Paul M. Willbanks
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
I was baptized as an infant in a Lutheran Church and remember always attending church with my family. At age 15, after three years of study and testing, I was confirmed and received my first communion. I remember wanting to feel the presence of God and was disappointed that nothing “lit up” for me that day. College in the early 1970s offered many interests and temptations outside of the church. Between weekend travel with the sailing club to compete at other colleges and sleeping off the effects of late night parties, church was forgotten. It took me five years to earn an accounting degree and, soon after, I became engaged.
We returned to the church, knowing that a church home was an important part of a family. Although we became involved with the youth ministry, my relationship with the Lord did not grow during this period. We moved into our first house and began having children. I also passed the national exam for Certified Public Accountant. We had more children and began attending a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. At an annual Missions Conference, my love for missions was born.
I had lost my company, my marriage was on the rocks, and my financial future was discouraging. How was God working for the good in my life now?
We now lived on a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay with a pool, boat dock, and enough land for my wife and daughters to keep horses. My four children all graduated from a private Christian school. Surely, I believed, God was working for good in my life. I didn’t realize at the time, but my job was taking a toll on my life and marriage. The company had grown fourfold and now served parts of five states and Washington, DC. A merger almost doubled the company’s size, and I served as the lead financial person on the merger team.
Then everything changed. My wife decided she no longer loved me and asked for a divorce. At the encouragement of our Pastor, we began years of Christian counseling. The stress bled into my job. I was not able to keep up with the demands on a CFO of a company with 300 employees, and in the fall of 2002, my partners asked me to step down. A few months later, I found a new job at a much lower salary, putting even more stress on me and my family.
The watershed moment occurred late one Saturday night. I was traveling north and stopped at a motel to get some sleep. I sat alone in the motel room contemplating my life. I had lost my company, my marriage was on the rocks, and my financial future was discouraging. How was God working for the good in my life now? I got down on my knees and cried out to God. Then I just cried. Suddenly I felt a warmth and a sense of complete peace come over me. I knew without a doubt that God loved me and was lifting this burden from my soul. More importantly, He was asking me to trust Him with my life. This was something I had not done up to this point, as I was always making the decisions. I left that hotel a changed man, confident that God was going to make everything all right. But God’s plan was not exactly what I envisioned.
Later that summer, my wife formally sued for divorce by serving papers at my place of business. The bank where I worked as auditor did not appreciate this public action against a high-security employee and soon let me go. But, this time I was not discouraged. I was engaged in daily Bible study and prayer. I was talking to God and learning to trust in His word. I began using my vacation time to volunteer at a Christian music festival and go on short term service trips to Africa and Mexico.
By the summer of 2006, I was again looking for full time work. I asked God to show me a way to use my skills in Christian ministry. At first it seemed that the answer would be, “no.” I had a job offer for a regional Controller with a short time for acceptance. At twice the salary, it was certainly an answer to prayer; but it was not the answer to my prayer. Then, an afternoon internet search turned up a Director of Finance position at a Christian school in Delaware. It paid much less than the Controller job, but I accepted the offer at the Christian school. My time at the school deepened my walk with the Lord. Where else could I praise and worship God while working on the job!
In December 2006, my divorce was finalized, bringing closure to a long and painful period of my life. But at the same time, I was beginning a joyous new journey. Not only was I working in Christian ministry, I had also been introduced to a beautiful Christian woman. We were married in March, 2008 and began our marriage reading the Bible together daily, a practice we continue today. My wife has joined me on two mission service trips and working at a Christian music festival. I have learned her love for art and birds. We agreed early to put God first in our individual lives as the foundation for our married life and daily ask God to lead us together in ministry to Him.
Although my job at the school has ended, God finds new and exciting ways to use me. He has provided a job closer to home, giving me more time to serve my church as Missions Elder. My dedication to prayer has helped form a weekly men’s prayer team. Keeping God first in my life forms the central guiding light of my marriage and helps me appreciate my wife more each day. I also love God more each day, and my prayer is to be called according to His purpose. Jesus died for my sin and makes it possible for me to praise, love, and trust God.
That is why I Love Jesus.
More Faith Stories
I’d been drinking all day long and pulled out into the path of an oncoming vehicle with a with a woman and all of her children packed into this car. They T-boned me and at that moment everything went blank.
One Sunday the music director said the handbell choir needed more members. I thought, “No, I wasn’t ready to get involved.” At the end of the service I found myself volunteering for bell choir!
One Sunday afternoon I was sitting drunk in a bar, and I’m looking around. The only ones in the bar were the bartender, some shady looking guy in the corner, my ex-boyfriend’s mom, and me. I heard this voice in my head say, “What am I doing here?”
This past year I found a black dot on my thumbnail that looked like a pencil point. Nothing much to it. Then it became an abrasion at the end of my nail. My doctor referred me to an orthopedic surgeon who found it to be malignant skin cancer.
At that point I said, “I can’t do this myself. It’s in your hands, God.” That part I remember clearly. It turns out that it was really, really was up to Him (and a good surgeon).
So when drugs and alcohol came around, it was easy for me to say “yes,” because I didn’t have anything in me saying “no” anymore. As I got more involved with drugs, I got into more crime. I started committing violent crimes, selling drugs, abusing drugs ended up back up in prison.