The Next Thing: Pat's Story
Soon after that, I received an email from Susan Sorenson about a woman from Georgia that she wanted the Women’s Advisory Committee to meet. So I invited everyone for a meal at my house to meet her. And so begins the story of how God has been revealing my newest assignment.
Everyone around my table that night was struck by the passion for neighborhood Bible studies that flowed from the heart of Debbie McGoldrick. We were convicted and filled with excitement at the same time. Debbie talked about intentionally praying for, caring for and sharing Jesus with neighbors. We agreed that we had not been intentional about taking action in our neighborhoods.
Debbie shared how she prayer-walked her street, asking God to show her the “lost treasure” in her neighborhood. She prayed that God would release His word and let it run like a river in her neighborhood. She talked about looking for the houses with “for sale” signs and actually placing her foot on those driveways, asking God to bring believers or seekers into the neighborhood and keep evil out.
The next morning, as I was driving out of my neighborhood, I saw two brand new “for sale” signs on my street. I knew right away that God had something to say to me because we seldom see these signs in our subdivision. I went to the NBS2Go website (Debbie’s website filled with free resources for neighborhood Bible studies) and found suggestions for what to pray. I would love to say that I immediately began my prayer walks. Instead, I found every reason imaginable to procrastinate. Finally, one afternoon I told myself, “That is it. I am walking right now.” And I did.
When I placed my foot on the driveways of my neighbors I claimed the property for Jesus (at the same time hoping they didn’t have some kind of fancy alarm that alerted them to someone on their driveway). I prayed for the families in each house on our street. I prayed that God’s presence would be seen and felt in our neighborhood. I asked God to give me a love for my neighbors that could only come from Him. I am sure some of my neighbors wondered over dinner why that Cebulski woman was walking up and down the street talking to herself.
I spent the next couple of months asking God to show me the next thing to do in my neighborhood. At this point, I knew that I was being called to start a Bible study, but I didn’t know how to get from point A to point Z. I am good at planning, organizing and entertaining, but I was being stymied by feelings of intimidation at the thought of the assignment God was revealing to me. I struggled with the responsibility of it all.
Hosting a Christmas Dessert
As Christmas approached, I felt a nudge in my heart to do something to bring the women of the neighborhood together. Was this the next thing, Lord? The idea of a Christmas dessert came to mind. So I set the date and mailed 42 invitations. To my surprise, half the women in the neighborhood came that night, despite the busy holiday season. They came through the door with hugs and expressions of gratitude for bringing them together. Hours later, the last guest left. Many shared the same sentiment: “We need to do this more often.”
I was flying high after that wonderful night. Clearly there were many in the neighborhood who were hurting. They were even quick to share it at the Christmas dessert. It was so evident that many needed the relationships. But it didn’t take long for me to go back to the valley of doubt and fear. If I suggested a Bible study would I suddenly become the “religious radical” on the block? Would our relationships return to waves from car windows as we passed on the street? What if the needy started knocking on my door? After all, with all that I have on my plate right now I don’t have much free time as it is. Am I really the right person for this, Lord?
Through Scripture passages brought to me during my time of devotions and encouraging stories posted on the NBS2Go website, I realized again that all God was asking me to do was to be obedient to do the next thing. It came down to a yes or no. Either I believed God had the power to carry out His plan, or I did not. So I stopped trying to plan things out in my mind and went back to asking God to reveal “the next thing” and His plan for my assignment.
God's Mercy Revealed
The “next thing” was finding out that a neighbor’s young son was diagnosed with a very rare cancer. I contacted the neighbor and asked if I could host a prayer brunch for her with anyone in the neighborhood she would like to invite. She loved the idea. The prayer brunch was a precious time around my table with seven women who surprised me by their strong faith and love of Jesus. I realized that God was revealing the core group of women who could support a neighborhood Bible study. God used a crisis to bring us together. I witnessed the great mercy and love of God as together we cried and prayed and cried some more. My faith grew on that special morning, and I praised God for it.
I knew that the “next thing” was to send out invitations for a Bible study. I was certain I needed to do it the very next day. But God has a way of directing and leading by placing obstacles in our lives and for a few months, a crisis in our family did just that. As summer approached, God once again used Scripture and sermons to challenge me to focus on my assignment and not my problems. I thought of Paul, who while in prison asked Christians to pray for him to be able to proclaim the Gospel. So I set the date for an Introduction to Neighborhood Bible Study event and printed the invitations.
Obedience Brings Freedom
As I drove around the neighborhood distributing the invitations, I was once again the woman behind the wheel talking to myself and wrestling with God. There were a few houses where I hesitated because I already knew the prevailing attitude at the home. But there was a not-so-quiet voice in my heart that insisted an invitation go to every home. So I obeyed. And then I waited for the responses.
The first two responses came from the two women I least expected would come. My dread of rejection lessened and faith in the power of the Holy Spirit began to prevail. Within hours of the invitation going out, I received 16 responses. That was more than a third of the neighborhood. Wow! And my meager faith was hoping for just five. At that point I began to understand that any plan I might have could not compare to the plan God had already worked out for me.
God continues to teach me how to let go and just do “the next thing.” In many ways, it is very freeing. At the same time, it is not easy. God is showing me that all He expects of me is to 1) show love to my neighbors, 2) show them I love God’s Word, 3) and show them I love Jesus. He’s got the rest.
At times, doubt and fear continue to creep into my heart. A couple of hours before our last meeting I found myself saying out loud to the Lord, “I don’t want to do this.” I immediately
went to the Lord in prayer and asked Him to forgive my stubborn heart and pour out His love and power through me. When the women arrived, I found myself overflowing with joy to see them and aware of a special presence of the Lord around my table.
If God Assigns You, He'll Equip You
I do not write these words as the poster child for hosting neighborhood Bible studies. I am not. But I do want to encourage any and all who feel even a small nudge from the Holy Spirit to love your neighbors better than before. Start at the beginning. Start with prayer. From there, God is able to fill your heart with a love for neighbors that could only come from Him. The end result may or may not be a neighborhood Bible study. That is for God to reveal to you. But this I do know: the outcome is not your responsibility. Obedience is your responsibility. Whatever the assignment, He will fully equip you each step of the way, and your faith and love for Him will grow. He has promised that He will always complete the good work that He began in us.
I encourage you to open your heart to this good work. Don’t miss the opportunity to be part of the vision that He gave to our Women’s Ministry at Calvary. Ask God to show you “the next thing.” Then all you have to do is rely on His power to do it. You will be so glad you did.
This article first appeared in the August 2015 edition of Calvary Life magazine.
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Pat Cebulski retired from the corporate world several years ago but not from serving the Lord in her home. Young women from the Apples of Gold class she hosts are often hanging out around her kitchen. When she is not practicing hospitality around her table, she is playing with her five treasured grandchildren. Pat leads a Neighborhood Bible Study in Grand Rapids, Mich.