Yesterday God played “connect the dots” with me. He used a series of apparently random or loosely-connected ideas to form a whole – a picture of what He’s up to or what He wants to communicate. I’d like to share what I learned in the process. So here are the “dots”:
Tim Challies told an amazing story about a crash landing that took place at the Toronto airport in August 2005 during a horrific storm. The plane overshot the runway and came to a crashing halt.
Some fifteen to twenty seconds had elapsed from the time the aircraft left the runway. Amazingly, the fuselage was largely intact. But as the plane had crossed Convair Drive, fuel had begun to leak and had immediately caught fire. As the plane came to a halt the fire began to spread and to intensify.
Keep in mind that it had been 27 years since a similar incident had happened in Toronto.
For twenty-seven years the firefighters had trained to deal with a situation like this one. An entire generation of firefighters had come and gone without seeing a single incident. They could almost be excused for being under-prepared, slow to respond, slow to act.
They weren’t. By the time the tower controller activated the airport’s crash alarm, 26 seconds after the flight left the runway, the firefighters were already in route. They arrived only 52 seconds after the plain left the runway.
Despite twenty seven years without an incident, those firefighters were ready and they responded well in advance of the parameters dictated by safety regulations. In less than a minute they were on the scene and were assisting the passengers. It took less time for them to get to the crash site than it did for fully half of the passengers to leave it.
Fifty-two seconds! After not having an incident in 27 years. The key was training. They had disciplined, trained, and practiced so much that when the crash occurred, they were ready.
Rhett Burns and his friend Aaron were talking recently about the talking about the two extremes they bounce between – being overwhelmed, and being overwhelmed. I’d prefer to be just “whelmed,” Rhett said. But how?
Exercise, again. Discipline. Training. Rhett being until recently a Sports Information Director, the analogy I imagined was a football team, training and disciplining themselves in practice. The training prepares us for the “big one” (overwhelmed), and wakes us from the lethargy of the slumber (underwhelmed). Without fail, if I’m a slacker, I WILL get overwhelmed. The key to me is to find those disciplines and practices that leverage the most spiritual, mental, and emotional energy.
Reservoirs and Jars
In back-to-back stories in 2 Kings, two different people summoned the prophet Elisha. The first was the king of Israel, whose army was dehydrated and facing sure defeat. The second was the widow of a prophet, who was facing the loss of her sons to slavery to pay off her creditor. Elisha advised similar things. To the king of Israel, he said, “Make this valley full of ditches. You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water.” To the widow, he said, “Go ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”
How much water did the armies of Israel and Judah receive? As much as the ditches they dug would contain. How much oil did the widow supernaturally receive? As much as she had collected jars to hold. God has His part; we have ours. But God won’t fill what our faith hasn’t prepared.
A Prepared Horse
“The horse is prepared for the day of battle,” Proverbs says, “But victory belongs to the LORD.” (Proverbs 21:31). Another reminder to faithfully do our part, and trust God completely to do His. Our only responsibility is to see to it that the “horse” is prepared for the day of battle. Yes, that means being faithful to plan, to prepare, to execute. God takes care of the results.
In that regard, we can fall into two ditches. First, we can fail to prepare the “horse,” whatever the “horse” may represent. Through negligence, laziness, or trivial pursuit, it’s possible to arrive at the day of battle with an unprepared horse. The other mistake is to try to manipulate the results. By short-cutting the preparation of the horse, or by assuming that God’s job is yours, you take on a measure of stress that God never intended you to carry. The result? Unnecessary, deceptive feelings of failure or stress (overwhelmed). Or, perhaps worse, the appearance of results without real spiritual fruit (underwhelmed).
A Conversation With Jesus
Yesterday Michael Spencer shared a candid and poignant account of tension he has felt for years with prayer, and the nagging feeling that he never quite prayed enough. He shared how he was surprised recently, during a five-hour drive, by a simple, honest, two way conversation he had with Jesus. Friend-to-friend. Talking and listening.
I was going through a tremendous trial in my faith and life, so I started conversing with Jesus about some of the things that were happening. I started telling him how I felt. I wept a bit, which is not normal with me. I asked questions.
Jesus answered. What did he say? He said things that Jesus would say. In a voice in my mind that I can understand and in words and concepts that are clearly part of my world, Jesus told me that he loved me, that I could trust him, that he loves my wife more than I do, that he understands my fears, that he wasn’t angry at me for being angry with him, and so on.
Connecting the Dots
Coming out of a completely overwhelming season, I feel as though I didn’t bring out enough jars or dig enough reservoirs ahead of time. If I was the horse for the day of battle, I wasn’t really ready. I didn’t train well enough physically, spiritually, financially, or emotionally. Yes, by God’s amazing grace, I survived to see another day. But is survival really the goal? Isn’t LifeVesting supposed to reflect more than that?
So now what? What can I learn for the next time (and there will be a next time, sometime)?
Exercise. Train. Wake up from the lethargy, the slumber, the fatigue, and start training again. But how? Two themes emerge:
1. Train myself to believe God. How? “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Tim says, “The simple fact is that those who are discerning are those who prepare themselves by knowing and studying Scripture. They dedicate themselves to the simple disciplines of reading, prayer and sitting under biblical preaching at the local church.”
2. Take my communication with God to a simpler level. There is a place for the formal, the structured, the thought-out. There’s a place for the prayer lists, the journals, even the formal listening to God. But there is an equally significant place for The Conversation. Paul calls it “prayer without ceasing.” Michael refers to it as conversing with “the voice that knows and reveals the Father; the voice of accepted tenderness, hurricane-like love and endless patience.”
Yesterday, after some time in the Word, I went prayer walking – something that is always helpful to me to clear my head and express my heart.
“Lord, I want to dialogue with You like Michael did.”
“Okay,” He said.
“I want to talk to you like my friend Matt has been.”
“Okay. What do you want to talk about?”
“Exercise,” I said.
I realized that spiritually speaking, the dialogue WAS the exercise! Whether I call it praying without ceasing, listening prayer, or any other label, that kind of intimacy, rooted in the truth of the word of God, is the exercise that leads to godliness in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity (1 Timothy 4:7-12).
And so the preparation – the training – begins again.