Before I had a family, I had a different car—a black Firebird with T-tops.
Sitting behind those eight cylinders, I could go from zero to too-fast in about five seconds (but, of course, I never did).
After Cathy and I had our first daughter, I decided I needed a family vehicle. Car seats don’t fit in Firebirds.
So I sold the car.
A few months later, I found a spare set of keys to the Firebird, and I thought: I need to get these to the new owner. Even though I could have kept the keys (as insignificant as it seemed), they really weren’t mine to keep. I had sold them, in a sense, when I sold the car.
Living for God is like finding a spare set of keys to a car you no longer own.
In fact, you have a whole lot of keys that aren’t yours.
For many people, the holidays draw up painful memories.
Sore spots from childhood or the loss of loved ones hit hard during this sentimental season. While many people celebrate the joys of Christmastime, others suffer lonely holidays.
During one of the most desperate times of King David’s life, the anointed future king of Israel found himself running from two separate enemies—hardly a time to celebrate. With the Philistines to the west and King Saul to the east, a distressed David sought refuge in the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1–2).
David felt very alone.
His situation offers encouragement to us during lonely holidays.
Because God can stop our pain, we think He should.
So we pray. And pray. But nothing happens.
That’s what occurred with Mary and Martha. They sent a message to Jesus that their brother Lazarus lay sick. But instead of immediately traveling to Bethany, Jesus stayed right where He was beyond the Jordan River. When He finally did arrive, Lazarus had been dead four days.
In other words, Jesus had taken His sweet time showing up.
From what happened next, I see several lessons to help us reconcile pain and prayer with God’s love.
Imagine with me you have a child—and only one.
The delivery had complications, but the child lived. So you name him Nathaniel—“given of God.”
While recovering at home, you begin the ritual every three hours of feeding little Nathaniel and rocking him while he screams through fits of colic. Without missing one feeding, or letting one diaper go unchanged, or any needs unmet, you never give up because you know your child would literally die without your care.
And as Nathaniel grows, you teach him to walk, change the soiled sheets, and work hard to buy new clothes he’ll outgrow. He starts to drive and you bite your nails until he comes home. Every new stage presents a new set of sacrifices, but you never give up because you love Nathaniel.
The day he drives off to college represents a milestone in your parenting, and you stand proud of what God has made of Nathaniel.
You have no idea that things are about to change.
I’ll never forget the day when one of my daughters learned to ride her bike without training wheels. (The “fall” was an appropriate season for this event.)
As she sped down a hill toward a huge ravine, I saw written all over her face the message: “I’m not in control!”
(Photo: Monkey Business Images, via Vivozoom)
As she raced by me, I reached out and lifted her off the bike—saving her from the ravine but causing her to fall. As the bike launched into the abyss, my rescued daughter hopped up hotter than a hornet!
“Why did you do that, Daddy?!” To answer, I simply pointed to the bottomless gorge I saved her from. But that didn’t matter. All she could see was that I caused her to fall.
Years later, I pondered how we can carry this same attitude into our relationship with God.
Anyone who has visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC has seen the etching engraved on the top of the steps.
The inscription marks the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” Standing on those steps, in the shadow of the great emancipator’s memory, gave greater force to the words Dr. King spoke that day.
The place of the message intensified the words.
I’m convinced that’s why Joshua gathered the young Hebrew nation to Shechem. The geographical context of his words played a significant role.
What he said that day still applies to us.
Everything was going so well.
A good job. Promising future. Nice place to live. Health in good shape. Peace among peers.
Then God got involved, and it all changed.
(Photo: David Gallaher, via Vivozoom)
Ever had that happen? Me too. So did Israel of old.
The Hebrews sought opulent furniture, the finest food, first-class entertainment, the best wine and perfumes. But they did not seek the Lord.
Sometimes God invades our comfortable lives. He has His reasons.
If Jesus told us He had a criticism for us, we’d pull out our checklist and start down it.
- “Should I go on a mission trip, Lord?”
- “Should I pray more?”
- “Maybe memorize the book of Romans?”
“You just name it, Lord, and I’ll do it!”
I have discovered that slips in our relationship with God never start with the big things. They begin with the basics.
We would never consider waffling in our morality or our theology.
And yet, how often we betray a more basic element.
Our guide pointed from the road to a rocky outcropping on one of the distant hills.
“This hike is definitely optional,” he warned. “But it’s worth it.”
A few of us brave souls followed, and for the first time in my life, I wished I had four legs.
Our guide scurried over the rocks like a lizard and stopped ahead, halfway up the hill, near the fissure in the rocks to which he had pointed. He turned and stood, arms crossed, one leg over the other, and waited for us. Finally I arrived.
“This is it,” he beamed.
When you don’t want sugar, but you do want sweet, what do you use? A substitute.
When you don’t want the menu item as is, what do you request? A substitute.
Who does the school district call when the teacher can’t make it? Who does the coach put in when the player can’t take it? The pharmacist uses what, when the drug costs too much?
In every case, a substitute.
By Steve Snodgrass (Flickr: Sugar Dish) CC-BY-2.0 http://creativecommons.org
Substitution remains a way of life for us. When something is required, and we won’t or can’t meet the demand, a substitute is our first choice.
- Some subs are good in dire straits, like an ambulance or a team’s pinch hitter.
- Some subs take the heat when we wouldn’t or couldn’t, like an actor’s stand-in or stunt double.
- Some fill a need where an absence has occurred, like a voter’s proxy or even a surrogate-dad.
In every case when something is required, and you and I can’t meet the demand, a substitute is our only option.
The fact is, every person has something required of him or her, but no one has met the demand.