Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rock of Ages

“… cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee,” by Augustus Toplady. This is a line of deep strength in a hymn I love dearly.

My morning devotions yesterday got only about halfway done before picture sorting from my Africa trip took over. As I resume this page in Tabletalk today, a string of events from the past week are now coming into alignment spiritually in my reflecting mind.

First, there was the tree I told you about me climbing on site in Dar es Salaam. I was eager to climb it. I knew I had the ability to as well. I was frustrated because I was failing where I knew I was able to succeed. I told God about my desire to climb the tree. I told Him with a heart that was confident and resting in knowledge that His will (which is so much broader in scope) is best, and that he knows my desire already (even better than I). I said, “I want to climb this tree, it’d be great if you would make that happen,” and attempted climb #3, the successful climb, with confidence in an unchanging God.

Later in the week, we were on our way home from a local Swahili church. Our bus had made its way down a very narrow (shops on each side of a car-width lane) and bumpy dirt road for about a kilometer before we reached the church. We were all amazed at the driver’s ability to navigate. I have no idea how or where the driver managed to get the bus facing the opposite direction for when we exited church and got onto the vehicle, but he did. We encountered an additional obstacle on the way home though, a car was parked alongside a shop at a curve in the road, inhibiting our ability to round this bend. Our bus was pinned, trapped. As people began gathering around the bus, chatting with the driver, and all giving thoughts and ideas for a hard to imagine escape, our driver got out and began to inspect the side of the bus near the rear. Apparently, with all the maneuvering we had got a tree pressed up firmly onto the side window and another’s trunk was blocking the back upper corner of the bus. It was entertaining to watch the ordeal from inside the bus as the local men chat back and forth, and the American men inside the bus suggest things to one another about picking up the car, etc. (haha) But then, I realize something (or some-power we have), and spoke out loud. “God, please move the tree,” I said. Following my bold little prayer with a defense to the person next to me, “I don’t care if he literally moves the tree (miracle) or if it just seems like it moved, as long as it gets us free.” The idea that sometimes God uses science to dispense his will, and other times he breaks it for his will (miracle). Another teammate replied, “Yeah, God can move mountains, so a tree he can as well.” Certainly. A funny thing happened, the next lurch of the bus set us free from both trees and we continued along our way on the narrow dirt road.

Tonight, I went for a walk around the area of my residence at L’Abri in Holland. The sun sets very early this far north of the equator, around 5pm at the moment, though gloomy and dim most of the day anyway. So when I set out at 4:30, I knew my time with light would be short. After requesting recommended routes from a Dutch L’Abri student, I embarked on a small twenty-minute loop around the apple orchard and through the heart of Eck en Weil (a quaint Dutch village in the country). One hour ten minutes later I returned to L’Abri.

It was an adventure that got me lost beyond belief. I was exhausted. I had been distracted viewing the extraordinary diversity of housing and residential landscaping in Eck en Wiel. I really should go back and take photos of them for study later. Anyway, this fascination, and my semi-conscious delight in finding my own way in foreign towns led me to take the wrong turn. I was nervous that I missed the original turn (apparently I did) and thought I would make up for it (not probable in the Dutch countryside) with the next right turn and thus make my way back around as long as I kept taking the right. But one of my turns ended up leading more straight than right after a bit, so I could feel myself wandering on foot farther away from the intended direction (at this point I still had my sense of direction, though it quickly vanished with the next turn). I made the very next right just as the night was getting very near, even though it was through a residence area. It was hard to see into the distance anymore. I was looking for the apple orchard the was on this side of L’Abri… but there were so many more apple orchards that I had realized since I had only arrived after nightfall earlier this week! I reached a road that I anticipated would be the “main road” I had taken into Eck en Weil at the start of my travels, but instead I was shocked to find it was a dinky country road, and had to press on ahead to what “must” be the road up ahead (I saw cars lights pass by on occasion). I had already tried running, but the temperature was 5 Celsius, so my leg muscle was still very tight and uncooperative from my injury this summer. I pressed on to reach the road, uncertain really which way to go, but made a right again to be consistent, figuring if it was incorrect I would at least end up back at Eck en Weil and could retrace my earlier steps from there. Still lost moments later as I reach the main road (though this part doesn’t look familiar), I see a truck driver hop out of his vehicle near a loading dock, so I head his direction to venture the trouble of communicating English to Dutch-only speakers for directions to a place I don't even have an address for! He hopped back in and was off down the road before I reached him.

