A Mighty Hand and an Outstretched Arm

There are certain moments in everyone’s life that are – whether for good or evil – forever stamped into the deepest recesses of the soul. Whether it’s the highly-anticipated birth of a child, the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one, or the radiant look on your spouse’s face when he or she solemnly said the words “I do,” everyone has those defining moments of keenly-accentuated joy (or sorrow) that are seared so deeply into memory that we all just know, without doubt, that those events will surely attend our thoughts in the waning seconds of earthly life.

For whatever this is worth, it is my sincere hope and prayer that the absolutely-unbelievable events of one 24-hour period this past week (Dec. 2 and 3, to be specific) will remain within me at all times as a living testament to God’s faithfulness, both in my life and in the lives of several family members.

Thank You, Lord, for Your steadfast love. Thank You, Heavenly Father, for Your powerfully demonstrated faithfulness to Your people. Your servant Paul said it best, Lord, quoting both Isaiah and Job: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?’ For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36, NIV)

In the Old Testament, the chosen people of God – the Jews – were more or less defined by two major characteristics, a radical-for-their-time monotheism (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and the written record of the mighty deeds of God on their behalf, culminating most spectacularly in the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 7:1-14:31). Of course, boiling down God’s historic dealings with the Israelites to two main points is a gross oversimplification, but for those of us who need to rely on shorthand, you could do far worse than to go with “radical monotheism” and “mighty deeds of God.” After these, a key theme underlying much of the rest of the Bible is God’s call to His chosen people to, in a word, remember Him (Deuteronomy 8:10-18).

Simply stated, God commands us to remember His times of faithfulness, His sweating out the pesky, frustrating details of life on our behalf (Matthew 10:28-31); those moments of undeniable spiritual deliverance that have been given to each and every one of us, whether we publicly acknowledge Him or not; His unmerited favor lavishly poured out on us, based on absolutely zero worthiness and/or prolonged faithfulness on our part (Ephesians 2:4-9). And the Lord specifically calls those He has delivered to tell others of God’s faithfulness, to share all that God has done in our midst (Romans 10:14-17). It is with that sort of mindset that I now hope to faithfully and repeatedly call to mind some very specific events of last week, all of them folding in on top of one another, far past my own limits as a finite human to engineer.

I obviously cannot go into a great amount of detail without the risk of publicly exposing various members of my immediate family in a manner that they might very well not appreciate, but what I can say is that within one 24-hour period last week, not one, but two very-deeply-damaged relationships were quite suddenly and inexplicably turned around; the process of full-on reconciliation, so elusive for so very long, was finally begun. My human pride is such that I would really like to say that this complete turnabout was at least in part due to “biblical parenting skills par excellence,” or that my wife and I had finally achieved a goal that we have methodically been working toward for years. The truth, however, is that both of us felt largely like helpless spectators as we sat back and watched God brilliantly unfold several dozen seemingly-unrelated life events into one highly-unlikely scenario that played out like a finished piece of sheet music from Mozart.

A small, partial listing of the “unrelated threads” God used in our lives last week looks something like this: 1) a new friendship that had formed weeks ago, largely unbeknownst to us; 2) a rather unpleasant phone call from a committed detractor; 3) an unambiguous threat received via e-mail, followed by; 4) a superbly-timed Internet outage in our home; 5) several faithful people having multiple conversations that we had zero knowledge of or control over; and 6) various “coincidental” scheduling delays that served to stall forward movement for what – in hindsight – can only now be categorized as “perfect timing.” In a nutshell, my wife and I had about as much to do with the events unfolding around us as the Israelites had to do with the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14). “Sit down, shut up, and behold My work.” That kind of thing.

Friday night, after praising God by reading aloud Psalms 19 and 51, my wife and I both lay awake for some amount of time, simply contemplating God’s faithfulness. Interestingly, neither of us was able to say very much at all. We were overwhelmed. A few thoughts shared with each other confirmed that we were both thinking the exact same thing. Specifically, we were both trying – in vain – to count up in our heads the sheer number of people, places, events, thoughts, responses, “coincidences” and total turnarounds of heart (ours as well as others) that had been required prior to the realization of the events of the previous 24 hours. Without any fear of hyperbole, I can say that it absolutely blew both of our minds. Around our house, we refer to these times as the “eyebrow-sizzling moments,” i.e. those times when our minds race so fast to try to keep up with what God is doing that our eyebrows metaphorically burst into flame.

