When You Feel Powerless

Sea of Galilee boat shutterstock_483356410
A tour boat on the Sea of Galilee

We live in a culture of control.

Through technology, we have an amazing amount of control over information and access to all kinds of services. We are used to getting most anything we want (within reason) anytime we want: food on demand, entertainment on demand, online shopping, and much more.

But there are times when things don’t always work “on demand.”

In February 2019, Sarah and I were on the Sea of Galilee with our tour group, crossing from Capernaum to Kibbutz Ein Gev on the eastern shore where we always get “St. Peter’s Fish” with our groups.

Sarah had just finished praying with a woman who had been diagnosed with cancer. I walked over to her, and she looked puzzled.

“What am I doing with this?” she asked, holding up a black coat.

“That’s the coat you borrowed from your mom for our trip here to Israel.”

“Israel?? Where are we?”

My mind started racing. She wasn’t joking…

“What have I been doing?” Sarah asked.

“You just finished praying with Babette because she’s been diagnosed with cancer…”

“Babette has cancer?!” Sarah asked with genuine surprise and alarm.

Obviously, we had a very serious problem on our hands. I don’t recall when I have ever felt so powerless.

I prayed immediately, “Lord, have mercy on Sarah and on all of us.”

Then I remembered (that is, the Holy Spirit reminded me!) that about a year ago, a member of our congregation had told me about an unusual experience he had with a sudden-but-brief episode of memory loss. It’s called transient global amnesia.

I immediately called over our daughter, KJ, and her husband, Brett who were traveling with us. I asked KJ to look up transient global amnesia on the internet. “Dad, this fits what’s going on exactly!”

When we docked for lunch, our guide called a host couple that work with our travel agency’s tour groups. They drove 30 minutes to pick us up and took us to the main hospital in Tiberias, Galilee.

As we rode to the hospital, Sarah spoke with Bonnie (from the hospitality team), remembering more and more. I was so relieved, but knew we had to follow through on the assessment.

There’s much more to this story, but let me just say that, after five hours in the ER, the diagnosis was confirmed: transient global amnesia. She regained her full memory and has been fine ever since.

I am so grateful, but I will never forget how powerless I felt when Sarah’s episode began.

I thank the Lord our story has a happy ending. But we all know there are many stories that don’t end this way. And some of you are living one right now.

So how do we experience our living Lord’s power and care when we feel powerless?

The account of Jesus’ healing a desperate father’s son, when the disciples were powerless to do so, gives us a key insight (see Mark 9:14-29).

When Jesus arrived (following his transfiguration) the father pleaded with him, “If you can do anything…”

“’If you can?’” said Jesus, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Contrary to many interpreters, I think Jesus’ tone of voice was kind, not mocking. Gently encouraging, not sarcastic.

Biblical scholar Dr. Jim Edwards says Jesus’ response makes it very clear that “it is not a matter of divine unwillingness, nor a problem of divine inability, but human unbelief.”

In fact, the father’s profession, “I believe, help my unbelief,” was enough! The boy was healed instantly.

Faith is not a quantity that can be measured, nor a feeling we must produce. Faith is a quality of trusting. Faith is the trust we exercise when we intentionally nurture confidence in both God’s character and God’s grace shown in Jesus Christ.

When I felt absolutely powerless and cried out to the Lord, the Lord worked.

When we reach the end of our resources, we discover God’s unlimited love and power for those who believe.

 

It’s All So Fragile

2018_07 HWY 101 FIRE
Fire on CA HWY 101 from “big rig” truck accident

California’s population in 2017 was over 39 million—and I think they were all on the road last week! But this time it was more than the quantity of vehicles. It was a tragedy that, literally, stopped us all in our tracks.

We often take for granted how “powerful” we are as we cruise down any of life’s highways. But one mishap—small or great—reveals how powerless we really are. That’s what happened when we were driving to Northern California last week. We were just north of San Juan Bautista on CA HWY 101 when we saw smoke. We noticed no traffic heading south and knew there was trouble. Our progress slowed and then came to a complete stop. We watched helicopters dump water on the fire about a mile ahead. The smoke turned from black to white—like it was surrendering—then disappeared. But we were still stopped 20, then 30, then 45 minutes. All engines were turned off, and we sat in place. Many of us got out of our cars and were talking about the last time we were stuck like this. (It was our first time). Eventually we learned a “big rig” truck had crashed and caught fire. We were concerned for the truck driver, but never heard any news there. Finally, after two hours, we began to move.

Times like this remind me life is fragile. Traveling by any means is a delicate matter, easily disrupted by weather, mechanical problems, accidents and congestion. The networks of life are also fragile. Life’s support systems are fragile.

Traveling on mission trips has made me appreciate a hot shower, water available at the turn of a faucet, the ease of purchasing food and other “necessities,” and the relative safety and security of our country. But then I realize we’re truly vulnerable, wherever we are.

While we don’t want to be crippled by anxiety over everything that can go wrong, I find it helpful to cultivate three spiritual attitudes.

Awareness. Presumption numbs the soul. Awareness reminds us we are dependent on the Lord. James’ sobering exhortation makes the point: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-15 NIV). (I have these verses at the top of all my financial planning!)

Gratitude. I am aware life is fragile so I receive every moment with gratitude. I am thankful for the many blessings I do enjoy, even the midst of disruption, inconvenience and loss. I never tire of being reminded of Paul’s commands: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV).

Humility. Pride rises from the illusion of power and control. While God has given us much freedom and abilities to do many things when and where we want, ultimately, we depend on God’s grace and mercy.  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NIV).

While it’s easy to focus on how much goes wrong, it’s amazing to me that so much go right! God’s common grace and mercy keep us in more ways than we can ever imagine.

Live in the awareness that this fragile life, like an egg, is held in God’s sovereign, loving hands.