This crisis time can be our “book of Acts” moment! Those early believers had little money, no church buildings, few pastors, and no big institutions, and they were being persecuted. But God turned the world upside down through them as they answered the call of Jesus in Acts 1:8, praying and seeking the Holy Spirit until the baptism fell on them. We do not want to return to “normal” if that normal is Laodicea! What can He do through us in this crucial time of earth’s history?
A great disappointment
I was shocked and embarrassed; I could not believe what had just happened! I had overdrawn my checking account by $1,700, and my last check had been returned to the individual who attempted to cash it, marked “insufficient funds.” After reviewing my entries, I found that I had mistakenly added $2,000 that I should have subtracted. My account held several thousand dollars less than I thought!
As a young pastoral family, we had realized in recent months that we were overextended. With the amount of our house payments escalating, we had more expenses every month than income, and our savings were nearly gone.
I thought I had the Lord figured out. Pray, work hard as a pastor, be faithful with tithes and offerings, and when you sell your home, He will bless you and help you build up financial security for the future. I had asked God for much help in buying and selling our first two homes and had made some money on each.
But as we moved to Denver, Colorado, I had prayed less and trusted more to my own experience as a home buyer. I really liked a home, paid more for it than was wise, and the amount of the payments escalated over time. As my wife Janet and I wanted her to stay home with our children, we realized we were in real financial trouble.
We decided to sell our home and prayed a lot. Sure enough, a buyer came along and made an offer from which we would make a little money. This offer gave me courage as I realized the checkbook error that day. However, when I arrived home, the buyer had left a message that the deal was off because he could not get a loan. My heart sank. “Help us, Lord!” I prayed.
We began to really pray and claim Bible promises. But, the economy in that area had just taken a big hit, and houses were dropping in value. Months passed, and the Lord did not sell our home. One day, in a discouraged state of mind, I opened my Bible, asking the Lord to speak to me personally. The Lord led me to Psalm 37, and it has been a touchstone for me ever since.
“Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart”
“Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret [worry] because of him who prospers in his way” (v. 7).
“But those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth” (v. 9).
“A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked” (v. 16).
“I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread. He is ever merciful and lends; and his descendants are blessed” (vv. 25, 26).
“The Lord knows the days of the upright. . . . They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied” (vv. 18, 19).
I began to praise the Lord, thinking He was telling me He was going to sell our home soon, for a good price, and we would be OK. But that is not how it worked out. Instead, our home did not sell for nearly two years!
“Why aren’t You answering and saving us from losing all our savings and going into debt?” I cried out to God. Finally, I prayed, “It’s all Your money, and I surrender it all to You. I don’t want to run my finances anymore. Help us soon!”
After seven years in Colorado, I received a call to the Pennsylvania Conference office as executive secretary and ministerial secretary. After much prayer and learning more about the conference needs there, we felt strongly that the Lord was calling us to move.
We rented a home there. That meant we had two house payments—we were in a financial hole for sure! However, we believed that God was leading us that way. We have found that often the way He leads when we really pray and claim His promises is not always the most humanly sensible, but He has His own plans and “a thousand ways to provide for us.”2
Less can be more!
The week we finished packing and the truck was coming to move us, our house sold—but at the exact price we paid for it. It did not cover the expenses of selling it either. This outcome was a great disappointment to our little family! We had prayed so much and yet were now without savings and even more deeply in debt. It seemed that Jesus had not answered our prayers.
Yet, the timing of the sale was our precious Lord Jesus showing us He was with us and working things out for good eventually. All my life, He has shown up clearly for me just when the way seemed darkest!
This wonderful promise in the book The Ministry of Healing has become one of my favorites: “In the future life the mysteries that here have annoyed and disappointed us will be made plain. We shall see that our seemingly unanswered prayers and disappointed hopes have been among our greatest blessings.”3
Looking back over my life with all the trials, earnest prayer requests, and the ways He has worked things out in our financial challenges, I am filled with joy and praise!
