Have you ever had a crazy year?
The kind of year when everything changes and you find yourself doing something you never dreamed of? For me, 2001 was an intense time of change and growth. Before the year was up I was doing an internship at Mars Hill Church. The road to becoming an intern wasn’t without difficulty and surprise—and I almost took another offer that would have led me down a dangerous road. In weeks before I took the internship, there was one particular weekend—a transforming, life-shaping, vision-empowering weekend, which God used to ultimately redirect the course of my life.
But first, a little backstory. My wife, Shelly, and I got married summer of 2001 and, two weeks later, moved across the country from the midwest to the west coast. It was electrifying, frightening and fun. It was the beginning of our adventure. We found ourselves in Seattle right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and times were tough. It was difficult to find well-paying jobs. By God's grace, we were both found ourselves working (I was waiting tables at a local restaurant), but we didn't make much money. We were broke newlyweds, living in a new city with no friends or family, but we were happy building a life together. Our second week in Seattle, we attended Mars Hill Church for the first time. I remember driving home after our first service experience and having a conversation with my wife that went something like this: Me: "What did you think about that?" Shelly: "Wow, it was really different …" Me: "Yeah, the pastor did a lot of yelling about sin and repentance—I liked that!" Shelly: "I liked that, too!" Me: "He taught the Bible, and the music was really loud, and it was so dark and messy. I bet there’s opportunity for us to help out and get involved." Shelly: "It felt like home. Let’s go back next week." Me: "Yeah, I agree it felt like home. Let’s show up early next week and see if we can help." Within months we were members of the church. It was an exciting time for us as a couple, but for me personally, it was challenging. As a new husband, I wanted to buy a house and felt a great personal pressure to provide in a better way for my family. Over time, though, what once was a godly motive to provide for my family twisted into sin.
"I accepted his offer on the spot and resigned from my job. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife."
All I could think about was making more money and buying a house. I became obsessed. I wanted control, and comfort became my idol. I justified my sin by convincing myself that my obsession was just me seeking to be responsible. Without knowing it, I was living in a "what if" universe that didn’t center on Jesus. I needed a wake-up call, and it happened that life-changing weekend. At the restaurant where I worked, one of my regular customers was a prominent businessman, and we'd gotten to know each other over the course of a couple months. During a Friday afternoon shift, he offered me what seemed to be the opportunity of a lifetime: a leadership position within his organization. It included what I considered to be a generous salary and the promise to be his understudy. His plan was to mentor me and help me become like him: a successful businessman. It appeared that suddenly all my hopes and desires were coming to fruition.
In the span of 48 hours, Shelly and I would go from being completely poor to potentially having more money than we would know what to do with. I was so excited. I accepted his offer on the spot and resigned from my job. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife. But when I told her, she didn’t respond by sharing my enthusiasm. In fact, she cried. This was unusual, given her character. I was confused and disturbed by her response. I didn’t understand why she was crying. I remember saying to her, "What’s wrong with you? This is awesome! I just got a new job! We can now afford to buy a house. Everything’s coming together. It’s great." Then, in the midst of her tears, she asked me a question cutting deep into my heart and exposing my idolatry: "Do you really want to be like that man?" "What do you mean?" I asked. "Didn’t you tell me he split up with his wife and doesn’t have a good relationship with his children and claims to be an atheist?" she asked. I said, "Yeah, but that is his personal life. He’s going to mentor me in business. Don't you see? We will make money and be able to buy a house! Besides, I just quit my job and I’m supposed to start on Monday." She looked at me directly in the eyes and said, "This is not the kind of man that should be your mentor. Don’t do it. I know it’s a mistake. Can we pray about it?" Now, you have to understand that my wife has the spiritual gift of discernment, so when we aren’t unified on something, I take special note and want her counsel and wisdom. So we spent the weekend praying. We prayed hard, we prayed long and we talked to different elders at Mars Hill about the situation and got their counsel.
"When we respond in faith and go, we get blessed by God, because in that place is Jesus—and only Jesus—enough."
Through the course of praying, reading the Scriptures, getting wisdom from elders, and asking friends to speak into our lives, we decided that I indeed should not take the job. God was calling me in a different direction altogether. As we prayed through the situation, I was reminded of the first service we attended at Mars Hill and how even then God had put a burden on my heart to serve the church. He was now inviting me to follow him in a direction with no guarantee of anything, but to solely trust in him and his provision for our family. I rescinded my acceptance for the job. I then went back to the elders asked if I could do an internship at Mars Hill Church. Back then, there wasn’t an internship program, so being an intern was like driving through the desert with no roads or map: you just hoped you didn’t get lost or left behind. Looking back today, I’m so grateful for that crazy weekend almost ten years ago.
I can now see that God was recalibrating my heart as he changed the direction of my life. During my internship, I learned that there is more to life than money. I also learned that God sometimes calls us to something we don’t expect or would never choose, but that when we respond in faith and go, we get blessed by God, because it’s in that very place where we are needy of him and living by faith, that we experience him most. In that place is Jesus—and only Jesus—enough.
Bubba Jennings is the executive pastor at the Ballard campus, where Shelly is a deacon.