I am awestruck by the beauty of God’s presence moving in every circumstance of our life. I have long ago abandoned the notion that very much in this life happens by chance. Alexis Tocqueville, the 19th Century French historian, once wrote, “Chance does nothing that has not been prepared beforehand.” Christina and I have become increasingly active in the lives of special needs children and their families. This is a trend that I suspect is likely to continue.
Recently our paths crossed with a little girl who has cerebral palsy. This is a condition of the brain which can affect overall motor function, muscle strength, and other areas of the body. Cerebral means brain and Palsy means weakness. Depending on the severity of the condition a child may walk with braces, may not walk at all, may lose motor function completely, and may have difficulty breathing due a weakness of the muscles of the diaphragm. I tell you all of this primarily to share this thought with you: The beautiful, sovereign, unmistakably compassionate, wonderful, and holy God which we serve has purpose and gives meaning in all things.
I recall one early morning as I walk to Beyer High School in Modesto, California. I was a confused young man, on the verge of abandoning faith in God. I had sought Him day and night. I had looked for Him where I thought He was to be found. As I walk along the edge of a small lake near a new housing development, I noticed a man resting near the edge of the water. There was something altogether different about this man’s appearance; a profound stillness to his presence that has not left me. I sensed that God desired me to talk to this man. Against my stubborn preference I obeyed the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit and approached him. In those days, I used to carry small booklets which told of God’s love (gospel tracts) with me that I would pass out to perfect strangers or leave behind me on the bus or in a phone booth.
I was a full blown “Jesus Freak” with a Levi’s jean jacket, messy-cool hair, and my sword (Bible) in hand! I approached the man and shared one of these tracts with him. He thanked me and went on to say something to me which impacts my life to this very day. This man said things to me that astonished me. He spoke with such tenderness and force at the same time. He spoke to me as though he had known me my entire life. His look was so incredibly piercing; as though he could see into my very soul. I have seldom shared this story but feel led by God to share it with you now. He told me to keep doing as I was doing.
He said that the gospel tract I had shared with him was a seed and that my job was not to bring the harvest, but to plant the seed. God, he said, was the tender of the field and it was in His hands alone to bring the sun, the rain, and the harvest. He went on to say that the Lord had called me and that He would sustain me. To this day I cannot say for sure who this man was. Perhaps he was a Christian man who felt compelled to encourage a young man obviously in need of encouragement. Perhaps he was a man of keen insight who had struggled in his faith and saw in my eyes a familiar sight. Perhaps, as I am inclined to believe, he was an angel of the Lord who was sent directly by the hand of God to deliver a timely message to me.
You see, right now in my office hangs a print of a painting by Garret Walker entitled “The Sower.” It is a portrait of a nail-scared hand sowing seeds. It is a constant reminder to me of the message which was delivered to me in a time of great need in my spiritual life. So, you ask yourself, what is the connection between a little girl with cerebral palsy and a majestic visitor in my life when I was a teenager? The connection is that whether that man was an angel or not, matters very little. It was not the nature of the messenger so much as the power of the message which impacted my life and which has stayed with me. And God has placed messengers in our lives at every turn!
As I watched this precious little child playing in my backyard with a group of other children, my heart was broken. Not for the disabilities with which this dear child lives daily, but for the all too common notion that this child’s life is somehow less valuable than that of a so-called “normal” child. O, how our lack of ability to see things from God’s perspective causes us to miss the mark! O, what inability is ours to hear the voice of God! I am convinced that this dear sweet child, if we will only watch, if we will only listen, has a message for us. As she played with the other children I do not believe that she considered greatly her disabilities. No, she only considered the moment; the love and safety afforded her by the presence of her mother close by her side, the connection with the other children who likewise poured the sand from the sandbox and laughed out loud. O, when was the last time you laughed like a child? When was the last time we let go of all of our cares and concerns for this life, enjoying the presence of God in one another!
In Matthew 18:3-4 Jesus says, “And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (NIV) Dear Saints of God, hear the word of the Lord today. It is not the strong and the proud who are heralded in the highest esteem in this upside down kingdom of God. It is not our accomplishments that our worth arises. It is not in our abilities that God is glorified.
It is in our humble adoration that God is able to be glorified in us. It is in our simple love for Him that a gateway to His overwhelming presence is found. There is simplicity in the heart of genuine worship. If you are busy trying to please Him, if you are struggling under the weight of guilt or the burdens of this life, know this; God has placed messengers of His overwhelming, superabundant, radical love all around us! All we have to do to hear His voice, to see His hand, to feel His presence, is to open our ears to His speaking, open our eyes to Him at work, and to open our heart to experience His presence.
May you indeed be blessed this warm month of July in the Illinois Valley. May you be blessed even more by the warmth of the presence of God in your life. Amen.