Over the last year I have often thought about the account of Jesus walking on water, and Peter stepping out of the boat and trusting that he would not sink. It’s a classic biblical text on taking risks and trusting God. In Sunday messages, sometimes Peter is made out to be a hero of faith for stepping out of the boat. At other times he is portrayed as someone like us who struggles with doubt. The truth is that Peter was both: he was a faithful and courageous man with a deep reservoir of trust in God, but he was also human and had his moments of doubt.
Planting a church has been a year-long exercise in stepping out of the boat. It has its emotional and spiritual highs, and its moments of anxiety (or panic). It has been an experience of choosing to trust God every single day, even when things might appear bleak.
I had lunch with the pastor of a large church in the Houston area a few months ago, and he prayed this remarkable prayer over Real Hope: God, may you give them enough victories to know that you’re with them, and enough defeats to remind them that they cannot do it without you.
A thoroughly biblical prayer.
This week, we had one of those moments that seemed like a defeat. A big wave in the choppy water outside of the boat. It was a near catastrophe, in fact, but God carried us through it. The story of this week is one of God’s protection and provision, and I’ve got to share it with you. Our story starts on Sunday after church. I’ll walk you through the week.
Sunday was our second-ever Sunday service at Real Hope, and it went great. We celebrated six people who placed their trust in Christ on launch Sunday, and there was a lot of enthusiasm. Our set up and tear down went faster and more smoothly than ever, and things were looking good.
Our trailer, which had been generously donated to us, was working really well transporting our equipment. The only downside is that we had so much stuff it required an engineer to map out how to pack it. Luckily, my friend Wayne is an engineer and he designed a way to make it all fit!
I was so encouraged on the drive home from church on Sunday, and then I got a phone call a few minutes after walking in the door. There had been an incident with our trailer on the way back to storage. On Grand Parkway, a huge chunk of metal had flown off the side because one of our carts had shifted inside the trailer and nearly flew out of the side door on the trailer. The door itself was destroyed.
Mercifully, none of our equipment was damaged and no one was hurt. But it was precarious getting the trailer back to storage and it was obvious we could not use the trailer anymore. The door was jammed open as well, so our gear was exposed to the elements. If it rained we were in trouble.
So, we spent most of Sunday talking about how to handle the situation. ALL of our church equipment was in that trailer and it couldn’t stay there. I called my friend Paul Cockrell – pastor of Bethel Bible Fellowship – and told him what was going on. He generously offered to let us unload our trailer and store our stuff in the sanctuary of their church while we worked on a solution. So a team of us from Real Hope met Paul at Bethel on Sunday evening and unloaded our whole church.
When we went to bed on Sunday night we had no solution. We prayed and asked God to give us wisdom and allow us to make smart decisions in a short amount of time.
By Monday afternoon, we had decided that we were going to try to purchase a new trailer (or trailers), and also a truck – an older work truck that could pull our equipment. You see, we didn’t know exactly who would be pulling our trailers every week yet because we’re still growing as a church. The kind of trailer you buy is dependent on the kind of truck you have, and vice versa. We could get one really big trailer, but that would mean knowing someone with a pretty big truck. We could get a couple of trailers, but that would mean needing more volunteers who had the right type of trucks. Catch 22.
So we decided it would be best to get our hands on an older truck that we could rely on. That way we could know it would work with our trailer(s), and we could drive it ourselves as we continue to grow as a church. We had 6 days to get our hands on a trailer and a truck. Not an easy task.
With that strategy in mind, we went to Trailer World on I-10 just west of Katy. Our friend Jay was kind enough to come with us. He’s the second engineer in this story, and knew all the questions to ask. We found out that it’s hard to find the right type of cargo trailers on short notice. But, they happened to have two trailers in stock that worked perfectly for us: a 20 foot trailer and a 16 foot trailer – both with the right type of axle and the dimensions we were looking for. We bought them on the spot and planned to pick them up on Friday.
On that note, there’s a little backstory here: Several large churches have been extraordinarily generous to us and have supported us financially. One of those churches gave us a substantial gift two weeks before this all happened. So we had the money on hand to make the purchase. God had provided what we needed in advance!
So at the end of the day Monday, we had purchased two trailers which were large enough to hold our equipment and allow us some room to grow. I also posted an ad on Craiglist for our old trailer at 4p on Monday. That night a few of us did research on old work trucks we might be able to get our hands on. It was not looking promising.
By Tuesday morning I had already received 4 phone calls about our old trailer, and by 11:30am on Tuesday it was sold! This took a big bite out of the cost of the new trailers.
We were not having any luck finding an old truck that we could rely on, until our friend Jay had the brilliant idea of contacting U-Haul to see if they had any old trucks for sale. They did.
We also contacted the staff at our storage space to see if we could rent another stall since we were now going to have two trailers. It’s extremely rare for them to have two available at once, but they did. We were able to make the transfer. We had the storage issue taken care of.
On Wednesday, our odyssey continued. Jay, Jenny, and I drove to U-Haul to see this truck. It’s basically a U-Haul van without the box on the back (It’s actually a 1 ¼ ton Ford). It had relatively low mileage, had been maintained, and would work perfectly for what we needed.
When we walked in, it was priced about $2,000 more than we wanted to pay. By the time we left, they had dropped the price by $1,700. At the end of the day Wednesday, we had a truck.
The next thing we had to do was take it to a place in Rosenberg to get a custom hitch put on it. We dropped it off at the end of the day on Wednesday and they said it would be done by Friday morning – perfect timing to go pick up our trailers.
TO SUMMARIZE: By the end of the day Wednesday we had purchased two new trailers, sold our trailer, found a new place to store the new trailers, and had purchased a truck.
We spent the day working on more typical ministry stuff. I worked on my message in two weeks about the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.
Friday was a whirlwind. Chad Jones had been significantly involved throughout the week as well, and he and I drove down to Rosenberg at 7:00am in order to beat the Fort Bend County parade and pick up our truck from the hitch place before they closed down the roads.
After doing so we picked up our two trailers at Trailer World, hitching them to our truck for the first time.
We brought the trailers to Bethel, where a group of us began to load our gear into the new trailers and deal with what seemed like a million little things that needed attention. For example, this whole time my Mom was working with our insurance agent to add the truck, trailers, and new storage space. Yikes.
By the end of the day Friday, all of our equipment was stored safely in our new trailers at our new storage facility – ready to go for this Sunday and many Sundays thereafter!
On Sunday afternoon I could never have dreamed that God would allow us to accomplish so much in less than a week. There are a few aspects of his provision that I want to highlight that may not have been obvious above:
This was an utterly exhausting week, but it’s one that I’ll never forget. After a highly-stressful Sunday afternoon, God clearly and steadily guided us through the rest of the week. He protected us, and he provided for us. I couldn't have imagined he would give us so much this week, and do it in such a way that there’s no denying he was behind it.
I admit I feel a little like Peter after he began to sink, and Jesus’ words after pulling him back to the surface have taken on a new meaning for me: You of little faith…why did you doubt? (Matthew 14:31)
I was also reminded this week of that beautiful prayer from earlier this summer: God, may you give them enough victories to know that you’re with them, and enough defeats to remind them that they cannot do it without you.
We had some defeats and some victories this week, and there is no question that (1) God is with us and (2) we cannot do it without him.
I can’t wait for Sunday!