna in the desert, the waters of the Jordan piled up, the walls of Jericho crumbled. Their parents had told them about the path through the sea and the plagues that destroyed the military machine of Egypt. They were convinced that God was the sole source of the power for their victories!

There are two important points here. An army with strategic superiority in soldiers and weapons would have reason for serf-assurance and human boasting. But an inexperienced, poorly equipped, out numbered army has no chance for victory in its own power. The issue was clear in Joshua's day. Cut back on your weapons and supplies. When you sense your total reliance on Him, God will give the victory, and He will receive the glory.

There is more for us in the experience of Joshua. With the barrier of the Jordan River between the people and the land of Canaan, Joshua asked the people to do two things.

First, they were to sanctify them selves (Joshua 3:5). Sanctify means "to separate." Joshua promised the people that if they would separate from sin and draw near to God, something wonderful would happen. Read the promise: "The Lord will do amazing things among you" (verse 5, NIV).

I have seen this happen again and again during my 18 years of mission service. Students have gotten me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to pray for their outreach projects. And how the Lord worked for them! There have been several cases of visions and dreams. In one village the chief and his people saw the angels walk into their village. This helped them to firm up their decision to build a church for their people.

In Joshua 3:3 we see the focus on another significant point: "When the ark moves, you move out to follow it." The Shekinah, the visible presence of God, moved with the ark. We could paraphrase Joshua's command thus: "Keep your eyes on the Lord. When He moves, you follow Him."

What a lesson for the church to put into practice in every undertaking today! When we come to know God's will, we can fit our plans into God's plans.

Let us follow Joshua a little further. God's methods challenge people! Joshua gave the command "Forward march!" Priests, army, women, and children marched toward a river at nearly flood tide. It did not make sense.

But the instant faith pushed the priests' feet into the water, God acted. The New International Version says that the water of the river piled up (verse 16). God is still the same today. He is ready to do marvelous things, greater things than any person or group has yet accomplished. The greater the challenge, the greater the disadvantage, the more hopeless the situation, the greater the opportunity for all people to know that our God is the all-powerful Lord of Creation. We need leaders with the faith of Joshua who can be used by God to reveal the Lord's power to the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and secularist world in such a way that all will know that "there is a God in Israel."

Let us make room for God to act in carrying out the mission of reaching the whole world with the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Before us are many mountains, raging rivers, deep seas, and powerful enemy forces to challenge us. Almost four fifths of the population of the world still has not heard the message of Jesus with clarity. But through the eyes of faith we can see that the greater the obstacles, the more clearly God will show His glory and power as He leads us to victory.

But there is still more that we can learn from Joshua's example. After the march through the Jordan, where did he go? All alone he crept up to a spot near Jericho's wall to pour out his heart to God. This wall, he knew, was the next obstacle in his path, and he wanted to talk to his Commander before launching an attack.

The two soldiers visited late into the night. Carefully Joshua memorized each detail of the commands for the coming battle.

No military council would have accepted such a foolish war strategy. But Joshua was no ordinary military leader. He and his army had witnessed what the armies of the God of heaven could do.

On the final march around Jericho, the Lord's army stopped, faced the walls, and waited. The silence was bro ken by the sound of a trumpet and a great shout. And God did the rest!

We have been self-sufficient far too long. We have tried to finish the work of God in our own strength. And all the while God has been saying, "Prepare yourselves, put away your sins, come into a close personal relationship with Me, be ready to obey, and I will do marvelous things for you."

Look at how often in God's plan the impossible happened. Jesus was born of a virgin! Gideon's 300 routed a vast multitude! The multitude of Israel ate manna in the wilderness for 40 years! And the list goes on.

God waited for Sarah to experience menopause before Isaac was born, be cause he was to be the child of promise. Abraham and Sarah could claim no credit. All the glory for the birth of their son belonged to God.

King Jehoshaphat went out to challenge three powerful enemy tribes with his church choir! And while the choir sang hymns of praise, God fought the battle.

Too often we are ready to cry with Elisha's servant, "Look at the massive army surrounding us. We are in big trouble! What shall we do?" At that point the trembling servant wished for the security of a large, well-equipped, friendly army. Then Elisha quietly asked the Lord to open his servant's eyes to see the forces of heaven waiting to do marvelous things.

Planning that places every detail within our resources and leaves no place for God to do His wonders is truly counterproductive. Ellen White's testimony is very clear: "If divine power does not combine with human effort, I would not give a straw for all that the greatest man could do. The Holy Spirit is wanting in our work." 2

What will happen when 95 percent of what the church does is undeniably accomplished through the agency of the Holy Spirit?

1 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White
Comments, vol. 7, p. 961.

2 Review and Herald, Feb. 18, 1890.

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J. H. Zachary is an associate secretary of the Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

December 1991

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