We all share one thing in common- in all of our lives, there will be winds that blow. Headwinds of difficulty brought on by our own decisions, and gale-force winds of adversity due to circumstances that we never saw coming.
Yet, ultimately, God is in charge of the winds.
That means that a sovereign God, who is both good and glorious, sits above the fray and his plans will always prevail, even when our plans don’t.
This kind of thinking stretches our understanding and calls us to believe again that God is good and has good in mind for us, no matter what we see happening around us.
I think back to our May 2003 Passion Conference. Tens of thousands of college students and young adults were heading to a ranch property north of Dallas-Forth Worth to worship God and pray for their generation. That particular conference was going to be an outdoor event where people would camp in tents on the property. It was scheduled for two days and three nights. The day before the gathering officially started, our team was on site working feverishly to finish the final preparations.
The night before the majority of people were scheduled to arrive, thunder and lightning struck, and threatened to blow all of our plans apart. If you’ve ever lived in central Texas, you know the storms come quickly and can be fierce. That night the rain fell with fury. The storm sat directly on top of the ranch and wouldn’t budge. We later discovered that the storm didn’t show up as a potentially dangerous orange or red call on the weather radar, but a purple call was overhead! It rained for eight hours straight, and in the morning, while it was still raining, we had to make a decision: to cancel the conference or somehow go forward with it.
The ground was a quagmire, soggy to the point that it would swallow your shoe or boot, and not give it back as you pulled your foot away. You couldn’t take a step on the property without a fight; much less drive a car on it. This was all before the era of social media and instant updates. We had no idea what to do.
So we prayed.
We prayed, and prayed, and prayed. In fact, that same first night, just before the rain had begun to fall with such force, we had gathered a group of our speakers and leaders and were praying in a huge tent for God to show up in power during OneDay 2003. Suddenly, the rain and wind were sloshing the tent, so we started praying harder. We were calling for the wind and the waves to cease, but soon, we couldn’t even hear ourselves, the storm was so loud. We had all the spiritual heavyweights in that room praying with all the faith we could muster.
But the louder and harder we prayed, the louder and harder it stormed. Finally, one huge gust came along and lifted a portion of this massive tent on its poles and then lowered it back again. At that exact moment, a huge lightning bolt struck the ground, maybe a hundred metres from the tent. Thunder boomed in our ears like a cannon shot, everybody ran for cover.
ALWAYS GOD AND ALWAYS GOOD
Sometimes life is like that.
You’re living with good intentions, praying with all your heart, aiming for God’s best, but the storm just blows harder, and the rains keep falling. That can be really tough to deal with. Usually, the storm seems to be a sure sign that God isn’t with us, and often we actually think he may just be against us.
When you’re in the midst of a storm, it’s hard to remember that God is always good and glorious, and that God’s plans will always prevail, even when yours don’t.
Our vans were set up some distance away from the main tent, and that’s where we headed when we all ran. I felt so confused, so bewildered, so frustrated with what was happening: so disappointed.
At around midnight, the rain was still pelting the ground. I couldn’t sleep. I knew the conference was doomed. My wife Shelley and I got down on the floor of our van sometime early in the morning and wept, we literally sobbed. It felt like an entire year and a half’s worth of work was destroyed. All of our hopes, all of our dreams, all of our finances, and all of our prayers were being washed away. We just cried out to God, “Please, please let the storm pass.” But all we heard was more rain pounding the top of our van.
At 4 a.m. it was still raining.
At 5 a.m. it was still raining.
At 6 a.m. it was still raining.
At 7 a.m. it was still raining.
At 7:30 a.m. everybody was up, and we held another meeting. During the night the tents of those already on-site were literally blown away or submerged in water. Lightning had struck one attendee, but fortunately they were going to be all right. Thousands waiting in their cars at the registration centre were diverted in the night to a local high school gym. Who knows how many en-route had turned back.
As our team met, rain was still falling, but it looked to be slowing, although the wind was still gusting hard. After a lot of prayer and discussion, we decided to go forward with the conference. Honestly, I’m not sure why. It was a gut decision. God had brought us this far. We were moving ahead.
