Not to steal the thunder from the mothers of the world or from my little sister who turns 20 today (Happy Birthday Jessica!), but today is also the day I was baptized. Eleven years ago in a small church in Lincoln City, I stood in swim trunks and a t-shirt in front of some 40 or 50 people (15-20 regulars, the rest visitors) on Mother’s Day dedicating my life to following the Lord. Last year I wrote a post reflecting over the ten years I had been a Christian and in that post, I mentioned how it felt longer. This year, I’ve been wondering why that is.
Believing and trusting in God has had an odd affect on how I think of the fourteen years prior to my baptism. Having grown closer and closer to the Lord over the past eleven years, it is difficult to remember those earlier years without seeing God in the picture. It’s like watching a highlight reel of all the significant moments of my life and finally noticing the Figure in the background, watching over the characters in the foreground. Instead of seeing a fourteen year-old kid sitting alone in his room with a pair of scissors pointing toward his chest, I see the strong, but gentle Hand gripping his wrist and pulling it away until he dropped the scissors.
Simply because I have acknowledged God’s presence for eleven years doesn’t mean He’s noticed me for only eleven years also. He was there all along waiting – waiting for the right moment when He knew I’d be listening, when He knew I’d be paying the most attention. God waited fourteen years just to have these last eleven with me. And He would have waited longer in order to have a shorter time. That is the kind of God He is.
Seeing God in all the horrible moments of my past, in a weird way, gives me courage. Sure, it beckons the question of why He was there during my worst moments, but did nothing to prevent them, but it also tells me He’ll be there when I experience even worse things. And perhaps if I think of those moments long enough, if I freeze the highlight reel and simply notice everything going on at the time, maybe I’ll see how He was doing something – how He was preventing even worse things from happening. Maybe I’ll see and recognize those moments, as Sheldon Vanauken describes them, of “severe mercy.”
Our ever present, ever patient God never stops waiting. Even after we’ve dedicated our lives to following Him and living out His ways, we get busy. We take up jobs and causes or we marry and raise families or all of the above and all our free time is spent on our to-do lists and projects. In these seasons God is often pushed to the back burners, often told – whether we realize it or not – to wait a little longer. But then bills start piling up or a loved one gets hurt and hospitalized. Soon after that some other bad thing happens and we start to worry how we’ll make it through. We become so fixated on what’s happening now that we forget what happened back then and we certainly don’t see how things will happen down the road.
In the past couple of weeks, I have felt that worry. As some may know, I am hoping to attend seminary in the fall of this year and what I’ve been wondering about lately is how much I’ll owe in student loans. And then I think of car expenses and medical expenses and credit card debt and I begin to feel suffocated by worry. Such a time is critical to remember God’s presence in past moments. If He was there that night when I wanted to end my own life, what reason do I have to believe that He would not be there to help me find a way to pay back the money I owe? Why do I have this unspoken belief that I’m alone in this?
God is waiting, even now, for us to turn to Him for help, for guidance, for peace. He doesn’t want to remove our problems and trials; He wants us to hold His hand as He walks us through them – as He helps us overcome them. Believing and trusting that He’ll appear in tomorrow’s highlight reels is tough. Seeing Him again and again in yesterday’s highlight reels, even before I was consciously aware of His presence, makes it a whole lot easier.
Worry, fear, and distrust are all natural emotions. When it comes to trusting God, we feel these emotions all the time because we’re learning how to let go of the control we think we have. We’re learning to wait on God instead of making Him wait on us. Our nature is changing.
This morning Scott shared a message out of John 2 focusing on the wedding at Cana. He told us a couple important pieces of information that aren’t really spelled out in the text. He said that wedding celebrations would often last a week or so, which meant that all the supplies (food and especially wine) would have to last that long. So when Jesus’ mom tells Him that the wedding’s run out, it’s safe to say she was a little concerned for the families involved; they would have both been embarrassed.
Of course we all know what happens next, Jesus turns a bunch of water into wine and saves the party. But, as Scott pointed out this morning, notice what Jesus says to His mom, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?… My time has not yet come,” (2:4). In other words, Jesus is reminding His mother who He really is and that His public ministry was not ready to begin. So when she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” she’s actually acknowledging that Jesus is going to help in His own way. He’s not going to buy more wine; He’s just going to make it.
In the midst of Mary’s concern (and presumably the concern of all those who knew the wine had run out), Jesus makes a lot more and makes it better. He responds to worry with celebration. We’re constantly trying to do things our own way and create our own realities as if we were J. Gatsby, but the real celebration – the one that comes free of worry or anxiety – is the one where God takes control. While we’re trying to create bread crumbs, He’s waiting with baskets full of bread loaves.
In 25 years of living, I have known God. It took 14 of those years to notice Him, but looking back I now know he was there all along. Now the trick is to remember He’s still there when things get crazy, when the wine runs out.
May we never forget God’s everlasting presence.