Yesterday (16th June) was a day of lows and highs concerning funding applications, which got me thinking, simply because of the timings lending a synchronicity to my day that made me smile wryly (after crying copiously). I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on funding applications. I don’t have the privilege of rich patrons or willing wealthy benefactors (alas), and so in order to do the crazy ideas God puts into my heart to accomplish, I have to ask for money to fulfil those plans. (He often seems to give me wild ideas that cost a lot of money, much to my astonishment on a regular basis.)
I don’t enjoy asking funders for money. It comes across to me as begging, and I suppose my pride keeps raising its ugly head, making me feel slightly dirty as I try to fit my God-plans into the funding objectives of other organisations. Nonetheless, I have seen over a great many years how God is able to release monies from the most unlikely sources and that His ideas always do get the money they need, however much this astounds me on a regular basis. I suppose I would really like each idea to come with a cheque attached to it. That would make my life so much easier! I’ve reached the conclusion that He doesn’t work that way because then no faith would be required on my part, and one of His purposes in all this is, I suspect, to teach me to live by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7) Most people don’t see the sweat and tears that go into each project or event as I wrestle with the thoughts, ‘Is this really God or is it just me? If it’s God, He will provide, but if it’s just me, I’m going to end up with egg on my face…’ I feel I ought to have got better at trusting God over the many years of projects (after all, I’ve seen Him provide over £160,000 for the church building I have been using for the past thirteen years, seen Him sell a run-down ramshackle house with a garden that looked like a jungle for £100,000 during a national lockdown and am still running the Dearne Community Arts’ Festival seven years on when we have no discernible income other than fund-raising ideas…) Nonetheless, if I’m honest, each project brings with it heartache and questions, doubts and fears, the biggest one being ‘Have I heard correctly? Is this God or is this me?’
People often ask me, ‘How do you hear God? How do you discern God’s voice from all the other voices out there?’ I wish I could give a bullet-proof answer of serene faith (serenity being one of the qualities I very much admire.) The truth is that God’s voice is persistent, but rarely comfortable. He gives me ‘ideas’ and often it’s only as I talk these ideas over with others that I find an agreement that again astonishes me. What seems to me to be quite wacky (the current selfie board project I’m working on is definitely up there with ‘wacky’, especially coming from a person who would run a mile from a photographer given half a chance (and the physical stamina to run that distance) and who much prefers radio to TV because I don’t have to deal with the distraction of images but can concentrate on words that way) suddenly seems to be hugely popular with others, and a project is breathed into life.
Gideon being one of my favourite Biblical characters, I usually then go through his process of ‘fleeces’ (see Judges 6), asking God for confirmation and reassurance. Some people think this is putting God to the test, but I think there if there is a genuine need for signs, God is very, very gracious with us. He knows our hearts. Some people may well have more confidence at this stage, but for the Gideons among us, loaded with insecurity and doubt as a kind of default baggage we find it difficult to shift, God is well able to meet with us. He gives us exactly what we need: a random phone call, an email from someone who knew nothing about the situation, a Bible verse that lights up and glows like a rotating advertising sign. He is, above all, a good God of infinite kindness.
So…back to 16th June. I was in the church building sorting through the usual Friday cleaning and tidying, updating spreadsheets, checking emails. There it was in the inbox: the reply after months from the National Lottery application for this year’s arts’ festival. I looked at it warily. I wasn’t expecting positive news. I have a love-hate relationship with the National Lottery, having had festivals funded by them and having had festival applications rejected by them. I wasn’t brimful with confidence. And sure enough, it was a rejection. Nicely phrased with reasons set out that had more to do with their criteria than my project, but a rejection nonetheless. And even though I was expecting this rationally, it still had the power to suck the confidence out of me. It means I have to start again with funding for that project, and now it’s June and the festival is scheduled for September. I went through exactly the same thing last year and God provided for us at the 11th hour. I daresay He will do the same again, because He’s good at that kind of thing! But there is still that visceral reaction that kicks all the doubts and questions into my field of vision again. Disappointment. Dejection. Rejection. Frustration. Weariness, because if there’s one thing I don’t want to do, it’s to write another funding application.
I carried on with the jobs, vacuuming while crying and praying at the same time. Raw emotion brought straight to God, begging for answers, for help, as I felt overwhelmed by my utter inability to produce money from nowhere. Eventually, the tears subsided, and I moved on to tidying the children’s room. This was like Aladdin’s cave, filled with props for yet another event, the Christmas Churches Together project, ‘The Narnia Experience.’ Another crazy idea, re-creating the magical world of Narnia in our church building, re-telling those amazing allegorical stories and sharing how much God loves us through the theme of storytelling, which has been this year’s ‘Big Idea.’ I submitted a funding application for this project just this week, and as I began sorting and tidying, I wondered why God keeps giving me the responsibility for these community events if I don’t get the money I need to do them. Why does it have to be so hard!?!
I started listening to a podcast: anything, to distract me from the lurking fear that I was barking up the wrong tree and was doomed to failure. Then my phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number. I answered to hear the cheerful tones of a young woman working for Coalfields Regeneration Trust. You guessed it: another funder.
“How are you doing today?” she asked me cheerily. I answered with the same raw honesty I had been pouring out to God, unwilling to engage in chit-chat. “That depends on what you’re going to say to me,” I said with tactless bluntness. “I’ve just had a funding application turned down by the National Lottery, so it depends what you’re going to tell me as to how I’m doing!”
She laughed and told me that I had been successful with that application, an application for funding of £4050 towards the running costs of two community projects I run (the Parent & Toddler group and ‘Mindful Moments’ creative evening for adults at our church.) One application turned down; one application got the green light.
For me, the timing of these two answers within hours of one another was a definite answer to prayer. ‘Give me a sign!’ I’d blubbed to God just the hour before. Here it was: a green light to carry on with my weekly and monthly ministries. And perhaps more than that, the reassurance that He really does have it ALL in hand. Even rejection can be woven into His plans; disappointment and discouragement don’t have the last word. The journey by faith continues. I’ve yet to see how all the other ideas will be funded, but this week I have signed off on the monitoring report for the Phoenix Park Fun Day (project finished and paid for) and can keep going with my regular work, even though Scottish Power seem determined to scupper that through their ridiculously escalating bills. That gives me hope for all the other crazy ideas still to be completed. The lows and highs of funding applications will be more than balanced by the goodness and power of God.