Many church planters today affirm what’s come to be known as “big-God theology.” We have, at least, the Young, Restless, Reformed movement to thank for this change. This movement’s preaching, conferences, and abundant content skillfully highlight the beauty of God’s sovereignty, wisdom, power, and grace.
But over the years as a church planter, I’ve found that the bigness of God—often beautifully declared from the pulpit—can easily be missing in the daily grind of ministry. Or, at least we pastors don’t always know how to connect the dots. The “bigness of God” can be present in our words, but less so in our daily lives.
And that’s a big problem. God’s majesty is not merely something the Scriptures set forth to satisfy the minds of the theologically inclined. It’s the massive meal our hearts hunger for (Eccl. 3:11), the ultimate purpose of every moment (Eph. 1:10), and the answer for every problem (1 Cor. 2:2).
God’s majesty is not merely something the Scriptures set forth to satisfy the minds of the theologically inclined.
But the ongoing presence of sin in our lives—which stems from our deceitful hearts (Jer. 17:9)—can create a disconnect between our proclamation and our practice. And we know that sin is serious (Rom 8:13). In order to help me cut through the lies I believe, and to see how my heart really views God day-to-day, I’ve continually examined the following two areas.
For a long time—even as a pastor—I didn’t have a meaningful, daily prayer life. The reason wasn’t complicated. I didn’t have a big enough view of God. Sure, I could’ve rattled off the correct theological terms. But my lack of prayer showed a functional belief that God couldn’t deal with the intricacies of my problems and plans.
And yet, if we really believe God is big enough to meet our needs, then we’ll pray. Moses prayed because he believed God could lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. And what happened? Ask the floor of the Red Sea (Ex. 14). Nehemiah prayed about the broken walls because he believed God was big enough to do something about it (Neh. 1). The church prayed about Peter’s deliverance the night before he was supposed to be executed because they believed God was more powerful than Rome (Acts 12:5–19).
When God’s people face their problems with a big God in view, they pray. And as a church-planting pastor, when I have a true sense of God’s transcendent majesty, I’m confident to ask him to unleash his unlimited resources in specific ways. And in church planting especially, the needs are seemingly endless.
To help me document some of these needs, I keep an Evernote card containing specific prayer requests. This card includes the date I started praying for each need, and a section for answers to prayer (a version of an approach I learned from Paul Miller’s A Praying Life). I log each answer to prayer, whether God answered in the affirmative or not.
As I review this list, I can see where I’ve asked God to cause unbelievers like my friend Nick to trust Jesus; to make my children want to read the Bible more by the end of the week; to cause a man to generously give our church plant a part of his land; to encourage me in some unusual way by the end of the day—to name a few.
Affirming the reality of a big God means we can trust that he knows better than we do.
God answered all of these with a “yes,” some after a few moments and others after a few years. Many of our requests, however, don’t receive such obvious answers. But affirming the reality of a big God means we can trust that he knows better than we do.
Just this past December, I prayed for a record-high giving month for our church. Much to my surprise, we had a record-low. As anyone involved in leading a ministry knows, December giving often saves the annual budget. Having just taken on some significant new costs—adding staff and moving into a new building—this record-low was especially concerning. Over the past couple of months, as I’ve pleaded with God to provide financially, we made up the lost financial ground with some record-high giving in other months.
I don’t know all the reasons for that December “no,” but I sense one of them has to be that God doesn’t want me looking to a “big month,” he wants me looking to him—a big God.
Disposition During Trials
Second, when we trust a big God, we can be certain that his unending goodness will sustain us when trials come our way. And there’s no problem-free path in Christ’s kingdom (Acts 14:22). Whether the challenge is a perpetually difficult person; a complex pastoral situation; having only eight days to find a new worship space (happened to us!); a financial crunch; or any number of other difficulties, how you handle “it” reveals what you think of God.
Planting a church will inevitably involve trials of various kinds. While my initial inclination is to worry when things don’t go according to my plans—whether that’s a Monday morning email letting me know a key family is leaving, or news that friends believed the slander about me that I thought they’d easily dismiss—a big view of God leads me to fight to see these uninvited realities as opportunities to experience more of Christ.
When our view of God is small, then our problems will loom large.
If you have a big view of God, then you can have peace in the face of any and every difficulty. Like Paul, you’ll see every problem as a chance to relish the all-sufficient grace of Christ (2 Cor. 12:7–10). But when our view of God is small, then our problems will loom large. Perhaps this is why our anxiety levels are so high.
How many of us, I wonder, would respond like Jonathan Edwards, who in the midst of being fired, had it said of him that “his happiness was out of reach of his enemies.”
A big God offers inexplicable peace (Phil. 4:6–7). Rest comes from trusting him, not controlling our circumstances. And when you know this God, perfect peace will transform how you live (Is. 26:3).
So let’s not settle for prayer-less and peace-less lives and ministries. Let’s fight daily—as church-planting pastors—to see God for who he is, helping those around us do the same, all for his glory in our churches around the world.