I Will Be With You
By Stephen Kimbrell
Five years ago, our family visited California for the first time when we made the cross-country trip to attend my brother-in-law’s wedding. We decided to take a vacation there afterward, thinking, “We will probably never get back to California.” Boy, were we wrong!
After the wedding, we made the trip from Los Angeles to San Diego. With my father-in-law driving, I was free to view the never-ending city along the freeway. About an hour south of Los Angeles, we reached a booming, young city called Irvine. I had heard of Irvine, but all I remembered was that the local college mascot was an anteater. As we drove through this city, one thing captured my attention. It was obviously growing—new sky rise buildings under construction, new shopping malls, new neighborhoods, and land cleared for additional construction.
Intrigued by the visible growth, I did what most people my age do...I Googled it. I was blown away by what I found. I read statistics like: Irvine is the third fastest growing city in the United States; 30,000 new housing units will be constructed in the next 15 years; and 56% of the population claims no religion.
Suddenly, what would become a life-changing thought struck me: “Someone should plant a church in this city.” That thought was followed almost instantaneously with another, even more frightening, thought: “You should plant a church in this city.”
Whoa! Where did that come from? Surely, it was just one of those random thoughts that pass through our minds only to be discarded later. I was the last person to move to Southern California and begin a church. I had spent all my life in the South. I grew up two miles down a dirt road on a farm outside the suburbs of Millport, Alabama. (Just to clarify, Millport has no suburbs.) Certainly, my Southern roots would disqualify me from planting a church in SoCal. I was almost positive I could find plenty of other disqualifications.
Several days after the Irvine incident, our family returned home to North Carolina. Yet over the next two years, at various times, my thoughts returned to Irvine. In the fall of 2013, those sporadic thoughts turned into a growing burden. My wife Lauren and I spent the next six months prayerfully navigating a decision we knew would alter the course of our lives and the lives of many others.
As we struggled under the weight of such a heavy decision, my mind continued to list the reasons I was unable to accept such an endeavor. My excuses essentially centered upon personal inadequacies. Then God greatly used a familiar biblical account to teach me an eye-opening truth. As I read the story of Gideon, I came across the following passage: “And the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’ And he said to him, ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel?
Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.’”
One particular phrase grabbed my attention: But I will be with you…. “Wow! God never answered Gideon’s initial question of How can I? Instead, He completely redirected his attention from his human frailty and exposed him to a God who was both powerful and present. In that moment, God completely squashed my excuses. I was forced to realize that my ability to answer His calling had little to do with my ability and more to do with my trust in Him. He was not inviting me on this journey because I was the perfect candidate, but because He is the perfect God.
Fast-forward to 2016. Funding for a new church plant has been raised. Four families (counting ours) have made the cross-country move to Irvine. Countless new relationships have been built. A new church is being planted. All of this and more is being accomplished—not because of me—but because of one biblical promise: I will be with you.
About the writer: Stephen Kimbrell and his family are planting Grace City Church in Irvine, California. Learn more: www.fwbnam.com.