From that day forward I began making brief miracle entries by Psalm 37 in the margins of my Bible (pictured left): the cars people gave us, the money the Lord impressed friends to give us just when it was needed, the wonderful homes the Lord let us live in—often in beautiful rural places—the miracles in our conference financial crises, and more.
Our Lord is faithful! And He loves to have us learn to trust Him. Financial challenges can be great aids to our relationship with Jesus. I would much rather have this “faith equity” over the years, noted in Psalm 37 in my Bible, than great amounts of money in the bank!
God’s presence brings peace
The Lord really blessed me again when I became president of the Pennsylvania Conference. Mo Pelley was our treasurer. He loved Jesus with all his heart, was wise about finances and leadership, and had gained much experience as a missionary pilot in Africa for many years.
One day when our conference finances were looking especially bleak, he said to me in his wise and comforting way, “Jerry, in my experience with Jesus, I have found that when God’s people have the least resources, He gets the most glory!”
When we stop trusting ourselves, throw ourselves on Jesus in desperation, put God in the center, and call on His name in prayer, He will meet our every need in Jesus (Phil. 4:19). He can surprise us with His creative ways that leave us just praising Him. Over and over, I have found that to be so true!
Mo and I found ourselves facing another round of major cuts and difficult financial challenges because the downward turn of the economy caused tithe and offerings to drop drastically. Things had already been “cut to the bone,” so any further budget reductions would be very painful.
God spoke to me
Early Sabbath morning on March 17, I awakened with knots in my stomach. I was overcome by anxiety because of the massive financial challenges. I could imagine people blaming this young conference president. I was worried about myself as well as the church!
My tossing and turning woke up Janet. Learning the problem, she said, “Let’s pray together.” We began to claim God’s promises in prayer. I was encouraged, and faith began to replace my anxiety. Then my older son Tyson woke up sick to his stomach, and it was clear that my family would not be able to join me at church that Sabbath, which was disappointing.
Our younger son, Zac, feeling the anxiety in the house, urged us to have morning worship together. I believe it was the Holy Spirit. So, I went to the bookcase to get the junior devotional book for the year. But as I did, I thought, You know, the book this year is written more for kids older than Zac, so I grabbed the previous year’s devotional book and opened it to March 17, and we began to read it.
“Jerry, in my experience with Jesus, I have found that when God’s people have the least resources, He gets the most glory!” . . . He can surprise us with His creative ways that leave us just praising Him.
As we began to read, tears came to my eyes as the Lord spoke to me. It was a story about a boy named Alan and his dad who saw an old man, nearly blind, tapping his cane on the street near the post office as he tried to mail a letter. They began to talk to him, offered him help, and discovered he was on his way to commit suicide. His wife had just ordered him out of the house, and his brother had disowned him over his drinking problem. He had been a respected state senator, but his life had fallen apart.
They took him and found him a place to stay, and eventually, he studied the Bible and was baptized. Wonderful story! However, the story itself was not what inspired me the most. God had taken me to the prior year’s devotional book, to March 17, and showed me a story I had heard from my family all my years growing up, about how my brother Alan and our dad had met old Senator Prunty on his way to commit suicide! I did not know it was printed anywhere, but that day Jesus said to me, “Jerry, I know you, your brother, and Dad, and while I cannot tell you just now all the ways I will fix the problems of Pennsylvania Conference, I am here with you and care infinitely for you and the conference.” I went to church filled with joy to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God performed so many miracles over the next few years in our conference by providing extra resources and taking our mission to higher growth than in many past years. He can do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ever ask or think! To be at peace, we just need to know He is with us and promises to meet our real needs.
When money gets tight
It has often been said, “When money gets tight, the family will fight!” However, as Scripture reveals, there is often a “But God . . .” when He intervenes. That has even been true in the church, and it is true for Christian families too!
