The preacher closed the service yesterday with a brief second sermon. His words focused on the obligation and privilege of a congregation to participate in the church through giving, but he also reminded us that we don't know what the future holds, and there may be hard times, very hard times, ahead for our nation and the church. The way we spend our time, energy, and material goods in this present moment reflects our priorities, and this present moment is all we know we have. If we delay to do the good within our reach today, we have no assurance the opportunity will still be available tomorrow.
As he spoke, I reflected on the week just past, how I had expected a quiet week for recovering and catching up on things left undone in the bulging calendar of the prior month or so. Instead, a shingles outbreak, the first in 8 years, took the wind out of my sails for half the week and required half a day at the doctor and pharmacy (and gifted me half a day with my parents). Thursday, a beloved international Christian worker friend emailed that her family was evacuating their home in response to threats from a criminal organization active in their area. They returned home Friday afternoon, and all seems well now, but who could have predicted such a turn of events?
Mere hours after the worship service, my phone rang unexpectedly. My mother called to tell me my sister Mezzo had been in a serious car accident on her way home from church and an errand. My sister was banged up but fine, but the other vehicle had flipped, and emergency personnel were still at work extracting its occupants. By God's grace, all involved walked away from the scene, and the other driver acknowledged his fault. Nonetheless, that turn of events meant a week in a wrist splint, missed work and classes, and arranging alternate transportation for my sister and unexpected pain and labor for the other party as well. Who saw that coming?
Later in the afternoon, Allen and I watched a TED talk by a man who nearly died at the hands of gang candidates looking for their first kill on the streets of Manhattan. He told his story with gratitude to the surgeon whose skill saved his life and to "luck." Voice trembling, he teared up describing how he had to learn to live again on the other side of trauma he never anticipated.
Only this morning, an email arrived from another missionary friend to say that one of the most stable countries in the Middle East, one where Christian workers and institutions are better than generally tolerated, is now facing the threat of uprising by an extremist religious organization hostile to Christ and Christians. The dark side of democracy appears when the majority hates the gospel. This was not wholly unexpected, but still. . .
Who could have foreseen such turbulence?
God, "who is the blessed controller of all things" (1 Tim. 6:15, Phillips), could and did.
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.Today, poised as we are at the beginning of a new work week and a new month, my heart has been listening to the thoughts and events of the last several days. What would You have me learn from this, Lord? How should I apply these reminders to my plans today? Not in fear, I know. Enough with that already!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
...in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them (Ps. 139:1-4, 14b, NASB, emphasis mine).
In these reminders of the frangibility of our plans and expectations, I find encouragement toward these responses:
- Humility. Proverbs 16:9 says, "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps." James, the Lord's brother, admonishes, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.... Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that'" (James 4:13-15, NASB). Chronic illness has a way of teaching one to make plans in pencil, "if the Lord wills," but in reality that contingent quality of human plans holds true for us all.
- Trust. The Lord does direct our steps. He is intimately acquainted with all our ways. The "blessed and only Sovereign" is also our Papa, if we are in Christ through belief in His name. Solomon advised in Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Paul asserts in Romans 8:28 that the same God who is "for us" (v.31) and "did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" (v.32) "causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." The Christian's particular relationship to God through Christ allows him or her to face an uncertain future with trust and not fear.
- Prompt Obedience. Abraham "rose early in the morning" to obey God's summons to sacrifice his son, his only son, whom he loved (Gen. 22:3). The young shepherd David "ran quickly to the battle line to meet the Philistine" Goliath (1 Sam. 17:48). If there is some action required of me where God's will is clear--some sin to confess and forsake, some forgiveness to grant or receive, some word of encouragement or act of kindness to bestow, some unpleasant duty to perform, or even some precious time in God's Word and prayer which requires leaving some other task undone--let me obey today, without delay. Elisabeth Elliot, I think it was, used to say that delayed obedience is disobedience. If I know what God asks of me, let me attend to it without delay.
- Gratitude. Paul wrote to the Colossian church, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father" (Col. 3:17, NASB). He later wrote to Timothy of hope not in riches but in God, "who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy" (1 Tim. 6:17). Earlier in the same letter, Paul warned Timothy against those who "advocate abstaining [for religious reasons] from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim. 4:3-5, NASB).
Awareness of how temporary and unpredictable life is can deepen our gratitude for this present moment. To have known in early 2010 how suddenly and drastically life would soon change would have rendered duties like vacuuming, building muscles and bones with strength training, and carrying heavy groceries less irksome. Delights like curling up cross-legged in an overstuffed chair with a book would have been that much sweeter, though perhaps bittersweet, for the knowledge that they would soon vanish indefinitely.
a breather before the turbulence hit last week
thoughtful husband purchasing quiches from the fancy market for Bible study refreshments
his glee in completing and refining his Nerf dart blow gun (for work!)
women ministering to each other's needs at Bible study
one appointment open on the day I needed it
medicine to help symptoms
rash and swollen glands slowly mending
parents' transportation and company
freedom to slow even more than usual
back pain no worse for skipping a day or two of therapy regimen
safety of my friend's home and family
my sister kept safe from real harm in car accident
pleasures made sweeter by the context of a week's challenges
a butterfly undaunted by my camera lens mere inches away
new fence and gates for our back garden
completion of baby blanket for a friend's son
slow, steady, welcome rain
hoodie temperatures this morning
God's faithfulness through it all