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.

 

“Lord, you have a problem here…”

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I was talking with a friend who had experienced a remarkable healing from cancer. It was hard to distinguish between the effectiveness of medicine and the power of prayer, but my friend, Laura, gave God the glory. Then after a number of years the cancer returned.

“I’ve told everyone God healed me. Now what?” she asked through tears.

“So what are your prayers like now?” I asked.

She said, with a smile breaking through the tears, “I’ve been saying, ‘Lord, you have a problem here!’”

I never thought of a prayer like that. At first it seemed a bit presumptuous to me, as if God were obligated to help her for the sake of his own reputation. But her spirit was humble. She was trusting God, not testing God. So I continued exploring Scripture with her prayer in mind.

You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:2-3 NIV).

Laura was not being selfish. She truly wanted people to be encouraged to trust God because of her story.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:9-11 NLT).

Countless scriptures call us to pray based on God’s love for us as cherished children. God wants to be part of our lives and for us to be equipped for his work.

I began to realize I often limited my prayers to my own imagination. If I couldn’t see a practical, reasonable answer, then I wasn’t sure how to pray. Laura released her concern to the Lord, without any need to “filter” her request through questions like, “What’s really possible now?” or “Lord, how could you ever do this?”

I experienced a breakthrough in prayer when I realized I didn’t have the figure out the answer to my prayer. I could just lay the problem at the Lord’s feet—and let go. It wasn’t up to me to solve it. I learned to say, “Describe, don’t prescribe.” Don’t try to tell God how to make it happen.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV).

I hope you understand what I mean when I say I think God enjoys “showing off” sometimes. Not to build God’s ego—that’s ridiculous. But to delight us with the wonder of it all.

Think about God’s creativity

…with Abraham and Sarah giving birth to a child, Isaac, when they were far past child-bearing capabilities (Genesis 18);

…with Gideon doing battle with an army of 300 instead of 30,000 (Judges 7);

…with Elijah and the widow of Zerephath experiencing the miracle of God providing flour and oil for months during a time of famine (1 Kings 17).

Then there is the experience of King Jehoshaphat facing the invasion of three armies coming against Judah. He prayed, O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12). The next morning, they gathered with the choir ahead of the army and began to worship.

22 And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. 23 For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another (2 Chronicles 20:22-23 ESV).

My faith grows when I see God work in ways I could never imagine. I love it when I look around and say, “Wow! I never saw that coming!”

If I could figure it out, I wouldn’t depend on God.

Don’t prescribe, just describe. And watch our creative God work!