As I've mentioned before, our church is in the process of buying the lease on a council-owned building. We've been in that process for over three years now. It has been a long, hard road...
It started with what seemed like a miracle. We were given the heads up about a community hall that is based right in the centre of the borough we meet in. And then, amazingly our (now retired) pastor was offered it at an incredible price (they were almost giving it away), he shook hands and walked away believing we had just acquired a home for our church.
You can imagine the celebrating that Sunday! We couldn't believe how, after quite a few months of searching, that God seemed to have delivered something straight into our laps. What a blessing.
Then we heard back from the lease owners to say they had decided to open the process up to others. What seemed like premature celebrations ceased and we started to wonder why this had happened. And, of course, some of us doubted whether it was the right building. We also had comments from some of our members asking why on earth did we need a building anyway?
What followed was an intense period of fervent prayer and nail-biting waits. We lost out twice during bidding processes, pipped to the post at the last minute with bids only just above our own.
At the end of each of those processes we should have been automatically disqualified, and yet both times (praise God!) we were invited to continue on and bid again with an ever-smaller group of bidders. Finally, after an interview process where I was suddenly asked to help pitch (yikes that was scary), we were picked to be the next leaseholders.
I have to admit I have found the whole journey incredibly emotional. It has stretched my faith almost to breaking point at times. I can still remember the sinking feeling I had when we found out our first bid hadn't been enough to secure the lease.
The very next morning I was at a women's breakfast and I can still remember thinking "I don't want to go. I don't feel strong enough for all the questions there will be, all the disappointed faces. I can't get my own head around it, I certainly can't carry anyone else."
Then I arrived at the breakfast and no one seemed to be phased at all. I even heard someone say, "Oh it doesn't matter. If it's the right building God will get it for us, if it isn't He'll provide something else."
At that point I wanted to shout: "But it IS the right building. We've prayed and sought God and believe that. And don't you know how many thousands of pounds we've sunk into this process already?!!"
But I just bit my tongue, kept my head down and went home to pray with my husband and work through all my jumbled up feelings with him. Because I realised it has been one of those journeys that the leadership has been on the front line for, carrying the burden for the rest of the church.
You may have worked out by now that I'm not brilliant with pressure, or with not knowing what is going to happen. So I have felt every inch of this journey acutely.
What that person said was right to a certain extent – I don't need to worry about all the details because God is in control. But sometimes that is hard to fully comprehend – and it also doesn't mean that we just sit back and expect Him to simply give us everything without us being involved.
My husband reminded me he had prayed that our acquisition of this property would be such a miraculous event that it could have only been God who had made the way.
He admitted regretting praying that prayer at times, as doors seemed to close in our faces. However his prayer was answered – our church members are in no doubt that this property is God's provision for us and that it has come about not by might nor by power (or clever pitches, great business plans or enough financial clout) but by God's Spirit!
What a rollercoaster ride it's been. And it still isn't over yet. We pretty much have everything we need together now – all the paperwork is with our solicitor. So we should be exchanging in the next few weeks.
I wanted to write this now rather than wait and say "We've got it!" – firstly because it's an act of faith on my part and also because it is easy to encourage others to be full of faith when your prayers have been totally answered. A little harder when you are still on your own journey...
But isn't that what life with God is like? Far more than an ascent ever closer to the wonders of heaven, it is just like a rollercoaster that goes up the mountainside, then shoots ever faster down to a deep valley – then repeats the journey again.
I know I've learned a huge amount during these last few years. About patience, perseverance and leadership (wow, discussing what we would say to the church if the building was sold to someone else was a tough one, and opened up all sorts of personal vulnerabilities).
I do think that God's purposes have been worked out through all the ups and downs. What we've seen as human error, interference or plain awkwardness from other parties, we can now see God's hand in. If we'd walked into our building a month or so after that first handshake, having spent little (money, time or prayer) on it I don't think it would have meant as much.
During these past few years the church has come to really 'own' the vision for the building. We've prayed unceasingly and also given sacrificially in order to raise money for the lease and the necessary building work there will be. God has done a work in all of us, teaching us to trust Him and continue to believe for and run after the dream He's put inside of us as a people.
It seems to me that this is a good picture of what God wants our lives as disciples to be like. He longs for us to run hard after Him, persevering with our prayers, time, talents and money even in the midst of setbacks. And to believe He is good and will work all His purposes out for our good, even when we are full of doubts and fears.
Yes there will be times when we doubt, but we can still hold on to His truths – even when we are clinging on for dear life as our own personal rollercoaster suddenly turns and takes a nosedive.