The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
February 27, 2005
Establishing a Track Record with God
Do you remember the act of service or giving that started your track record with God? Or is that a place you have not gotten to yet in your walk with him?
My track record began the first time I felt God leading me to start a small group, back in 1995. Now, in the churches I grew up in, I had never heard anyone talk about God speaking with ordinary people, asking us to do things. So when I felt this voice inside me, but that wasn't me, saying, "you should lead a small group," I didn't know what to think about it.
Two possibilities ran through my mind. One was that I was losing my mind. The other was that I must be very arrogant to believe God was asking me to do something for him. It never occurred to me that God might be calling me to serve him.
I didn't know what to do, or who to ask about this. But the feeling persisted. I began thinking about how I might lead a group, how I would finance the materials we would be using, where I would go for training, and so forth. But at the same time, I felt kind of stupid that I was planning something when I didn't really know where this urgent feeling was coming from.
After six months, I was more than a little desperate. I couldn't stand feeling this way and not knowing what it was! So I made the riskiest phone call of my life. I called my pastor. It felt really stupid to even be bothering him like this, and deep down inside I was really afraid he might say something like, "You should get some counseling for this."
"Hello," I said, giving him my name, "I was just wondering whether you think God speaks to people—-I mean ordinary people—-today and asks them to do things. Because I think maybe God wants me to lead a small group. But I don't really know if it is God or not; maybe I am just hearing things."
There was silence for a while on the other end of the phone. Then the thing I feared the worst happened: he started laughing at me. Oh no, I thought. Next he would give me the phone number of a good psychaitrist.
When he got done laughing, though, he said that yes, God did speak to ordinary people today and that he did have things he wanted us to do. Then he said, with a bit of a catch in his throat, that he had been praying for a long time that someone would step forward to lead a small group.
I was pretty stunned. There was a good possibilty that it had been God talking to me the whole time, through his Holy Spirit within me. I thought about it for a moment, and figured, if God wants you to do something, well, you'd better do it because he's got a reason for it.
I went on to lead that group. It was what God wanted. God blessed the ministry and me through it. And that was my first step in building a track record with God.
Not too long after that, God led me to step two of establishing a track record with me. It was the Sunday I realized that there are people in this world who actually tithe.
I was sitting in church, listening to our pastor talk about trusting God.
He dropped the reference into his sermon casually, just one example in a string of several to make the point that when we are generous with our time, talent and financial resources, God will watch our backs and take care of us. To this day, I am not sure whether he intended people to connect the dollar amount he mentioned with tithing. He didn't make a big deal over it and he never mentioned the word "tithe." But when he talked about, in a vaguely specific way, his family's financial commitment to their local church back in their seminary days when they were eating mac and cheese for dinner, I was floored.
I still remember what crossed my mind when I put two and two together. I was incredulous. "Whoa!" I said to myself. "They tithe!" They were probably tithing right now. I knew what his current salary was, and I calculated what 10 percent of that would be. It was way more than I gave to the church on my higher salary.
Now, I had always been rather smug about what I gave to the church. I'd started with my own little offering envelopes when I was a teen, and had always been a faithful giver. By the time of this sermon, while I probably gave around 2 percent of my salary, dollar-wise I was one of the top-ten givers in the church. I thought I was bearing my part of the load. Unfortunately, that wasn't saying too much, either about me or the majority of the other folks in the church.
This tithing thing really got under my skin and bugged me. I had never realized there were people out there who actually did it. In fact, it had never even occurred to me that my pastor would actually do it. I had thought tithing was "long ago and far away" and didn't apply to the way Christians actually lived today.
And so, that week I met with my pastor and asked, point blank, "You tithe, don't you?"
"And God's always taken care of you?"
"Yes, that's what I was trying to get across in my sermon. When we go out on a limb in faith at God's direction, he takes care of us."
I thought about that for a moment. "Well, I think God wants me to tithe, but I'm not so sure he'll take care of my family if I do."
"Why not?" he said. "He takes care of my family."
In my naiveté, I actually responded: "Well, he has to take care of you! You're a pastor, you have been specially called to a life of service to the church. God has to treat you differently." That's really what I thought at the time.
Now, this happened to be the same pastor as in my first example. One of his spiritual gifts is the ability to let you know when you are acting like an idiot. He rolled his eyes and laughed at me again. It might not have been the best pastoral manners, but I knew what he meant: You're completely off base here, and you need to figure a few things out.
"You should try it and see what happens," he said.
"Well, I want guarantees that God will take care of me," I said.
"Just try it."
So I went home and argued with God about it for like-three months or something. Finally, one night I went out in my back yard and in one of the worst surrendering moments in the history of Christianity, I said to God, "Fine. OK. I will work up to tithing. But I'm still afraid of all this. Fine. Right."
From then on, I increased what I gave to the church month by month. By the end of a year, I was at 10 percent. And of course, God took care of me. In fact, as time went by, he seemed to delight in giving me regular assignments to contribute above that 10 percent for special needs of the church. It became one of the joys of my life.
We see God's faithfulness to us when we step out in faith in acts of service and stewardship. This is what takes our understanding of God and his ways from the theoretical to the real. As we develop a track record with God, our faith takes off and grows.
That's what stepping out in service and tithing have done for me. What will be your first steps in allowing God to establish a track record with you? Ask God where he wants you to start, then take that first step of faith—-and watch what happens.