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Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.
December 15, 2005
In April of 2002 I was bored. Not just a little bored either, but mind-numbingly, depressingly, discouragingly bored. Having recently been laid off from a job I had held for several years due to the company closing, I was working as a system administrator at a small company in downtown Oakville. The pay was decent and the office’s location was great but the job itself was terribly boring. It was repetitive and boring - there was little to stimulate an active mind. The quality of my work began to suffer as boredom prevailed. I found myself in the unenviable position of knowing that I was expendable to the company. I did not have enough to do, but knew that if I went to my boss and told him this, I would effectively be writing my own pink slip. I tried to keep busy but with little success. So I sat in my windowless basement office, dealing with terrible headaches from the noise of the forty computers I shared an office with, and waited for the day to end. And always I felt guilty for not putting in, and not being able to put in, an honest day’s work.
Around this time I began to wonder if I should begin my own business. I began to pray for clarity and wisdom as I considered the joys and trials of being a small business owner. I am an enterprising sort and knew that being my own boss would fit my personality very well. One day, during my lunch break, I went out walking along the shores of Lake Ontario. I had taught myself the basics of web design and had been doing a small amount of this type of work on the side. I enjoyed the creativity it required and the challenge it created. I had a couple of companies for which I was doing part-time work with their computers and networks. As the work increased I began to think about the prospects of starting my own company. I desperately wanted to do something that I liked and something that would keep my mind active. I looked forward to the prospect of working from home and being able to be my own boss. It was about these issues that I prayed that day, asking God to give me clarity. I remember praying “God, please just make it crystal clear what you want me to do.” I had a different view of God’s guidance at that time and I suspect that I was asking God to tie a note around a brick and to heave that brick through my kitchen window. “Start your own business!” the note would thunder to me. Still, I submitted myself to God’s will and returned to the office feeling encouraged.
Still uncertain of my future I returned to the office ready to finish out the day. No sooner had I walked in the door (five minutes early, as always) that I was told to see my manager immediately. I entered his office and found him sitting there with his boss who had apparently decided to fly up from headquarters in the States. I sat with a strange smirk on my face as I heard them say that my whole department was being closed down and that my manager was going to be the next to leave. As I heard their words I thought back to my prayer and I laughed. I even told them exactly what I was laughing about and how I had just prayed about my future. They smiled politely, wished me the best and had someone accompany me to my desk to pick up my things.
As I was cleaning up my desk I was dreading having to call my wife to tell her the news. She drove me to work each day and had the car, so I would have to share the news over the phone rather than telling her face-to-face where I knew I could comfort her. She was pregnant (and therefore emotional) and I did not want to have to share with her that I was out of work and then make her drive to get me.
As I fretted about this the phone rang. Answering it I discovered it was my close friend (and pastor of our church) calling. He had never called me at work before, but said that he was at the traffic light outside my building and had just remembered something he had to ask me. I told him to pull into the parking lot and I would be right there! I grabbed my things, walked upstairs into the fresh, spring air and left the corporate world behind. Mere minutes after returning home and sharing the news with Aileen the phone rang once more and this time it was a friend calling to say that their company needed a new web site and someone who could contract with them to manage their network. And just like that my company was born.
That was almost four years ago. I began the company without money and without loans. Since that time we have never lacked for anything important. There have been times where we have had to be frugal, and truthfully, we live very frugal lives (at least in comparison to the average person in our town). But God has always provided for us.
It is rare, I think, to receive such a dramatic and instantaneous answer to prayer. God had clearly orchestrated that day’s events, down to the finest details of my prayer to Him, the company’s decision to cut my department, and even my pastor’s schedule so that he just happened to be outside my building at the right moment. It was truly an amazing day.
In many ways I give this background information with an overwhelming sense of shame.
It was not long before I began to worry. Not the kind of worry where I would think the occasional thought about a dwindling bank account, but the kind of worry where I would wake up at night bathed in sweat, wondering how I was going to make ends meet. I would get ravaging headaches as I worried about how I would come up with another $400 by the end of the month. Every few days I would draw up a list of all the money we had in our accounts and all the bills we had owing and feel a flutter in my heart as I saw the potential discrepancy. I tried to forecast our finances over a week, month or year and continued to predict how we would fall short. And yet there was always enough.
What is perhaps worst of all is that there was never a time when we were a day or two away from needing rent money and did not have it. Never once did we have a check bounce and never once did we have to miss paying a bill (though, through lack of faith, I would sometimes allow bills to collect on my desk for a month or two before paying them). I cannot remember even having a close call.
And still I worried. It is only in more recent days that I came to see that I truly felt my worrying was somehow effectual. Effectual worrying: let me explain that term. Effectual means “Successful in bringing about a desired effect.” It means “Producing or capable of producing an intended result or having a striking effect.” I honestly believed that my worrying was somehow making the difference - that my worrying was bringing about the result of having enough money. If I were to stop worrying, I felt, the money would dry up. If I stopped making my little lists of assets and expenses, I would one day wake up to find out that our rent check had bounced. If I stopped worrying, God would surely stop providing. I truly believed that my worrying was effectual, bringing about what I desired.
Every now and then I would think back to the beginnings of my company and see how clearly God had answered prayer, and what was no doubt a faulty and selfish prayer at that, and I would feel guilty. And well I should have, for God had left me a pillar, a milestone that I could refer to that would show me just how obvious it was that He was in this with me. When I felt myself worrying I should have been able to look back to His answer to the first prayer and have confidence that He would provide.
But I didn’t. I continued to worry.
I am thankful to say that it was a losing battle. If there was one great benefit I received from working in that little office in the basement, it was the lunch breaks. Every day I would take a good book to the local library and read it for half an hour or forty-five minutes. I read several books by John MacArthur and a particularly brilliant one by James Boice. It was there, in the Oakville Public Library, that I really began reading and enjoying Christian books. It was there that I began my first book reviews. And it was through these books that I came to see the value of submitting my life to God. And I believe it was (and I foresee jaws dropping all over the world as I write this) a Bob George book that helped me the most in that time. He provided some biblical teaching on the nature of Christianity that spoke right to my heart. These books led me to the Bible and led me to a deeper relationship with the Author of the Bible.
As I continued to read in the years that followed, and to get more deeply into the Scriptures, I was able to surrender my worries to God. This is not to say that I now lead a worry-free life, but that I really no longer stress about finances. We continue to lead frugal lives (though we seek not to make frugality an idol) but lead full lives. We do not have a lot of extra money, yet when friends or family are in need, we have often felt blessed to be able to help them. Our prayer has been “just enough.” We ask God that He would give us “just enough” and allow Him to define “enough” as He sees fit.
Worrying is a dead end. There is no benefit to worrying. Worrying does bring about various effects, but never the desired ones. Worrying brings physical and emotional infirmity, it damages interpersonal relationships and, for more seriously, seperates us from the Lord. It brings about no benefit. I am thankful that God has helped me to see the wisdom of Job - the wisdom that opposes worry. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” I have surrendered to God’s control, to God’s providence, and trust that there is nothing to worry about.