I followed after a man I saw just inside the door of the truck building. I knocked and he came over to allow me to make my request, I apologized for only speaking English. He left me and shortly later two other men showed up. I asked the first for directions to L’Abri, for I was very lost. He pointed right and directed me down there a ways until I would reach a bridge. I was confused when the second guy chimed in asking me something in Dutch. I apologized again for only English. He said in a choppy voice, “Where, do you want, to go?” After sharing my request again, he responds, “Oh, LA-BRI” and points the OPPOSITE direction and tells me to go 1.5 kilometers that way.

“Oh dear God! Help me to be going the right direction,” I prayed quickly as I walked. At this point it was very very dark, though not pitch black, and I was on a “main road” – though little room for walking on it. I was teary, and started down the ‘woe-is-me’ path, then I remembered my two tree prayers within the last week. I remembered my full confidence in His will and knowledge. And most of all, I remember His answers.

As I walked, I added an equally important prayer, “God, may I recognize L’Abri when I get there.” For I had only ever been to the entrance when I arrived the other night in pitch black and thick fog… then again, I would be arriving at dark again, but that didn't bring me any comfort since I saw nothing as I travelled with an associate at this point. There were a few more moments of tears along the way, but they cleared when I thought about how God had answered my prayers before, and spoke clarity into my mind about my situation and confidence in Him.

As I travelled along the way of the truck man’s recommendation, a young woman on a bike grunted some kind of Dutch greeting to me as she passed. I spoke loud enough her direction rather quickly as she passed, “Excuse me, do you know the way to L’Abri?” And she continued to pass without a glance. Just then, I reached a fork in the road, and she went left. I cried. Which way do I go? It was so dark, that I hadn’t even seen the signs in the fork of the road ahead until reaching it (there are no street lights or nearby lights in the country here). I prayed again, “May I get there,” and walked straight ahead. A few moments later I look at my watch, and it is 5:40, well past the time I told others to come searching for me if I wasn’t back by then… but I didn’t receive any confirmation they would. To the contrary actually. A second later, I heard a duck quack and then flap against some water. I looked toward the sound on my left, and could barely make it out in the dark, but on a light background I read in black hand painted letters “L’ABRI.” Hallelujah!

I am reminded from the words of my Tabletalk devotional that, “He delights to hear us confess our reliance on His mighty hand.” Maybe this is a lesson that most of you understand already, but for me it is quite what I need to hear. I take strength in God’s sovereignty, in His consistency, in Him, the ROCK of ages. I desire to be formed around him, in him, by him. Too often I fail to pray requests, because I don’t know how to keep the balance of confidence in his movement and requesting his movement. How to have this properly balanced to avoid expectations that will disappoint and confuse faith.

Of course I know to pray the character of God, to pray what I know from the word about him, but when I get lazy and read less of his word, that ability fades fast. Requests to God are few in my prayers, they are hard to make, for I fear disappointment. As I’ve see God respond to these three prayers with a “yes” answer, I am reminded that as little as these things were and as simple as the requests were made, that God does answer YES at times. Just how impacting this is to me has lead me to a fuller realization of how embittered I have become to his answers. With so many requests being returned “no” over the last four years, I have forgotten how eager he is to give us what we ask for.

Maybe I had been resisting his will (like Jonah) so I was receiving consequences. Maybe I was running from his call (like Jonah to missions or from moving/to Florida). I do not know for certain and I’m not sure how much energy I should put into figuring out the past but I think not much, rather to focus on the present. I am excited to hear God answering yes to my little prayers and am encouraged to bring my requests before him with more confidence in getting a “yes” at times.

“Certainly God often intervenes on our behalf /when we fail to ask for His assistance, but that does not mean we should /believe that we need not go before Him in prayer to ask for His help.” ~Tabletalk November 16, 2010

TREE: Climbing an existing tree on the edge of our site.

BUS: Tree hampering our drive back from church in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

L'ABRI: Small moat-type area photographed from the house-side (road in background).  I heard a duck carrying-on there at a critical moment in my journey.

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