Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” –Isaiah 6:8.

Niki and I believe the Lord has called Niki to leave his legal career to pursue ministry full-time. I am elated at both the Lord’s timing and our decision to follow Him (after all, we could have chosen not to — gotta love that free will).

Over the last month or so, we received many words from the Lord and many confirmations of what we believed He was telling us. We prayed a ton about this decision, and we talked to many people. I am going to recount the events of the past month in full detail to build Niki’s and my faith (now and in the future), build the faith of others, and provide an example of how God speaks to people today.

It started on an otherwise unmemorable Sunday. It was business as usual. We set up as usual. We had our church “hour of prayer” as usual. We had service as usual. And we had post-church fellowship as usual. Yet, in the midst of the usual, something unusual happened.

During our hour of prayer, I shared with the Fellowship that the two financial areas that burden me the most are our law school debt and our dream that one day Niki would be able to become a full-time pastor. In response, one of the women in our church said that with respect to Niki becoming a full-time pastor, we needed to focus on getting to the point that we would be willing to go when the Lord said it was time. She did not say that it was time, but that we needed to get ourselves at a place where we would be ready when it was. She said it might take a week or a year for us to get ready, but at some point the Lord would make clear that it was time. And when it was time, we would need to go forward in obedience, without looking at our financial situation — without looking “down,” as we stepped off the cliff, to see if there was a bridge under our feet — because the money would not be there (if it was God, it would take some faith).

Her comment was an otherwise inconsequential one. Undoubtedly a good point, but not anything of great consequence on its face. Except that when she said it, I sensed in my spirit that it was not her talking, but was a word from the Lord. I heard it in my spirit as an urgent, “Guys, you better start the process of getting your hearts in the right spot.” I made sure she repeated her comment to Niki, too, but he seemed unfazed. I pocketed it, and resolved to start preparing myself.

At some point in the following 24 hours, I whispered a prayer to God along the lines of, “Lord, I heard that and I took it to heart. I want to be ready when you say it’s time. Point out anything in me that’s holding me up from getting to that point, and do it quickly. I don’t want to get in the way of what you want to do in and through me. In fact, Lord, I resolve right now — if it’s time, then I’m ready. I’ll do what you ask.”

You always have to be careful what you pray for. You just might get it. The next two days at work, I felt tremendous anxiety. I felt like I was in a pressure cooker! I was tearing up my nails (oh, that perpetual weakness!) and couldn’t focus for the life of me. After HOURS of this, I finally tried to identify what it was, exactly, that was working me up so much?

The passage of scripture that I had listened to in the car that morning came to mind:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Matthew 6:24-33

[DEEP INHALE OF SHOCK!] “Oh, no. Are You saying now is the time?” Not really wanting to hear the answer, I switched from prayer mode to personal-thought mode.
I didn’t even know what to think. All kinds of thoughts started racing through my mind, the predominate one being, “I don’t think I can do this. We’ve just recently entered a new level in our standard of living, and I’m enjoying it. For the first time since we graduated law school, I can get both a manicure and a pedicure in the same sitting and not feel guilty about it. I don’t think I want to give that up.”
And then I felt this prompting (not my own thought). “Let me get this straight. You’d prefer a certain standard of living over serving and loving me?” [That’s the thing about God being ever present — He sometimes interjects Himself into internal dialogues to which He wasn’t invited.]
OBVIOUSLY the question was rhetorical! When put like that, the choice was clear. If God would have me give up my standard of living to move me into greater relationship with Him, and so I could serve Him and glorify Him more, then why wouldn’t I? More to the point, what would I pay for an opportunity like that? Far more than my current standard of living. But the question that faced me now was, “Is it God, and is He really asking us to do this now?” It seemed so ludicrous.
On the way home from work that Tuesday, I called a good friend — who is very godly and grounded. I told her the story, and asked her if she thought God might be telling us to have Niki leave his job to go into full-time ministry. Without hesitation, she said, “Yes. Absolutely!” She encouraged me to not be afraid, and added that we could live comfortably off a lot less than we thought we could.
That evening, I shared with Niki that I thought God might be leading us to have him leave his career as an attorney to pursue ministry full-time. He dismissed it, but I encouraged him to just pray about it. He said he would.

