Thirty-seven years ago, with the help of a brave band of a dozen university students, I started a church in the cathedral city of Durham in northern England. At the time, the situation looked totally bleak. Everything was ranged against us. We had no money. Hardly anyone even had a job. I had been falsely accused of being involved in a cult. The university launched an inquiry, and I was nearly thrown out of my PhD programme. All the pastors of the town were upset with me for overturning the ecclesiastical applecart, fearing that my new church would steal their members, which was never my intention.
I had given up my scholarship, funded by the Canadian government, in an act of faith that God would provide. I felt he had called me to do something significant in England, yet I had arrived at a place of desperation where it seemed I had hit a brick wall. There were moments when it looked pretty dark.
I was reminded of this history the other day when I noticed a testimony posted on the website of a social enterprise based in Durham devoted to retraining men with broken lives and giving them practical life skills. The testimony related the story of a man whose life had been radically changed. The charity was founded out of a church which itself was founded out of the church that small band of courageous young people started in 1980.
A man I knew used to say that God can do a lot with a little, but he can do everything with nothing.
And we were nothing.
Today many churches and other ministries in various nations exist as a result of our apparently hopeless endeavour. Many lives have been won to Christ. Countless leaders in business, society and church have been raised up. Every day that small and apparently powerless investment pays fresh spiritual returns across the world.
Only the power of God could do that. It wasn’t us.
In our inexperience, we had stumbled upon the hidden doorway to that power. That doorway is not what you might expect. It’s called human hopelessness.
God is not glorified when we use the massive human resources at our command to accomplish something we could do in our own strength without him.
Sadly, a lot of churches operate like that. They do what they can do. They never step out into the realm of what God alone can do.
God is interested above all else in his glory. And he is only truly glorified when what is done is done and can only be done through him.
That’s exactly why he put that little band of students in an impossible situation all those years ago. They had nothing but God. And when God showed up, which he did, and began to do the things only he could do, he alone received the glory.
In the depths of my despair, which I remember to this day, I often wondered if I had done the right thing. And it is probably a sad reflection on me that I have from time to time, again to this day, continued to wonder the same thing in completely different contexts.
But it turns out my powerlessness, impotence and helplessness was all God needed. Neither I nor anyone else can take credit for what God has sovereignly done.
Maybe we need to stop trying to get all our t’s crossed and i’s dotted before we set out to do the things God has called us to do. Maybe we need to dare to do the impossible, what we could never do on our own, and maybe if we did that we would see the results we all long to see and only God can deliver.
Then we would have discovered the doorway to divine power.