|My daughter Anna a few days after this story|
(San Francisco, March 2010).
“Does God speak to us today?” This question has been debated for centuries.
Two of my beloved mentors have insisted for more than 35 years that the Lord doesn’t speak to anyone—ever. Sure, God spoke in ancient times to biblical prophets, but He stopped before the close of the first century A.D.
Yet I remember the first time the Lord spoke to me. It was at the end of an intensive time of prayer. God was quiet, yet crystal clear. I didn’t know what to do, so I grabbed a pen and recorded in detail what He told me.
Since that experience, my struggle has not been with whether God does speak today. Instead, my struggle has been with the thousands of times He chooses not to say a word.
This struggle was certainly true in the aftermath of the Great Recession. My wife and I were still recovering from steep business losses. Clients had canceled huge projects mid-stream, and then refused to honor contractual terms. In short, we were left with zero income.
At the same time, our eldest son, Jonathan, was to be married in San Luis Obispo, California—900 miles away from our home. My wife, Renée, and I did the math. It would cost at least $1,800 for the four of us—my wife, Renée, our son Benjamin, our daughter Anna, and me—to travel to the wedding, pay for the rehearsal dinner, help pay for the photographer, and then travel home. But we didn’t have the money to even show up. As a husband and father, I cannot begin to tell you how helpless and hopeless I felt.
The four of us agreed to pray for $2,000 “just in case” and, as always, coveted to tell no one of our situation but God. Within a week, we received an anonymous gift for $1,000. Renée, Benjamin and Anna were thrilled. I felt smaller than ever. Sure, we could get to the wedding, and pay for part of the rehearsal dinner, but what then? I was depressed beyond words.
Sensing my downcast composure, my 10-year-old daughter tried to cheer me up. “Hey Dad, do you think that $1,000 came because you were praying? No, it was me! Don’t worry about anything. God is going to provide.” She paused. I didn’t smile.
“In fact,” Anna continued, “I want you to make a deal with me. You don’t pray. Just me. And you don’t get the mail either. Only I can get it. Promise?”
I didn’t respond.
“Okay.” I turned to hide the grief and anger now racing toward my chin. Our trip was slated to start the following Wednesday morning. What kind of father can’t afford to go to his oldest son’s wedding?
The next afternoon, Anna came running through the door and said, “Dad, guess what? The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come tomorrow, Saturday, Monday or Tuesday. Isn’t that exciting, Dad!”
“Anna, darling, another check isn’t coming,” I said. “I don’t know why, but God sent only $1,000. That’s all we’re getting.”
Anna smiled. “That’s why you’re not praying and not getting the mail, Dad!”
After school the next day, Anna came skipping into the house with the mail. She was almost giddy. “Dad, you’re not going to believe it! The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come tomorrow, Monday or Tuesday. Can you believe it?”
No, I can’t believe I’m in this situation, I thought. I can’t believe I can’t afford to go to my own son’s wedding. I felt worse than ever.
Saturday was terrible. When the mailman came by, Anna rushed out the sliding glass door, over to the gate, and ran up to his truck. He handed her our mail for the day. Anna was bobbing up and down when she came back into the house. I’d rarely seen her so excited. “Dad, I can’t believe it! The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come Monday or Tuesday.” She couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. I couldn’t contain my anguish, so I quickly turned and walked away.
How can I get her to understand? I wondered. God doesn’t always give us what we think we need. Even here in America, Christians often go through much worse things than this. Still, I’m so embarrassed, so ashamed. I’m such a failure.
I didn’t have a good morning at church. I felt completely dry, empty, and hollow. I knew this feeling from one of my worst moments mountain climbing. I was hanging by one hand onto the edge of a precipice with no rope and more than 400 feet of air between me and the ground below.
I honestly couldn’t pray. Why even try? I thought.
After school Monday, Anna ran through the front door almost yelling. “Dad, this is so exciting! The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come tomorrow!” She was literally jumping up and down.
“Anna, you don’t understand. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but no check is coming. We already got $1,000. That’s it.”
Anna just smiled. “I told you. It’s not your prayers. It’s mine.”
Sure enough, Tuesday afternoon Anna ran into the house, jumping higher than ever. “Dad,” she practically yelled, “this is so exciting! The check didn’t come in the mail. That means someone is going to knock on our front door in 5 minutes and hand it to us.”
“That’s never going to happen,” I snapped, in the harshest of tones.
“But God told me.”
“God didn’t tell you that!” I yelled. I was so furious. I couldn’t bear the inescapable shame that lie ahead of me.
A few minutes later, when I had started to cool off, I heard the doorbell. I yelled again (but more politely) for Anna to take care of it. Thirty seconds later she flew into the kitchen with the biggest brown eyes possible. In her hands she held an envelope.
“Pastor Jim just came to our door. He can’t say who, but somebody came by his office and said, ‘God impressed upon me that David and Renée Sanford’s family needs help. I feel it’s urgent. You’ll see they get this within the hour, won’t you?’”
I couldn’t hold back the tears. “I am so sorry, Anna. I said terrible things no father should ever say to his daughter. I said God didn’t speak to you. He really did. Will you forgive me?”
I’ll never forget how hard she hugged me. After a minute she whispered in my ear. “I told you it was my prayers.” I laughed, hard, for the first time in weeks.
Then Anna handed me the check, signed by the senior pastor of Spring Mountain Bible Church, in the amount of $1,000.
Later, I thought about my oldest mentor who had recently gone to be with the Lord. Yes, we’re all in for a lot of surprises when we get to heaven. He now knows, beyond question, that God can speak to anyone, anytime, and in such a crystal-clear way that there’s no other option except to know that God speaks.
Thanks to His incredible sovereignty, providence, holiness, love and mystery, you and I can stop telling God what He can and cannot do.
“My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).