February 1, 2011

God's Mathematics

The request couldn’t have come at a worse time. Nikolai, who attends my church, approached me after the worship service with a request for a hefty sum of money to help a fellow church member in Siberia who urgently needed to buy medication. I had that exact amount in my bank account, tucked away for an emergency.
When I explained that I was in a financially tight position at the moment, Nikolai said that even half the desired amount would be fine. I told him that I had to pray about it.
2011 1503 page25Pray I did. I wondered whether God was testing my faith. Times were tough after the 2008 financial crisis swallowed a large chunk of my salary. If I gave up my safety cushion, would God open the windows of heaven to pour out a blessing? Not likely, I thought darkly, because God had no options through which to provide me with money. There was no chance for a raise or a bonus at the end of the year. Indeed, I was fortunate to have a job at a time when newspapers around the world were going bankrupt.
I prayed earnestly. I wrestled with God. But I couldn’t find a good excuse to refuse the money. Nikolai was a reputable church member. The woman was clearly in need. It would be less painful to hand over only half the amount and no one would be the wiser. But I did have the entire amount in the bank, and I could live just fine without it.
With anger I marched up to the automated teller machine on Monday and withdrew the entire sum requested. I knew I would never see the money again.
At church the next Sabbath I called Nikolai over. “I found the money,” I said, without telling him how much. I pressed the banknotes into his hand.
Back to Business
About two weeks later the top editors and publishers from the publishing house where I work left Moscow for a two-day management outing. In the past two years we had flown to Crete and Italy to hear the financial results for the previous year and corporate plans for the coming year. This time we chartered a bus and drove to a hotel about two hours outside Moscow. The financial crisis had hit the company hard.
Our CEO flashed up slide after slide during her PowerPoint presentation, showing the red ink of industry-wide losses. By God’s grace, the newspaper where I work ended the previous year in the black of profitability.
Then the CEO dropped a bombshell.
“It’s amazing that we made it through the year,” she said as she wrapped up her remarks. “We didn’t know how we would weather the crisis, so when it started we set aside a safety cushion for an emergency. It turned out that things didn’t get so bad. So our company’s board of directors has decided to divide the reserve money as year-end bonuses for you and your staff.”
All the publishers and editors gasped, then clapped. I lowered my head in shame. God had opened a window where I thought none existed. While I had been trying to protect my safety cushion, God had been eyeing my company’s much larger safety cushion—a fund that none of us knew anything about.
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isa. 55:8, 9).
When my year-end bonus arrived, it amounted to seven times the sum I had given Nikolai.
Andrew McChesney is a journalist in Russia. This article was published January 27, 2011.