It was discouraging that we weren’t both on the same page. But what I was encouraged to see was how Niki responded to a ministry-related appointment scheduled for later that week. Even though it meant he would have to work on the weekend, he decided to keep the appointment rather than cancel it to get ahead in work. Later he told me that when he was contemplating whether to cancel the appointment, he felt the Lord challenging him with the question, “Are you committed?” The Lord convicted him about the fact that he couldn’t be a full-time pastor unless he made pastoring a priority. I told Niki that it seemed to me that God was communicating to him an important truth. “You can’t be a full-time pastor unless you choose, first and above everything else, to be a full-time pastor. It’s self-fulfilling,” I said. As for Niki, he chose that day to make ministry the priority.
The rest of the week was quite hectic for Niki. He worked late nights, he got up at 4am to work early mornings, and he had no time to pray.
When he was darting out of work at the end of the week, exhausted and exasperated, he was reminded of the thought I had raised with him earlier about my sense that God was calling him to leave his career to pursue full-time ministry. So, he took a moment, as he raced to the Metro, and shot up a quick prayer to God: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” he asked. The response came back just as quickly, “How about a little faith?” The story of Jesus’ sending out His disciples to spread the gospel for the first time came to Niki’s mind. So he looked up the passage, and this is what it said:
“Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because the worker is worth his keep (those who work deserve to be fed).” Matthew 10:9-10
Niki was especially struck by Jesus’ command not to take any money – gold, silver, or copper – and His promise that those who do His work will be fed. Niki did not recall the “no gold/silver/copper” part of the story, and he was sure that was a word from the Lord not to worry about money as he entered ministry. He started to wonder if God was leading us to have him enter full-time ministry.
Early that Sunday morning, as Niki was getting ready for church, he paused to pray. He told God it would be difficult for him to leave his job because he is his family’s provider. Again, the Lord responded quickly and definitively: “You are not your family’s provider. I am your family’s provider.” And then, “If you’re going to preach my Word, you need to live it.” Another Bible passage came to mind — Jesus’ warnings about serving money, and the examples He gave of how He cares for the birds and the lilies. Here are some pertinent excerpts:
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Matthew 6:19-21, 24-34
The passage was a zinger in itself! But there were three things, in particular, that struck us about this passage:
  1. If you seek God first (make His work a priority; put it above all else), then you will have food, clothes, and “your keep.” This particular verse also was our theme verse for 2004 (many times, God repeats Himself until we finally ‘get it’…)
  2. Jesus’ message here is the same as His message to the 72 disciples when He sent them out to spread the gospel on their own for the first time.
  3. These are the same verses that came to my mind as I started praying about this issue earlier in the week. But I hadn’t told Niki! Talk about a confirmation!

Based on this, Niki began to believe that God was telling him he would be in ministry full-time. But what was God’s timing? Was it now?

I told Niki I believed God was calling him to transition now. When God told Abraham to “Go,” Abraham went. And he was blessed because of it. Moreover, I have noticed that there is a pattern in our lives — God tends not to reveal or impress things upon Niki unless it is time. It’s almost like He keeps blinders on Niki so as to not overwhelm him with His plans for us. On the other hand, He seems to give me glimpses of where He’s taking us so that I can stay focused and know what to work towards (without a goal or direction, I fizzle). Based on all the verses the Lord had given us, as well as our past experiences, I believed the time was now.

Niki started discussing this decision with several people — to share with them what he believed the Lord was saying and see what they had to say about it.

One friend noted that Niki’s law degree would not be wasted, but would be critical to what he would be doing in ministry. He added that we could not even begin to fathom all the ways God would use Niki’s legal background.

One church member mused that our church was on the cusp of a break through, and Niki’s going full-time would help to facilitate that.

