When God Changes the Plan

06/18/2015 .
Kayla Johnston  .  Storytelling Intern

**UPDATE August 27, 2015: After sharing Robert's story with the Saddleback family, several people have stepped up to pay for Robert's college books and expenses and Robert was given a college scholarship award. Robert's courageous steps of daring faith have encouraged others to step out in faith and generosity as well. He is now looking forward to enrolling in college and following the new plan God has for him.**

Robert Banks, a 20-year-old with the dream of entering the Navy, found himself working a minimum-wage job at the local grocery store. It was a far cry from the life he had envisioned. The product of two Navy parents, Robert knew he wanted the same future for himself. His plan was simple – college, Navy, NASA. He hoped that an education in engineering and a chance to put that education to the test as a pilot in the Navy would lead to a career as an astronaut.

The days in the grocery store became dull and monotonous, but even so, he knew he was being called to something greater. His meager earnings went straight to his college savings account and he stayed focused on his dream. But then, he felt God prompting him to do something audacious and seemingly foolish. Robert felt God tugging at his heart to give his entire savings as an offering to the church.

This would be his first time giving even a small amount to the church, and he knew giving the entire balance of his savings would mean putting his plans on hold. Robert, a member of Saddleback Church, had been hearing Pastor Rick challenge the church to have a bold, daring faith. Robert knew he was being called to take the biggest, most daring step of faith in his life.

A few years previously, as Robert walked across the stage on the day of his high school graduation, he had set his sights on NASA. He knew that going to college the following semester was the only way to make this dream happen. College, Navy, NASA.

College tuition prices were skyrocketing, and Robert’s parents informed him that the family wouldn’t be able to help pay for his school. They suggested he go into the Navy first and college could come after he saved more money. Navy, college, NASA? He could work with that. But God had other plans in store.

What seemed like a simple stomach cramp while on vacation in Big Bear turned into a medical emergency and a months-long recovery. His colon had turned over on itself, leading to excruciating pain and the end of any chance at going into the Navy that year.

Seventeen years old and slowly recovering, Robert began working at the grocery store in hopes of saving his minimum-wage paychecks little-by-little over the coming years to put toward an education.

Though he had been attending church at Christmas each year with his family, they never encouraged consistent involvement in the church. It wasn’t until a friend from work told Robert about Saddleback, where he joined a small group, that his faith truly grew. Each Sunday, Robert attended service consistently, whether he came with his small group or on his own. He made it a priority, and spending this time with God became the light at the end of a dark week spent working. “I always enjoy listening to a message, any time, any message, which is what kept me coming back… no one really forced me to do it,” Robert says of his motivation to attend church regularly.

Two years after that first service, he had saved a significant amount and hoped to enroll at a local community college the following semester. But again, God had other plans in store.

With the introduction of the Daring Faith series, Robert felt a tug at his heart to begin tithing for the first time. A friend from work had brought him to church and invited him into his bible study a couple years prior, so the idea of tithe was familiar. “It was something I always knew I should be doing, but never had the courage to actually give,” Robert says. After all, he was saving up for college.

And initially, Robert saw giving as a way to get more in return from God. He had heard Pastor Rick saying, "You can't outgive God," and he wanted to take on this challenge. But God began to change Robert's heart as he felt more and more certain that this was something God was asking of him. Even so, Robert wanted to make sure he was giving his money for the right reasons.

“I didn’t want to give just so that God would give more to me in return, I wanted to give to bless the church and ultimately God.”

It was a verse in Malachi that made Robert’s decision for him: “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,’ says the LORD of Heaven's Armies, ‘I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won't have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test.’” (Malachi 3:10)

As offering weekend approached, Robert knew what he had to do. The idea brought immense fear, but Robert knew giving would lead to joy rather than despair. With a few nervous steps toward the bank teller, he withdrew all of the funds from his savings account. From there, he deposited the money into a checking account and went online to give all of it over to God through the Daring Faith offering; an incredible sacrifice to the young man whose dreams were reliant on saving for a college education.

“I didn’t want to just give what I could afford, I wanted to make a real sacrifice. I knew this was a challenge that God wanted me to take and if I passed it up or gave less than I could that I would regret it,” Robert says reflecting back on the moment he sent in his money. Although he was scared, he was certain. “I know God keeps his promises, and I know God will bless my gift,” Robert says. He can think of no better way to spend that money than on the Kingdom of God. 

Just weeks after sending in his money, the fear hasn’t worn off, but his faith has grown. “I’m trying to stay calm and not panic,” Robert says. “God keeps his promises.”

His plans to pay for college may have changed, but his desire to enroll this fall has not wavered. Robert may not know yet how he will pay for school, but he is confident that God will provide.

“Some days when I have no money on me, I go on my lunch break at work and there will be extra bagels in the break room or snacks laying out on the table.” Robert sees these as little reminders that God has all of this under control, even when getting through the next shift seems hopeless. “I already see that God is blessing what I’ve given him.”

The future is unclear, but Robert has asked for more hours at work, is looking to take up a second job, and is on the hunt for scholarship opportunities. Whatever it takes, he says.

When he is tempted to worry about the future, Robert reminds himself: “He keeps his promises, even if that is all I know for certain right now.” College, Navy, NASA. The goal hasn’t changed, but this time, giving is the first priority.

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