By 5 p.m. that day, when the conference started, the rain had stopped, and cars were being driven on to the property twenty feet from the trailer where that meeting occurred at 7:30 a.m., and here’s the amazing thing - the ground was as hard as a table.
Thankfully, the ground was Texas sandy soil, and the same wind that had blown in the storm had also dried the ground. Some twenty-three thousand people eventually showed up. We prayed, we worshipped, we asked the God of Heaven and earth to move mightily in this generation, and he did.
The fact that anybody was walking on that ground, much less driving on the ground, was a miracle. In our minds, we looked upon that event as a “comeback”- what looked to have been a total wipe-out, turned out to be a life-altering event for this generation of Jesus followers.
Our plans were changed to God’s plans, and God’s plans were always for good.
YET AGAIN AND YET AGAIN
Here are a couple of twists to the story.
After the conference was over, we took stock of any loose ends. Despite the large number of students who had braved the weather and shown up anyway, thousands more had turned for home before they had arrived, thinking for sure that the gathering was a no go. Without the ability to quickly update our website or tweet the latest info, people were left to their own conclusions.
The lower attendance ended up costing us, and we ended up with a financial shortfall. It wasn’t any small shortfall either. We ended up being one hundred thousand dollars in the hole and we had little in the way of cash reserves. We’d never been in the hole like this before; we had no idea what we were doing to do. It looked like we were defeated. What we needed was another comeback, and quick.
The Saturday following the conference, Shelley and I were at a wedding reception in Houston. A friend had asked me how the conference ended up financially, given the storm, and I told him. He made one lap around the room, talked to a few people, came back, and told me that the one hundred thousand dollars we needed was secured; it would be wired to our offices on Monday.
Wow. We had sooner told our board the good news, when another crisis hit. What we hadn’t figured was, even in spite of the money that had just come in, we still had payroll to meet, normal operating expenses, and the future to plan for. We needed another seventy-five thousand dollars, within two weeks time. We needed yet another comeback.
That day I had got a call from a friend in Chicago who said, “Hey, this is kind of awkward, but I’m overnighting you a letter today that’s been sitting on my desk for the past few weeks. I just moved a bunch of stuff on my desk and found it. Somehow it had gotten stuck under a pile. I’m really sorry about this. It was supposed to come in time for your conference. It’s from our foundation and it includes a cheque for seventy-five thousand dollars.”
How incredible that while we were praying and asking God to come through, yet again, He was looking at that cheque that He had already provided, hidden under a pile of stuff on my friend’s desk.
READY TO START YOUR COMBACK JOURNEY
Okay, so this is not a story about how to run a conference, it’s not about a story about finances, and it’s not a story about how to manage a weather crisis.
This is a story about comebacks, about turnarounds, about fresh starts, and about new directions.
This is a story that describes how God always sees our needs right now, whatever our needs are, and how God’s plans will always prevail.
Whatever problems we’re going though, God already knows what the solution is. No matter what kind of grief, or pain, or trouble, or heartache we encounter, God can provide for our needs. Our problems might be spiritual, emotional, physical, mental, relational, financial, or directional. Whatever they are, God sees our needs, and God comes through. He comes through in His time, and in His way, He always comes though.
God is in the business of giving fresh starts to people. He gives hope to the hopeless, direction to the directionless, help for those who need help. He dries out the wet ground and blows away the stormy clouds that threaten. God is always good, and God’s plans will always prevail, even when our plans don’t, or when they need to be changed.
God is the God of the comeback, and if you’re longing for some sort of a turnaround or fresh start or new direction, then this book is for you. It’s a book of hope, help, encouragement, and perspective. It’s for you if you’re feeling frustrated or confused, if you’re in sorrow or in pain, if you’re disappointed or feeling like life doesn’t make sense. It’s for you when you’re discouraged, or troubled, or concerned about your life. Or maybe you just need a shot of encouragement. I think everyone feels that way from time to time.