As some of you know who follow this blog, I served most of my ministry as a lay pastor (as in didn’t get paid). But far from being a problem, the lay pastor situation gave me opportunity to serve as an associate at a small Brazilian church for 14 years, and a volunteer chaplain at a large nursing home. Some days, it was like the Clark Kent/Superman scenario, where I rushed home to shower and change clothes, then hurried out to hold the Wednesday afternoon services at Allied Skilled Nursing. I loved serving both at church and nursing home, but it was at my secular job, that God taught me the best lessons. So, let’s rewind 30 years to a day when I was mowing lawns. My home state Connecticut could be named after a Native American word meaning, “Land full of rocks!” Practically every lawn we mowed had at least one large granite boulder to mow around. One very nice property in particular, was blessed with an abundance of enough stones to build one of our famous New England stone walls. My friend Noel, who just started working with us, was not familiar with our properties and so he accidently grazed over one unseen stony protrusion after another. Finally, He stopped, said a few choice words and stated, “You guys have the worst lawns I have ever seen!”
“Come on Noel.” I said trying to keep a calm tone. “These are the ones Jesus gave us.”
“Well then, Jesus must not like you very much!” Noel retorted, then restarted his machine and began mowing the back half of the property.
Now, I know Noel’s opinion isn’t proper theologically, but I have often felt a lot like him! Some days it feels like other folks have nice easy lawns to mow. They don’t have rocks to mow around or hidden outcroppings lurking just beneath the tops of the long grass. Sure, I know that Jesus Loves Me Because the Bible Tells Me So, but there are some days I wonder how much He likes me! The answer I have discovered after whacking a number of rocks in my 71 years, is that God allows rocks to mow around because He does care. He loves us so much that He has given us the chance to go back time and again to difficult people, hard places and sticky situations until we remember where the rocks are. Then we can give Him thanks, in every situation as we learn to mow around them!
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?…….But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me. Psalm 13:1-2a; 5-6 NLT
One night back in the 80’s when I was still going to college; I found myself racing against the clock to make it in time for mid-terms in my American Literature class. Between the rush hour traffic and an unexpected freight train that closed off Main street for an extra 5-6 minutes I ended up being the last one to enter the room. The tests were stacked on Mrs. Sullivan’s desk and she smiled as I snatched one off the top and hurried to my seat. As soon as I put my name on the top of the page and started the first answer I realized that I was in trouble. The question was about a poem that I had never read and the name of the author only seemed vaguely familiar. So I skipped to the second question, but things only got worse. I had no idea what school of poets this guy was from and the material on the next question was even more obscure. Then in glancing further down I recognized the name of one of the better known English poets and I relaxed. I hurried back to the front grinning from ear to ear.
Mrs. Sullivan!” I whispered excitedly. “This is the wrong exam!” She looked at the paper in my hand and then laughed, “Oh- so sorry Pete. That’s for my next class!” After finding my seat again I breathed a sigh of relief and plunged in finding that I really did know most of these answers – now that I had the right test!
In one of my low moments recently I came to Psalm 13, and it hit me that my current discouragement was a lot like my old test and what David went through in the first verses . The problem was that we were both taking the wrong test. We had picked up the exam sheet that only God had the answers for and what we needed to do was to make our way to the front and exchange tests with our Teacher. We each have a part to play and ours begins with trust – not understanding. Then, when we begin to trust; we will discover that God begins to miraculously reveal His unfailing love.
The second stop on our spiritual exam tour is rejoicing: In fact, Jesus commanded us to rejoice in all kinds of strange circumstances, like when we are being persecuted and slandered. Hmmm so then I don’ t need to find an escape; I just need to celebrate. That’s when God comes to our rescue and sometimes that looks like what He did for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We still go into the furnace but the fire only burns off what is tying us down.
Last of all, David shows us that singing; not griping about what is wrong is the answer we need right now. Remember how Paul and Silas started singing in the jail cell? Then God showed up and He will show up again today in ways that turn our worst tests into something better than we could ever imagine.
David found the answers that he needed when He stopped trying to take God’s test and exchanged it for his own. Maybe if tonight we learn a little better how to trust, how to rejoice and how to sing praise, we will find joy as God shows us His unfailing loving, His way of rescue and His transforming of our failure into all things for our good!