“Sometimes people find the joyous sharing of the Jerusalem Church hard to believe. The reason is understandable: they have never seen anything like it in their own experience. But in my small way, and through my limited experience, I want to testify to this reality. When the dynamic presence of God breaks in upon a sufficiently prepared people, there is an unguarded sharing that is thrilling, almost frightening. I stress the need for sufficient preparation because, like the early experiences of the disciples, it is possible to know mighty experiences of God’s power without it having a lasting impact on the self-centered nature … But when a people are gathered who live under the cross and in holy obedience, then the incendiary power of the Holy Spirit can ignite everything, including all economic relationships.”
Richard Foster, “Freedom of Simplicity”
A family who founded and pastor a six-year-old church plant is also a family who gets groceries, pays bills, raises children. They’re chasing this sort of abundance that has a loose grip on possessions and a tight grip on faith; neither saints nor angels, but moments for both those labels to apply, and moments when they don’t, I’m sure. They put trash out once a week, too.
And they had this old van that kept giving them trouble. They spent a year praying through it with this verse from Philippians — “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”; “Please, God, help us get a new van.” For a year, they did this. I love this part, you know. They didn’t go to a dealership and buy a van and pray for extra money on the other side.
And God heard their prayer, and made a lot of people cry and look heavenward in the meantime.
In the video of the big reveal, their nephew leaps out of the sliding door of the van, yelling, “This is your van! This is your van!” and there’s that beautiful moment of confusion — “What? WHAT!” followed quickly by overwhelm, and my word —
Our creative God didn’t give them more wealthy tithers; he didn’t suddenly place a mysterious but conveniently, recently dead (and wealthy) aunt into the story. He just pulled the van right into their driveway, using their family to orchestrate it all.
Their extended family lives like mine or any others’; some shop at Aldi, a few live in a house with two sets of bunk beds and no spare rooms. But they pooled together and secretly bought them a van.
Who does this? God. God does this, through people who say yes.
That. Right? That.
But don’t miss this: it’s not about the van, you know? The price tag of a van makes this illustration easy to dismiss: “Well, that’d be fun to do for someone, but I can’t afford that.”
The thing, the van, isn’t the point for those of us who get to watch this unfold.
This world sets the price tag for the van, but God’s the one who determines the worth of hearts when we’ve got the kind of crazy-eye that lives with our palms open. And it’s God who sets in motion really amazing answers to prayers.
We can live like this when we realize nothing we have is ours anyway. Every time we pick up a gallon of milk for someone, or watch someone’s kids so they can work, or send a single mom cash in the mail with no return address, we can answer a prayer. It’s not about the price tag of the thing. These acts of generosity; these moments of putting off our own desires for someone else’s good, this is way more evidence of God at work than just the item itself.
But — still, I wept when I saw the reveal, because people just don’t do this. What an amazing group of people.
I just don’t do this often enough. Why not? Am I living with my eyes trained upward enough to notice those around me?
And, sure, only God knows what it took to buy the van.
But only God can tally the gifts they and we and you and everyone’s received that aren’t as tangible or as large as a van in the driveway. We all have been blessed abundantly; we all have van-sized prayers.
But, oh, this one: this story’s rich with providence, generosity, total reliance on God, saying yes, and the results of using our imaginations to start to answer others’ prayers instead of asking God to just do something about it already.
Where’s God nudging me? This story’s challenging, because if God uses us to spread His abundance, his gifts, where am I being stingy? This story’s beautiful, because God did the work. Money’s just money, but aligning imaginations with His — that’s the holy part. God, let me in on that.