The Road Ahead…
As we look at this new year, there’s often a sense of possibility. We look at the headlines and hope that they’ll improve, we look at potential changes at work, relationships, health, and finances. We look for the positive changes that can happen with a little good fortune and extra human oomph. But we also have to admit that starting a new year can also cast our minds back to the challenges of the past year. Starting a new year can give us bright dreams for the future, but it can also remind us of the pain of the past.
I was amazed and intrigued by a news article I read one time that told the story of a young man who had a painful experience. He had been enjoying the sun and water at Huntington Beach California with his family when a large object thudded into his back as a wave washed over him. He struggled back to the beach, washed the sand and blood from his back and then heard others saying that they had seen some gray fins circling near the spot where he had been wading. Had he collided with a shark?
The prospect of a shark attack was unnerving, but he was shocked even more a few days later when he visited the doctor for a checkup. After telling him that his chest pain was due to heart inflammation after the impact, the physician said that the scan revealed something much more worrisome. There was a large mass on his kidney. Finney went into surgery a few days later and the surgeon found a small malignant tumor. As painful as that shark attack had been, it had probably saved his life since the doctors wouldn’t have found this tumor until many months later when it had reached advanced status. By then, it would have been too late to save Eugene’s life (Kaplan).
Romans 8:28 says, “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.”
It’s amazing how some of life’s tough seasons can actually work out for our benefit in the end. And God has the reins of our future firmly in his grasp. As we face the challenges and opportunities of 2019, let’s remember that God has a glorious plan in store for each of our lives and for us as a community. Although the route takes twists and turns, we can be confident that He holds the future.
Kaplan, Sarah. “A Shark Attack Saved My Life.” Morning Mix, The Washington Post, October 9, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/10/09/a-shark-attack-saved-my-life/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.fe05492dec91
I still remember the chuckles echoing around the large room as each participant shuffled, felt, and stumbled through the elaborate obstacle course. We were all taking part in a leadership summit at the summer camp for youth ministry. The instructor for the course we were taking had kept the lectures fairly routine up to this point, but now the course was taking a whole new turn. He had divided our group into two sections—half of us were told to wait outside and half of us stayed in the room. While the others were “exiled,” we were told to organize an obstacle course in the large room using chairs, plants, pillows, tables, and other objects. After a great deal of rearranging, the others were finally let into the room, but to our surprise they were blindfolded. “Now, the leader announced, your job is to guide them through the obstacle course using nothing but words.” Needless to say, our verbal communication was taken to a whole new level as we urgently talked our sightless teammates through the maze of objects. Even though the exercise gave us plenty of laughs, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic for those who had to navigate the puzzle with nothing to guide them, but our hurried speech. Adventuring with the help of others is a blessing, but in this case, it also involved a great deal of suspense. But the experience did give us a vivid illustration of trust. Trust is one of those feelings that can’t be proven true very well unless it has been tested. And this instance trusting our guides while walking in darkness is an apt illustration of the kind of trust Jesus was talking about when He said to His disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Don’t worry about having all the answers. If you trust in me, I’ll give you just what you need to know at each step of the way. I’m the way you must take to connect with the Father.” Life can often feel like walking blind through an obstacle course. During the especially suspenseful times, it can feel like hurling yourself back into a blind trust fall. But as we take each shaky step, often with difficulty and plenty of mistakes along the way, we can rest assured that Jesus is walking beside us.
I could see the intensity of enthusiasm in the whites of his eyes as he stared at the picture. This man wasn’t just staring at the painting for sheer enjoyment—he was working to restore one of the faces in the huge mural. But he was so enthralled by the job that it looked like he was in bliss. The raw intensity of his gaze almost made my heart skip a beat. But another reason for his zestful enthusiasm was that this painting had been lost to human eyes for about 200 years. In fact, the painting had just been found this last year behind a wall at an insurance broker office in Paris. For 20 decades this masterpiece had sat neglected and hidden behind this ordinary-looking wall until the construction workers, who were renovating the building, discovered the false wall that hid the artwork after they had removed the fiberboard covering the ceiling of the room. What had been a routine day of hammering had turned into a remarkable treasure hunt that opened more insight into the reign of Louis XIV. Treasures can pop up in the most unlikely places. The Bible tells of many treasures all around us that are just waiting to be admired and cherished. Psalm 139:14 points this out when it says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” But perhaps one of the greatest treasures is the beauty of a heart that has been changed for Jesus. Knowing Jesus changes so much about life. Such a friendship restores our sense of purpose and value. It gives us peace, endurance, empathy, and love for others. We catch a glimpse of the grand scheme of this earth’s history and how our little stories, tenderly cherished by our Loving Creator, connect with the overriding plan that God has for us as a community. Ephesians 2:6-9: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The bronze hands stand stolidly on my table next to my usual seat by the window. Whenever I see those wrinkled bronze fingers extended, touching each other in a posture of prayer, I think about supplication. With the sun gently shining on it, they look like a prayer set in stone. Prayer is such a living, dynamic thing though that no statue can truly capture what it’s like. Just as you can’t really distill an hour-long conversation into just one word, picturing prayer with just one image doesn’t do it justice. Prayer takes in so many situations, opportunities, hopes, challenges, fears, requests, praises, thanksgivings, desires. But at the heart of it all is spending time with our Loving Savior. Quality time isn’t always a breeze. Sometimes coming to God in prayer means agonizing over barriers and troubles in our way. But we can have confidence in the One who’s listening. The Psalms testify about how God listens attentively to all our stories, pleas, frustrations, hopes, dreams, and confessions. Psalm 9:9-10 puts it this way: “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” As we begin a new week near the beginning of a new year, let’s remember that God always has an attentive, listening ear trained on every prayer we speak. He is our Gracious, Loving Confidant!