Friday, 17 January 2014

Generosity leads to Prosperity

DISCLAIMER: Before you read this article, I feel I should share that this is purely a testimony to God's amazing provision for my family and I and has been inspired by what we've experienced in the last six months and what God has taught us through this. This article is not in any way written to laud ourselves in glory - all praise and honour is due HIS Name, which is Jesus!

Being a Christian is full of tests and trials and most of these come from a loving Father who wants the very best for His children. Sometimes we go through tough times and feel God is very distant and in other times when everything seems to be great, He feels close by and we feel peaceful. But there are some things God asks of us that really test our faith. To us as a family this normally involves our finances and each time, the Father stretches us even more than before.

Personally, I've not really known many times during my adult life when I've been out of some sort of financial debt - whether it be a credit card, loan or borrowed money from a friend. My wife has a much better sense for seeing everything for how it actually is and so marrying me has been a bit of a shock but because of her constant support, we have got much better with money and I'm beginning to learn that being strong with finances is something that God is wanting to put in place so I can be responsible with more of the stuff.

During the last six months God has tested us more than ever with our money but we've seen God provide in ways that just blow away any doubts that the steps of faith we have taken as a family have been in vein. To others who have witnessed what God's actually been asking us to do, it has seemed totally alien and some have even called us crazy. But actually to those with any common sense it IS crazy! However, when God asked us to be obedient (whatever the test) it would be more crazy for us not to trust Him and do what He said.

The first huge test for us was back last summer (2013). We were readying ourselves to move to Melbourne, Australia, from the UK and had many possessions which for anyone moving house, let alone country, would have made a good return and could have been invested into our new home - IF we'd have sold them. But God challenged us. He had began stirring something deep inside us both about sowing into people's lives and how blessing others is worth so much more we could ever dream of. We had in the past given people money or things to bless them but this time God was asking a whole lot more. He was wanting us to GIVE everything we had away. Yes, even our car.

Now, we're crazy enough to not think twice and go for something mad, but the more we thought about what God wanted us to do, the more we knew what an impact it would have. Not just from the people who were going to receive stuff for free but what riches God would store up and then give back to us over time. After all, God does say in the Bible to test Him in finance and this was a big one.

If you know me well enough, you'd know that I love music. My CD's were once my prized possessions and before I had a son who used to use them as slidy things for his feet. They were spotless, always in alphabetical order (sometimes chronologically) and some of them blimmin' expensive. For Cats (my wife), her interests lie in her clothes and she had mountains of dresses which were on constant rotation around the local towns as friends would keep borrowing them. Our kids had toys and things that were dear to them and even they were starting to talk about who they could give things to.

So during the last few weeks of living in England we had a constant stream of people coming into our home and leaving with armfuls of CDs, DVDs, a dress or two, or some toys and clothes for their kids. It was amazing to see people leaving with huge smiles and it left us with a real sense of God cheering us on as we did what He'd asked us to do. But believe me, there was a huge cost to this, too.

It wasn't just about my U2 collection, or Cats' favourite dresses going. It wasn't even about our car being given literally to a stranger who needed a car. It was that all these things meant something to us deep down and that they could've also been used to finance new furniture. They were sentimental, memories. We gave away the whole lot. Looking back now as I'm typing I can still understand what that must've looked like and how utterly crazy it seemed. But the thing is, God's plans and purposes for our lives mean a lot more to Him than a bunch of CDs.

When God calls His children to take radical steps of obedience it is a complete honour. To me it feels like He asks us to go through stuff for Him because it means that we've got what it takes to make it through. It's a bit like a boss at work giving a promotion because he or she has seen qualities that others may have missed. God commissions out of us a heart of generosity because He has been so incredibly generous to us, this then leads to His favour being poured out. Prosperity follows our courage to obey Him.

For us, we saw God provide instantly when we arrived in Australia. Our hotel room was upgraded to an apartment because of a leak from upstairs - this was strange because there was no pipes or running water above where the leak was! Secondly, we'd check our bank account in the UK to see what money we didn't have and there would be deposits paid into our accounts. Some of these were really large sums. Then we found a perfect house to rent and were accepted by the landlord straight away, no questions asked. This is unusual in Australia because in order to rent you need a history of paying rent and we didn't have any.