Another friend asked Niki, “What would you feel like if you left your job?” Niki responded, “Disappointed. I feel like I’m just about to break through into everything I’ve worked so hard for.” Then she asked, “What would you feel like if you left ministry?” Niki responded, “Devastated. I think it would crush me.” For Niki, this was very telling.

Yet another friend told Niki that God was inviting him to do what He invited Peter to do: get out of the boat and walk on water. He noted that God wasn’t asking Niki to walk the whole lake, but to just take a couple steps of faith and meet Him out on the waves.

I shared with Niki that I believed God had been preparing him for this for a long time. I said it was like God had been gradually walking us deeper and deeper into the swimming pool, and now He was asking us to swim a short distance with Him by our side.

Another friend commented, “Woe to you if you don’t do what the Lord is calling you to do!” He also encouraged Niki to read through the Old Testament prophets to observe how they all were called to do things that seemed crazy to the world. He also likened Niki to Jonah. This was particularly powerful for us because it reminded us of when we were in law school and Niki had been asked to lead our Christian Fellowship. When he initially refused, a friend likened him to Jonah, saying, “Don’t worry, Jonah will come around.” And, sure enough, Niki did. So when our friend likened Niki to Jonah in this case, it was a further confirmation that — as with Christian fellowship — the Lord was calling him to do this.

In the midst of all this, we went to see a new house some friends in our church had recently purchased. In their daughter’s room, the following verses were framed. When Niki read them, he felt like God was talking directly to him:

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 46:9-10, 43:18-19

Niki took these verses as the Lord saying, “Remember all I’ve done for you? All I’ve shown you? Remember the dreams I’ve given you and the words I’ve spoken to you? I have made you for a purpose, and I will bring that purpose to pass. Forget your legal career and all that you have accomplished. It’s in the past. Don’t you see? I am doing a marvelous new thing. I am bringing you out of the desert period you’ve been in for the past 8 years, and I will make a way where there seems to be no way.”

Sometime after all this, Niki was thinking through how it would work logistically if he was to leave his career. Fairly quickly, he began thinking of legal career options he could pursue in a couple months, if this whole ministry thing didn’t work out. But then he strongly felt the Lord check him: By trying to come up with a “plan B,” he was not trusting that the Lord would take care of him if he obeyed. It was as if the Lord was saying, “There can’t be any ‘plan B.’ There’s just one plan — My plan.”

Niki also felt like the Lord was pushing him to live scripture, not just know it. Back to the “Have a little faith” word. Niki described it as the Lord urging him to live “truth concentrate,” rather than the watered-down, lip- service faith most believers practice, and that he had so often practiced throughout his own life.

At this point in the process, Niki was wrestling with several questions: Was God really saying to leave his job? Was God really saying to do it now? Was it really God at all? How was this going to work? The finances simply weren’t there. The church was too small to support the income Niki would need in order to help keep the family afloat. So Niki continued praying, and consulting other godly individuals he respected. He shed many tears in the process. He was truly wrestling with the Lord, much the way Jacob did.

In response to these questions, the Lord gave Niki several more passages of scripture as he continued to pray:

Matthew 10:37-39 – Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. As applied to us: If you want all I have to offer, Niki, you have to love Me more than anyone or anything. If you let go of the life you currently have, you will find the life you were destined to have.

Luke 14:26-34 – If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. As applied to us: Again, if you want to be my disciple, you have to be willing to give up everything to follow me. But count the cost of this decision. Make it soberly, knowing what you’re getting into. That way, you will not give up the fight when things get tough. You will “fight the good fight of the faith,” and finish the race. (I Timothy 6:12, II Timothy 4:7).

Judges 6-7: Gideon sought confirmation from the Lord multiple times before being willing to go to battle with the Midianites. God whittled his army down to 300 and used them to conquer an army of 135,000 Midianites. Judges 6:12, 14 really jumped out at us: “When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” . . . The LORD turned to [Gideon] and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” As applied to us: Go with what you have — and no more. I am sending you. I will give you victory, just as I did Gideon. I see you not as you are, but as who I made you to be — just as I saw Gideon not as he was, but as the warrior I made him to be.

