Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Christmas Memories # 20
A few years back, our extended family was going through a crisis of sorts. The weather that Christmas break was unseasonably pleasant, with moderate temperatures, sunny skies, and an occasional slight breeze. For Christmas that year, I asked Phil and David if I could have the present of an hour just to myself on Christmas day. I wanted to go to the Oasis, a nearby Christian retreat area that had hiking trails, a pond, and some prayer decks because I really felt the need to get my spiritual act together - turmoil and I don't do well together. Looking back, I'm sure that as uptight as I was that holiday, Phil and David were only too happy to give me some time alone and as I recall they both told me not to hurry but to take all the time I wanted. :)
I still remember going to the Oasis on Christmas day, following the trail to my favorite prayer deck and then just sitting there, reading and praying until I was calm and had a deep inner joy - a real awareness of the fact that we weren't going it alone. Later that evening, we got more bad news - a friend was in harm's way but there was no clear-cut way to help that person. It was like watching a train derailment from afar.
For three mornings, I begged God for wisdom, for help, and for Him to intervene in my friend's situation. At the end of that first agonizing prayer time, I felt that He was telling me to trust Him, that He would take care of it. I left with a measure of peace but before the day was over, I found myself thinking, "But what if that assurance is not really from Him? What if I just think that is what He's telling me because that is what I want to hear?" At the time, I felt my friend's life could very well end up hanging in the balance and I was afraid that if I did nothing, that might tip the scales in the wrong direction.
So I went back the next day, again full of anxiety, again begging God to do something. At the end of that prayer time, He left me with the same message and Scripture to confirm it - that I was to trust Him; He would take care of it.
By the end of that day, however, I was once more second-guessing what I thought He had impressed upon me and the next morning I set out once again with some anxiety. I hiked the trails until I came to my "place" where I lay flat out on the wooden platform, crying out to God to help my friend and to make His will clear, reminding Him what was at stake (as if He didn't know!)
For the third time, He impressed on my heart that I was to trust Him and He would take care of the situation. For the third time He gave me Scripture to confirm this and for the third time, He gave me peace. Only this time, there was a finality about the peace, a sense of Him saying, "We're done chasing this rabbit; I've told you that I will take care of it and I will. Now get up from here, go forward in faith and trust My word."
Never again, in the ensuing months of this crisis, did I ever have that crushing sense of anxiety. He had taken it from me. And although it would be six more months before we could see how the Lord kept His word, the bottom line is that He did keep it and the danger to my friend was eventually removed.
About the time I started out on that faith journey, our preacher shared something from Charles Spurgeon's writings; basically that God's promises should be treated like personal checks. Spurgeon was saying that if we have a definite promise from God (and we're absolutely sure it's meant for us), then we should take it to God each day, expecting Him to cash it. Our pastor said that too many times, we take God's promises to Heaven's "bank", lay the "personal" check down on the bank teller's window, so to speak, and then grab it right back - something we would never do with a real check here on earth. By doing that, the Christian is saying, "God, here is the promise You gave me. I'm laying it before You and asking You to cash it today if this is the right day." And then, before more than a few seconds have gone by, our tune has changed to "Okay, God. Time's up. I knew You weren't going to make good on this promise. But that's okay. It's all good..." And we quit living by faith.
For several months, our family presented the "check" God had given us to Heaven's Bank each morning, expecting that if this was the right day, He would cash it. Later, we found out that He had taken care of the situation in a way we could never have envisioned and so we learned that He keeps His promises today just as He has throughout the centuries.
The biggest promise He has ever kept was 2,000 years in the coming. In Genesis 3, God says that He will send the seed of a woman to crush Satan's head. Later the prophets would be more specific and foretell the coming of the Messiah who would save man from his sins.
And that is the promise kept that we celebrate at Christmas time. And that is the hope that we sing about in churches all around the world more than 2,000 years after the birth of Christ: that God has not forgotten us and He keeps His promises, large and small.
* Note: at the time of this event, the Oasis Retreat was open to religious organizations and/or individuals who just wanted to get away for a bit, pretty much open to the public. For the past several years, it has been closed to the public and is privately owned. I still miss going out there but am glad it was once available for picnics, hiking, and such. Lots of good memories.