Numerous other things kept happening that were totally out of our control. One of which was when our house in the UK was sold. After leaving the UK the value of our house had dropped which meant we'd be a few thousand pounds down on what we thought we'd get. But by the time we completed the sale, we'd received anonymously exactly the same amount of money. We hadn't lost a penny! Not only did God provide extra, it also meant that once we'd paid out all our moving expenses and old debts which we couldn't settle before leaving England, we were totally debt free!! I can't even begin to say what that feels like. And the good news is, we still are and it still feels AMAZING!

Sometimes though, when God challenges you, obedience is hard because as humans we can't see the outcome. But we have to trust God because He KNOWS the outcome! It's an incredible lesson to learn and although we haven't learnt it fully, we're beginning to get better at recognising His voice and knowing that everything will be OK.

This leads us on nicely to another area we have been affected in and this time has nothing to do with finance. God wasn't just asking us to give stuff away. He was asking us to leave EVERYONE. CD's and dresses you can replace. Friendships and strong bonds you've made over many years aren't so easy to find again. God wasn't just asking us to be generous with our money, He wanted us to be radical enough that would see us waving goodbye to those who were closest to us. All I can say at this moment is thank you JESUS for Skype!

This, and I know my wife would agree, has been our greatest challenge. Ever. We have both felt very fragile at times and there are moments when all you want to do is reach through the screen and grab and hold onto the person staring back at you. It is very, very hard. If any of you have ever thought about relocating countries to follow your dreams, just make sure you know God's in it, too. You become acutely aware of what people mean to you when you don't have them near you. If it wasn't for the red book, sitting on a shelf in the other room, which is full of the promises of God, I can honestly say I think we'd have cracked by now. But we haven't.

What has happened instead is another testimony to God's provision. Not only has He provided us with everything we need; a car, a job, a great house, an incredible city, fantastic weather, lovely people and beautiful food, He has provided an incredible church which is teeming with life and full of passionate worshippers. God has opened up a door for us here which we could have missed if we'd have stayed where we were and not taken a radical step forward. Every Sunday we come out of church blown away by what we've just witnessed. Don't get me wrong, our church in the UK was pretty awesome and it's a dangerous thing to compare so I'm not going to. All I am saying is that at the right time in our lives we know we are where we're meant to be by what we are being taught through mighty men and women at Planetshakers Church, and through the new friends we are making.

We are connecting with amazing families who have incredible stories. We are witnessing the body of Christ blessing others around them and hearing stories of even more radical steps of obedience than what we've been through. Not only is God doing an incredible thing through His church but He's providing new friends for us who live locally. He's provided work for me with a brilliant bunch of guys, our kids have got school buddies and ride around the local park of their bikes. It feels like we are basking in God's love and I have to say it's the best feeling in the world.

Yes, this testimony of what God's been doing seems like a good old pat on the back for us but it isn't. Without God constantly caring for us, constantly making sure that we feel loved and have the very best from Him, I would not be writing this blog to testify about how good He is. We have got a heck of a lot to learn and what's more we have only been here for four months but what I do know now is this: God is always faithful. When He asks you to be generous with your money, do it. When He's asking you to lay down aspects of your life to follow Him, do it. When you go through the hard times, know this: God will never let go and will never stop loving you and He will always have the victory. Why? Because Jesus won it all for you on the cross.

Two nights ago we went for a swim in the sea at sunset. As I looked out towards the horizon I just felt the Father's love in such a vivid and incredible way. It was like He was saying; "All this is yours, well done!" And that's what inspired this blog. I felt God was wanting me to tell this story, not to come across proud but to testify of His goodness. He is utterly amazing and I'm pretty sure that we are not the only ones with a story to tell like this, either. My only hope is that this story inspires many to come to God in times of hardship and to ask Him where He is in the situation they're facing - I have no doubt that when you do ask Him, you'll know that He is providing your every need because He is your Father and you are His kids. What loving Father wouldn't do that?

Finally, a little challenge. If you are just about to sell something you own for a bit of cash and you know God as your heavenly Father, stop and ask Him who needs what you've got and give it to them. It's madness, but it's completely counter-cultural and you have just sown into someone else's life! Have fun :-)