In the immediate aftermath of a tremendous blessing from the Lord, it is tempting to think something along the lines of, “I will never, ever forget how richly God has blessed me this day!” I know my wife and I both had those thoughts in the wake of this great blessing. And while I believe this line of thinking is God-honoring in its sincerity in the moment, I’d like to suggest that relying solely on the emotional impact of any miracle, regardless of its depth or scope, can be a trap of sorts. Carried along in the “emotional high” of the moment, we should not presume to think that our feeble, unaided memories can adequately fuel an ongoing heart of worship toward a mighty, faithful and delivering God. The multiple Old Testament accounts of how often the Israelites forgot what God was doing in their midst is warning enough for me.

Forgetfulness, along with an accompanying lack of gratitude, were both key players in the hearts and minds of the Israelites as they slowly drifted away from God post-exodus (Deuteronomy 8:11-14). I have to think that the miraculous parting of the Red Sea made quite an impression on any Israelite who happened to be trapped against the water’s edge by Pharoah’s army…and yet within a very short period of time those very same Israelites would be complaining about the quality and quantity of the food that God was raining down on them each and every night in the middle of the desert (Numbers 11:4-6)! Reading these accounts, we are tempted to scoff at their massive blindness and stupidity; but if we closely examine our own lives, I think we might easily find that we are not all that much different.

As a deeply flawed and frail human being, it can be extraordinarily difficult for me to believe, to really believe, that God is always close at hand, and that He is intimately familiar with each and every detail of my life. “Why should God care?”

The verses cited below assure us that He does, indeed, care about the tiniest, most insignificant moments and mechanisms of our lives, the seemingly-random threads that we struggle to make sense of. When things do not go our way, or (worse) when we find ourselves actively participating in sin and evil, quite often against our own better desires (Romans 7:15-20), it’s tempting to think that “God has missed something,” that He is standing motionless at the plate while several pitches sail past Him. That is most definitely not the God of Scripture, the all-powerful, all-good, almighty God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:6; Exodus 34:5-7). Whenever we doubt that God is orchestrating all events for our good (Romans 8:28), we are living out a life of functional unbelief.

I am very well aware that the near-simultaneous reconciliation of several broken relationships in 21st-century Columbia, Mo., is – at least to human sensibilities – “not on the same scale” as a parted Red Sea, pillars of fire (Exodus 13:21-22), plagues upon Egypt (Exodus 7-12:32), wrestling with Jacob at the river Jabbok (Genesis 32:22-30) or, most notably, God choosing to incarnate Himself into human history in a fragile body of flesh and blood (John 1:1-18). And I am also equally aware that human reconciliations can falter – or perish altogether – for lack of commitment, nourishment, or a thousand other future events as yet unseen. “A good beginning” is certainly not the same thing as a lifetime of faithfulness designed to uphold that very good beginning. Reconciliation is an ongoing process, not an event; the road ahead is – admittedly – a long one, and there are no guarantees.

And yet…I’d like to submit that even one changed human heart (let alone four…all within 24 hours of each other) is just as unlikely an event as a pillar of fire keeping Pharoah’s army at bay or the earth opening up underneath Korah, Dathan and Abiram, swallowing them whole (Numbers 16:25-33). We don’t tend to see it that way, certainly, and because the “mightier” deeds of God can seem to us to be relegated to a very different era in history (assuming we believe that these historical events took place at all), we tend to downplay the active role that God still plays in patiently, mercifully and faithfully calling rebellious hearts to Himself. And make no mistake – every rebellious heart that turns to Him is, indeed, a work of God. So we do better, I think, to write down and recall to mind our own individual moments of deliverance, those times when the Lord acted powerfully in our lives, on our behalf.

Just as the Israelites were exhorted to remember the Lord their God and all His wondrous works, I think we all need to actively seek to recall the faithfulness of God in those times when we see it clearly…so as to help us then cling to faithfulness ourselves during times when we don’t see Him working clearly, and to help us trust that He is indeed near.

Thank You, Lord, for Your mighty hand and outstretched arm…active throughout all of human history, preserved for us in Scripture, still active today…for Your faithful love that endures forever in the lives of helpless, broken and desperate sinners. Thank You for caring for us (1 Peter 5:6-7) and welcoming us to Your great banquet (Isaiah 25:6, Revelation 19:9) even as we were hostile toward You (Romans 3:10-18). Praise God, all creatures here below. Amen.

Isaiah 45:5
I am the LORD, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,

Matthew 10:28-31
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Psalm 139:1-6
You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

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