In my first post I noted that before Priscilla came down with her illness, we’d been led “into a way of life that involved trusting God by faith to provide for our needs.” It will be helpful to explain more about this here, before I tell the full story of how God cared for her during her illness, because this will account for many of the things you’ll be hearing about.
When a follower of Jesus feels called by God to pursue an enterprise for which they don’t personally have sufficient funds, the normative practice, to state it bluntly, is for them to ask for money. More specifically, they will contact people they believe would be interested in their work and explain how it is strategic for advancing God’s kingdom; they will describe the financial and material needs it currently has; and they will invite people to become partners in their enterprise through prayer, encouragement, counsel, and particularly by giving towards those needs.
We see this approach modeled repeatedly in the Bible. Moses calls publicly upon “everyone who is willing” to donate gems and precious metals, fabrics, oil and spices, and their own labor for the construction of the tabernacle. David similarly asks “who is willing?” to give precious metals and gems for building the temple, after explaining that he has already donated his own “personal treasures” but that they are not sufficient. And a large portion of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians consists of him rather shamelessly asking them for money to help the poor. But in the end he tells each of them to contribute “what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion,” and he stresses the strategic value of this initiative: It will “not only supply the needs of the Lord’s people,” it will “also overflow in many expressions of thanks to God.”
So this is the norm. But sometimes, under exceptional circumstances, God calls people who are in need of money for a kingdom initiative to take the first step in this process, but not the second, and the third only somewhat. That is, they may still explain to interested friends what work they feel called to and outline its strategic importance. But they will not describe its immediate practical needs, and while they will still invite others into partnership with their enterprise through prayer, etc., they will not ask them to contribute towards those needs. Instead, they are to trust God to put it on the hearts of friends of the work to do this at just the right times.
Because this approach is so exceptional, it must be taken only for specific and suitable reasons. For example, when Hudson Taylor went to work in inland China in the mid-19th century, he recognized that he would have to count on God to lead his supporters in England to send him money weeks or months in advance, even before he knew of needs himself, so that it would arrive in China by the time it was needed. Francis and Edith Schaeffer took this approach in the l’Abri Fellowship because they believed it would help them demonstrate the reality of God to the young inquirers and atheists they wanted to reach. And Amy Carmichael did it very often as a matter of guidance. When the Dohnavur Fellowship was contemplating a new undertaking (such as building another nursery), its members would pray that if God was behind this initiative, He would put it on someone’s heart to give towards it without them asking—as happened repeatedly.
I’ll describe in my next post how God called Priscilla and me in 2008 to become volunteer campus staff members with Graduate InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (Grad IV) at Michigan State University. But let me explain here why, I believe, we were also called to follow this exceptional approach to meeting the needs of that ministry.
At the time, we understood that we were to do this pretty much for the same reasons as the Schaeffers at l’Abri. As God provided for us not through direct appeals but instead through trust and prayer, this would help believers, seekers, and skeptics among the students we were working with, who were looking on, to recognize God’s reality and activity in our world today. Many students shared with us that this indeed happened for them.
But now that I look back in light of more recent experiences, I feel I can discern an additional purpose. I believe that God also wanted us to follow this approach to funding our ministry with Grad IV so that we would already be doing it when Priscilla became ill and we could no longer be active in that ministry. That way, as she continued to receive help in this same way, as her heavenly Father put it on the hearts of compassionate friends to provide it at just the right time, and as God orchestrated all the other aspects of her care with what I’ve called “an intimate concern for every detail,” this would illustrate to everyone looking on that a person who gets a terminal illness, even a protracted, severely disabling one like ALS, is never forsaken by God.