Obedience is the Win
HARTLAND – At Grumlaw, the church that I have the privilege of pastoring, we talk a lot about obedience. In fact, one of our core values is “Obedience is the Win.” It’s how we measure “success”- are people within our faith community consistently taking steps of obedience in accordance with Scripture and the small, still voice of the Holy Spirit?
If I’m being honest, I consider myself to be a pretty “obedient” follower. My wife and I started a church, we’re in the process of adopting our third child, we’ve downsized our home, and we’ve been exceedingly financially generous throughout our marriage. Many people have described us as “the most generous couple they’ve ever met” (apparently the bar has been set pretty low).
Without even realizing it, I had gotten prideful with our personal financial stewardship - God still has plenty of work to do in me, but I have the whole tithe and offering thing pretty well dialed in (or so I thought). I am an obedient and generous follower of Jesus. If God asks me to move, I move.
Since day one of planting Grumlaw Church, we have fully funded a border station between Nepal and India in partnership with an incredible organization called Our Daughters International. The sole purpose of these border stations is to rescue women and girls from the horrors of sex-trafficking.
In the early days, it felt risky - we didn’t “have” the money to pay for this. As many well-meaning Christians posed to us, “how can you pay for a border station when you’re not even self-sufficient?” We didn’t feel generosity was a switch we could magically turn on once we were financially self-sufficient - we knew we were supposed to practice that from day one - again, obedience.
Fast forward a couple years, and we were sponsoring our second border station. Shortly thereafter the Holy Spirit put a nagging question into my head, “you’re getting the Christian’s money to aid this cause, how will you get the rest of the world’s?”
He brought to mind a conversation that had started years ago with a friend where I wondered (out loud), “how sweet would it be to have a coffee shop in every city that we have a church campus? But we don’t keep the money, we give away every nickel to the fight against human-trafficking?” God wed these two thoughts together, and a passing thought became a nagging conviction. “We’re going to start a coffee shop that not only serves the best coffee in Michigan, but we’re going to get the rest of our community’s money to push back against the evil of human-trafficking.”
At first, it felt fun, sexy even. What young church planter doesn’t want to start a coffee shop that they can call their own? We spend half our week in those places anyway, we might as well own one. But the fun and charm of it was short-lived.
Communication with contractors was maddening. Everything was over budget. Bills magically appeared. Raised funds quickly dwindled, and soon Andrea and I were dipping into our own pockets - often and for far greater sums than what we had bargained for (or in my mind - agreed to). “God, I had a very specific way that I wanted this to go, and you’re not exactly hooking it up.”
I thought I had generosity figured out. I thought I knew what obedience was - “do what God asks you to do and God will take care of the rest.” And by “take care of the rest” I thought He meant it will be all fun, all the time. But what about when obedience is, well, really hard? What do you do when obedience hurts? And stretches you in ways that you would have preferred to not be stretched?
The reality is, for most American Christians, we know very little of what generosity looks like in the Kingdom of God (myself included- remember earlier? I was a proud member). Even though we claim to be financially generous, the reality is we have a backup plan for our backup plan. Emergency funds for our savings accounts, fallback plans in case God forgets about us. I have longed preached that “generosity according to the Kingdom of Heaven is putting yourself in a situation that if God doesn’t come through, you’re screwed.” But the reality is, I hadn’t put myself in that situation- not once, not ever. I was living a “compare myself to other American Christians” version of generosity, and I looked dang good. But God had other plans.
So, He asks us to start this coffee shop, to “yes,” rescue women. But what I didn’t bargain for was how much He wanted to teach me - how much more I still had to learn about generosity according to Him. He wanted to show me what it was like to live in the reality of, “God, I need you to come through, or me and my family are in some serious trouble.” There have been nights where I’ve wept in fear - “have I ruined my family’s financial future with this decision?” “Am I sure I heard God right on this one?”
I romanticized, “once we’re open, then the money will come rushing in and the stress will be gone!” Nope. It’s arguably gotten more financially taxing (cover payroll more than once for a business that will never pay you back a nickel, and it gets very real, very fast). God apparently still has more He’d like to teach me. And slowly but surely, “the peace that surpasses all understanding” has become a reality.
We’re three months into this journey, and it’s still hard - it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life (yes, even more trying, and stressful than starting a church). But I’m thankful for what God is teaching me about His “Upside Down Kingdom.”
The measure of each of our lives will be how obedient we were to the Scriptures and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Not just clever words for a well-constructed sermon, but reality. Success for Thread Creek Coffee will not be measured by how much money has been raised for a very worthy cause; success is, “did my sheep listen to my voice?” Yep. Obedience is the win.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shea Prisk is the lead pastor at Grumlaw Church in Hartland, the owner of Thread Creek Coffee.