…break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord. (Hosea 10:12)
It was December 2008, the U.S. and world economies were on the brink of utter collapse, and the owners of Westlund Concepts, a small business, heavily invested in the construction market in middle America, were praying and trusting God Almighty for a miracle. And then the unimaginable happened. President – elect Obama shared details of his planned economic stimulus package. I don’t remember the speech he gave, I am sure it was amazing… I only remember 3 words, “shovel – ready projects.”
There is really no such thing as a “shovel – ready project.” By the time a project is shovel – ready, there is a good chance a few shovels have already been put in the ground. The world in which we live is not a world of shovel – ready projects. Very few people are running around executing perfect plans. We simply don’t live in a world in which every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed before we put a shovel in the ground. The world is much more fluid than that, and life unfolds in a way that is very messy.
Many times, when we think we have something shovel – ready, inevitably something changes, and the things we thought were shovel – ready, suddenly are not. So, what do we do? All you can do, is trust that when you put the shovel in the ground, the ground is ready for the shovel, and trust that the vision, which led you to put a shovel in the ground in the first place, will become reality.
But we don’t trust easily, do we? We want to see the end before we begin. We want to know without doubt that the action we are about to take is going to work out exactly the way we planned it. This human condition, this need to see the end of things before we begin something, this need to only work on shovel – ready projects is one reason why we had been successful at Westlund Concepts, well at least prior to 2008 and Mr. Obama’s “shovel – ready projects” promise. (I still cringe when I hear those 3 words.)
The core product I was responsible for at Westlund Concepts was 3d visualization, and the core purpose of the 3d visualization division was to help developers secure funds from banks or get approval from building commissions to move forward with putting shovels in the ground. We would show in 3d what the neighborhood, or office building, or library was going to look like before anyone invested too much time or money in the project.
The day after the promise made by the President – elect, the phones at Westlund Concepts, which were already ringing less than prior to 2008, completely stopped. The silence in the office was deafening. And the days that followed brought pain to my soul that was unbearable. Over the next 3 months, we shut down the 3d visualization division of Westlund Concepts and essentially all elements of the marketing division. My older brother, myself and all the staff were permanently displaced. Only my younger brother and Dad (the founders of Westlund Concepts) persevered forward with Westlund Concepts.
Our individual journeys from that day in 2008 have taken different paths, but one thing has been true for the four of us. We and our families have had shovels in our hands, and we have put them in the ground trusting God that the ground is shovel – ready. On this journey I have learned two simple lessons. First, When I trust God with the ground, it is always shovel ready. When I don’t trust Him with the ground, it is not. In fact, when I don’t trust Him, the ground is often more like solid rock. Over the past 9 years, I have broken many shovels on ground I failed to trust God for. Second, I have a responsibility to act from a place of trust and put the shovel in the ground. The word of God is full of illustrations about planting in the ground and harvesting what the ground produces. Here is the lesson. God supplies and prepares the ground. I must trust Him and put a shovel in it!
As I have learned to trust God more and more with the ground, and put a shovel in it, I have watched Him faithfully provide. It has not always been easy. Sometimes the ground was dry… very dry. And if you are staring at dry ground with shovel in hand, thinking there is no way, keep reading.
By the Spring of 2009, I had taken a new job. I was significantly under employed and under paid. I had a mortgage I couldn’t afford; 2 car payments I couldn’t afford; medical bills I couldn’t afford; and 3 children under 7 who I didn’t know how I was going to feed. I also have the most wonderful wife (whose strength often carried us through), who did her best to not look at me with fear in her eyes. Needless to say, the concept of trust was not easy. The ground was so dry, that trusting God and putting a shovel in it was the furthest thing from my mind.
I remember people would remind me of Proverbs 3:5&6, that I should trust God with all my heart, and I was quick to remind them of Mathew 5:45, that He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Early in this journey of trust, it rained and rained and rained. Most days, it was pouring!
It rained so much, I didn’t want to trust God. I became so angry one night that I was crying so hard that I broke blood vessels in my cheeks. It was as if my emotional pain literally beat me up and blackened my eyes. And I yelled at God, “What do you want with me! Why am I here!” And he gently whispered to me, “Because I made you, and I love you.” In that moment, I finally listened, humbled myself before Him, and said, “Ok, I trust You.” Immediately the rocky hard soil in my heart was softened. A very special transaction occurs when we put our trust in God. In Jeremiah 17:7-8, the Word of God says when you trust in the Lord, you will be blessed, and the ground of your life will be like the rich, fertile ground next to a river, and the roots of your life will go deep into that ground.
I understand now that it was not the pouring rain which led me to not trust God. Instead, I did not trust God, and it just poured. But from that moment of a renewed trust in the Almighty, as I sought the Lord, and said again and again, “I trust You,” something changed in my life. The pouring rain, become a soft gentle rain. Most days, it was still raining. Life was still tough, but as I trusted Him, He made the rain gentle. I look back and see now, the rain He brought taught me more than trust. I also learned about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… lessons I would have missed if I never said, “I trust You.” It is true that He sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. But He controls the rain, and He can make it a driving, pouring rain, or a gentle, easy rain.
Now pouring rain on dry ground does nothing for the ground. It just pours and runs right off. But a gentle rain… a gentle rain prepares the ground. Over the past seven years, as I have learned to trust Him more, God has brought gentle rains into my life to prepare the various grounds of my life for the shovel in my hand, so that when I put the shovel in the ground, it is not dry and rocky, but ready for the good work God has prepared for me to trust Him in. The next time you see storm clouds on the horizon of your life, stop and look around you. Are you standing in a dry and rocky land surrounded by broken shovels? If so, don’t turn and run from the storm, but trust God for a gentle rain to make the ground of your life shovel – ready.