When I reflect on my almost 30 years of following Jesus, God’s Word has always been central. I remember my first feeble attempts at a quiet time. It was 1982, I was a new Christian, and trying to know God through Bible study and prayer felt awkward. But gradually I experienced the reality of communing with God and having his Spirit-empowered Word transform my life.
In the spring of 1983, I knew God was calling me to vocational ministry. I still had more than two years left on my Army commitment. During those years, as my wife, Nancy, read nursing manuals, I read and reread the Bible. Every evening, for hours at a time, I would pore over God’s Word, soaking it up. Those were intimate times with the God of the universe.
Before I took off for seminary in the fall of 1985, my mentor, Tony Twist, told me things like, “There is a reason people call seminary, cemetery. Don’t forget that the Word of God is more than a textbook. It is the Word of God, core to knowing God himself.”
And he also offered this advice: “Going to seminary is a lot like going to chef’s school. You can learn how to prepare filet mignon or chocolate mousse, but if you don’t eat, you will starve to death.”
I took Tony’s words to heart. Every day, when I sat down to study, I would pray this prayer: “Lord, help me not just know about you, or know how to serve you. Help me know you personally.” And he did.
Those were growing years, and hard years. Three months into seminary my wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As we sat together, hearing the doctor’s words, I heard God say to me, “Do not be afraid. I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Five months later, we sat in another office, hearing another doctor tell us our baby, in the womb, had anencephaly, failure of the brain and skull to develop. The doctor recommended immediate termination of the pregnancy. We refused.
During those remaining months of pregnancy, God sustained us through his Word. We played Scripture tapes in our home and in our cars. As I ran every day, I would pray these verses,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Our little girl, Bethany Joy, was stillborn. But even in the midst of such pain, the God of all comfort comforted us through his Word.
After graduating, I served first as the minister of outreach at my home church, East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, and then with Tony Twist at TCM International. It was during my time at TCM that God called our family to plant a church.
In February 1995 we moved to Nashua, New Hampshire, to help plant CrossWay Christian Church. Though I carried the title of lead planter, God’s Word reminded me otherwise: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1); “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5); and finally, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
I cannot count the number of times I stood on that last promise. When I accepted the call to go to New England, I said to Jesus, “You said you would build your church, and I am counting on it.”
When I began raising support and people would tell me “no” when I expected them to answer “yes,” I reminded Jesus, “You said you would build your church.” As I prayed about staff members, sifted through résumés, interviewed candidates, and experienced rejection, again and again I said to Jesus, “You will build your church.”
And when he finally put our team together, I looked at all of us and said, “Lord, you said you would build your church, but with this bunch?” And he did.
Though I left New Hampshire many years ago, God continues to build his church there and around the world. And God’s Word continues to transform lives and prove itself true, for “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
I have served in different ministries since leaving CrossWay—as minister of church planting back at East 91st Street; in development with Orchard Group; as associate minister at a new church; and as professor of church planting with Ozark Christian College, the first four years in Joplin, Missouri, and the last four in Greater New York City.
Nancy and I have experienced multiple family challenges: infertility, miscarriages, her worsening multiple sclerosis, and a prodigal son who only recently recommitted to Jesus.
But through it all, God has used his Spirit-empowered Word to sustain, shape, and equip us for the trials he allows to come our way.
Many years ago, I made Mark 12:30 my life verse: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
But in recent years, I have also found great peace in this Scripture, which reminds me of the love of the God behind the commandment: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
The greatest truth in the world is not that we love God, but that he loves us. May his Word help you “have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18, 19).
Dave Smith is professor of church planting at Ozark Christian College. He also serves in the development department with the Orchard Group.