I have found that the family or church that genuinely, earnestly prays together will stay together. Moreover, if they put Jesus at the center of their financial challenges, their true needs will be met, and they will thrive in finances and relationships. At first, it may be strange that I tie relationships to finances. But, as many of us can attest to, relationships often are greatly strained when financial challenges arise. “ ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’ ” (Matt. 19:26).
In 1995, Janet and I were called to the Central California Conference. I was to be president. Later she became the Prayer and Women’s Ministries leader. We discovered many wonderful people and very good things happening there but also great financial, relational, and missional challenges.
All we knew to do was to urge all of God’s people to see every difficulty, need, and financial impossibility as a call to prayer. These were not just a few prayers for a short time but many prayer partners praying for months and even years over specific needs. I will just briefly list some of the major challenges:
- Monterey Bay boarding academy was $2 million in debt and in danger of closing.
- But God, after much prayer, led us to the right leadership, and in less than five years, it was all paid off through their spiritual leadership and Christian principles of debt and interest reduction.4
- The conference voted to close Soquel Camp Meeting and place the large grounds up for sale. But God led us to reverse those decisions, leading to it becoming a major engine of spiritual and financial growth. One answered prayer was the miracle of the camp-meeting evangelism offering going from $100,000 to well over $1 million a year for the next decade.
- Camp Wawona in Yosemite National Park was zoned wrongly and under threat of being lost due to strong opposition from neighbors and private and governmental organizations.
- But God miraculously defeated those opposing forces, and now the camp is expanding and being redeveloped for even better ministries.
- All of the facilities mentioned above also needed major renovations, and our schools needed educational scholarships. However, there was no money for those needs. But God led us to develop an organization of volunteers and a conference capital campaign, which led to members giving untold days of service and about $11 million. Through years of consistent prayer, the conference experienced uncounted miracles. Money kept coming from members and church friends.
- Our family was led by God to give in faith nearly half of our income to tithe, offerings, and outreaches when it seemed humanly impossible with a son in college and one in academy. But God blessed us in amazing ways to meet all our needs for the future. Even now, we cannot praise God enough for so many blessings, His continual care, and our sons and their families that live in sacrificial stewardship ways—that is worth more than any material blessings!
Forward in faith
The list could go on and on of miracles in personnel, relationships, ministries, outreach, and finances, and the uncounted blessings we have seen around the world in the last ten years as we have traveled, teaching and ministering for the General Conference Ministerial Association. He works the same way all over the world when His people call much on His name and follow His leading!
“The means in our possession may not seem to be sufficient for the work; but if we will move forward in faith, believing in the all sufficient power of God, abundant resources will open before us. If the work is of God, He Himself will provide the means for its accomplishment. . . . If we go to the Source of all strength, with our hands of faith outstretched to receive, we shall be sustained in our work, even under the most forbidding circumstances, and shall be enabled to give to others the bread of life.”5
This crisis time can surely be our “book of Acts” moment to move into the last great explosion of Spirit-led revival and reformation leading to Christ's second coming! As we face the upcoming financial challenges, instead of being anxious and depending on human methods and conventional wisdom, we need to follow the process they did over and over in the book of Acts.
In each challenge, persecution, or obstacle, the first Christians would gather together, pray, and fast. The Holy Spirit showed up, and the Word of God went forth in power. Some were converted, and others rejected the message. Nevertheless, the church grew dramatically, and the first Christians took the gospel to the whole world in about 25 years! Even though they had little money, no churches, few pastors, no institutions, and little education, God gave them all they needed and more, plus He got all the glory!
God is calling us to help Him write the last chapter of the book of Acts as He prepares for His coming so very soon. He is always able to make less become more!
- Scripture is from the New King James Version.
- Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), 481.
- White, Ministry of Healing, 474.
- The financial help materials of both Larry Burkett and later Dave Ramsey were invaluable.
- Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), 371.