Lamenting to Lifting
Here’s a story I tried to share this week on COVID-19 but was interrupted by bad internet. So there’s review for some, but the lesson God left me with bears repeating:
I was coming home Tuesday night this week and was running a bit late for dinner. Thoughts of my weekend talk and the world’s many problems filled my mind. When I was about a mile from home, on 67th Ave, I came around a bend and had to swerve to give room to a man standing beside a garden tractor beside the road. He looked stuck.
If you’ve traveled this road, locals know 67th Avenue has no shoulders and what seem to be bottomless ditches going straight down on both sides. In the winter it’s not uncommon to see a car which has spun off the road basically disappear, with its nose in the earth’s mantle and only the rear bumper visible in the air. This was sort of like one of those moments, the front of the tractor was pointed straight down, with the rear wheels barely on the road.
Something is Amiss
My mental processing was suddenly jarred out of its rut by this image of a John Deere and operator. It was a dangerous situation. The man was older, looked to be in his 70’s or 80’s and was looking around. The whole picture screamed, “I need help.” And I really just wanted to drive on by. But 1 John 3:17 hits me in times like this:
- “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”
At the last second I pulled off at the nearest crossing about 300 yards up the road. I yelled at the man, “need a push?” He didn’t hear, his tractor was running and he was reaching for his cell phone. I ran closer and finally he saw me, welcoming me over. “Ya, I’m high centered here.” He really was. The ditch was so steep his mower carriage was acting like a fulcrum over which his front and back axles were almost teeter tottering.
I didn’t say much other than to get in the ditch and push as he put it in reverse. Two things happened. The tractor did not budge, but instantly there was searing pain in my hands! I had grabbed the front bumper which was a thin metal plate attached to the chassis. It was the right thing to grab, but I didn’t know it was right next to the exhaust pipe and it was blazing hot! I couldn’t get a tight grip at all, and so even though this seemed like a simple problem, I started to feel like this was a big waste of everyone’s time. And I was late, did I mention this?
Bright in Time
I asked the man if he had gloves, no dice. All I needed was some way to shield my hands. At this exact moment I looked up to see something neon in the ditch, about 10 feet away. I thought, can I use a candy wrapper to grip this thing? I stepped over and realized it wasn’t a wrapper or paper or anything you’d expect to be tossed in a ditch. It was a cloth rag. A little neon towel. Perfect!
I grabbed the thing, sprinted back to the tractor as the man was looking it over some more. And grabbing the bumper I pushed hard, but it was so stuck on the mower instead of moving the tractor back, I only managed to lift the front end up. Eureka! I did not need to back it up, if I could lift the whole tractor onto its back wheels and turn it sideways, perpendicular to the road. Then I lifted again, all the weight pointed down on me, but I guess years of getting snowmobiles unstuck had trained me for the moment. I lifted and shifted it one foot at a time.
Strength Not My Own
“Careful, don’t hurt yourself! Man you’re strong as an ox!” the old man exclaimed, as I kept on lifting. I don’t recount this to brag, since the limits of my strength are well documented in my illustrious athletic career. I simply note the entire experience, from the leading, to seeing the rag, to surprising the man, was shaping into some kind of show of God’s strength. A minute after finding the rag, the tractor was out of the ditch and the man was effusive with thanks.
Now only 2 days before, I had challenged all of us to turn our outrage into outreach. As if on cue, here before me, while my mind was spinning on everything else I was worried about, was an opportunity to lift some John Doe (or some John Deere) up. But it was more than this. The unmistakable impression God left me with was not, “Rick, lift your eyes to see more of the ways you can reach others in love”. It was something more. The message was, “when you see and take steps of faith filled obedience, I will move in power.”
God does not call those who have all the tools, he gives the tools to those he calls. We need to look for, trust in and depend on the interventions of God; in extreme needs which arise because we are meeting needs. God will provide the means of doing the things God demands. It’s his show, start to finish.
Our decision to lift the broken-hearted is not the guarantee the job will get done. When we decide to lift, we might just be getting ourselves more stuck or in trouble or in need. No, our agreement and obedience are the moment to move into our own inadequacy, so God can do the heaving lifting. And he will.
A neon rag taught me that.
Have you ever had the experience when you felt you should pull over to help someone in need? (literally or figuratively) Did you?
If you did how did God meet you there? If not, what was your hold up, time, ability, safety?
When we look God and do His bidding, we receive what we need. Can you relate to a time when you clearly knew it was not by your strength?
Please enjoy this link to the son “Carry Me Through” by Dave Barnes, who sings about strength not his own.