Matthew 13:44-46: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. As applied to us: You have found the hidden treasure. Pursue it with everything you have. It is infinitely more valuable than the things of this world that you hold dear, things that are here today and gone tomorrow.

Deuteronomy 8:6-9, 18: Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. . . . But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. As applied to us: God gives us our wealth — whether it is in our current jobs or in ministry, and He is not taking us to a place of want, but rather to a place where we “will lack nothing.” (Interestingly, Deuteronomy 8 also was a chapter the Lord gave Niki to help him weather a particularly challenging time in his life a few years ago.)

Ephesians 1:15-23: For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. As applied to us: I am calling you to do this so that you may know the hope to which I have called you. And the same power that was available to Christ, the power that raised Him from the dead, will be available to you. My power will equip and enable you to accomplish all that you are called to do.

1 Timothy 1:18-19 – Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. As applied to us: Believe the prophecies made about you. Fight the good fight. And in so doing, build your faith.

1 Timothy 4:11-14 – Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. As applied to us: Teach My truth. Don’t doubt yourself because of your age. Live what you preach. Believe the prophetic words that were given to you when you were young.

1 Timothy 6:6-14, 20 – But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge. As applied to us: Live a godly life, and be content with what you have. Don’t pursue money, pursue Me. And guard what I have “entrusted to your care.”

When Niki asked the Lord about the drastic change we will experience in our standard of living, and told the Lord that his pride made it difficult for him to rely on the Lord working through others to support us, the Lord gently responded, “If it was good enough for me when I walked the earth, it’s good enough for you.” (“Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master.” Matthew 10:24-25)

When we told Niki’s dad about what we believed God was asking us to do, he cautioned us strongly. Niki’s dad is a godly man, but he was very concerned about the financial instability we likely would experience in pursuing ministry, and the corresponding strain it would put on our marriage. He raised several scriptures to us to support his concerns. Our response was simply: “This wasn’t our idea. We believe God is telling us to do this. If you pray about it, we believe He’ll tell you too.”

And that’s exactly what happened! The morning after having a heart-to-heart with us, Dad did his daily devotions, and part of the scripture for that day spoke directly to what God was doing in our lives: Genesis 28:13-15 – “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Through that scripture, the Lord spoke directly to Niki’s dad: “I am sending them on this journey. People all over the earth will be blessed by them. I am with them, and I will watch over them.” The scripture was particularly significant because Dad had signed his name to it ten years ago, believing it to be a promise from God to him that God would take care of and bless him and his children. Overnight — literally — Dad became one of our strongest advocates in this decision.

Another encouraging word the Lord gave us came through a popular Chris Tomlin song. As Niki and I were worshipping with our church, we were moved powerfully by this lyric: “When you and I embrace surrender, and you and I choose to believe, then you and I will see who we were meant to be.” We again felt encouraged to surrender to the Lord and believe that He would provide for us.

All of this happened in a period of 3 weeks. It all built upon itself — and the spiritual pressure we were experiencing continued to increase — until Niki made the final decision to answer the call: to leave his career as an attorney and pursue his calling as a pastor.

The morning after Niki made the decision was a Sunday, but he decided he wouldn’t announce anything to the church for at least another week. During our prayer time, one of the church members felt she was supposed to share a scripture with the group. The scripture was Matthew 10:9-10, the first scripture the Lord gave Niki when he began praying about whether God was calling him into full-time ministry! Our friend didn’t know that at the time. But God did, and He used her to confirm to Niki that he had made the right decision.

That day at lunch, another church member shared with us that she had received a prophetic word and picture from the Lord for us a couple weeks before, but she didn’t believe it was time to share it until then — she said she saw a picture of Jesus holding two lanterns in His hands and with a lantern at His feet and saying to us, “Don’t be afraid. I will light the way for you.” She also didn’t know that we had been wrestling with this decision. This picture confirmed a verse we had received a couple days before: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

I can only imagine what this decision means for our church. You see, people rarely rise above the spirituality of their leader. So if God is growing Niki in his faith this strongly, just think of what He’s going to do in our body!

Wow.