On Nov. 4 my daughter and I were miles from nowhere (with apologies to the folks in Belchertown, Mass.) and thought we would waltz into the nearest Motel 6 and cheer their lonely lives with our overnight presence. We were turned away-as we would be from the Econo Lodge and Days Inn in nearby Chicopee. With relief and humility, we bagged the last vacancy in a Hampton Inn, glad to fork over twice as much as we had hoped to pay for shut-eye.
What happened: We, two Mr. Magoos, had driven into a natural disaster unawares. Power grids were down from a freak storm that pounded Massachusetts and Connecticut with wet snow on trees not yet shorn of their leaves. Commercial lodgings swelled with locals. How wise of God to normally let New England's colorful raiment pass to nakedness before sending Currier and Ives winterscapes. How true it is that we appreciate His perfect design only when He allows rare departures from it.
I prayed, of course, for a room at the inn and felt confirmed in my faith when heaven granted. But what if God had not answered that way-if we had slept in the car, or been forced to cut short our college tour? Let us be plain: Is my faith in God dependent on the response of a desk clerk at the Hampton Inn?
I know a missionary in South Sudan. Larissa lives in the home of a Moru woman named Mama Viviana, whose town of Kotobi was bombed from the air and machine gunned for a straight half hour in 2002. Every hut was burned to the ground, and the grain store with a year's worth of food was obliterated; even the knives melted. Miraculously, not a person was killed or even injured. Every September Mama Viviana hosts a memorial prayer service to remember God's kindness.
Larissa writes, "I have much to learn from her. ... In the West I think our conception of God's love is so much tied to circumstance-when we think He is answering prayer, or things are going as we think they should. But I am challenged to conceive of a love that is deeper than anything, which is not in any way tied to circumstance."
He-loves-me-he-loves-me-not. This has been the Achilles' heel of my faith, but the Lord says it doesn't have to be: "Strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed" (Hebrews 12:12-13).
There's a wonderful children's book called That's Good! That's Bad! by Margery Cuyler and David Catrow. Page after page, a fortunate event develops into an unfortunate event, which then develops into a fortunate event. The intelligent child catches on pretty soon that if your life is going badly today, just wait a minute.
In the Bible, Joseph gets sold into slavery. (That's bad.) No, that's good because he rises to be Potiphar's manager. (That's good.) No, that's bad because Potiphar's wife gets him thrown in prison. (That's bad.) No, that's good because in prison he interprets a dream for the Pharaoh's cupbearer, who promises to talk to Pharaoh for him. (That's good.) No, that's bad because the cupbearer forgets. (That's bad.) No, that's good because later the Pharaoh has a bad dream that pricks the cupbearer's memory. ... You know how it ends.
The sight of the eyes tells the Servant of the Lord that he has labored in vain and spent his strength for nothing. The Lord's Servant rejects the sight of his eyes and stresses the promise of his God that he will be glorified (Isaiah 49:3-4). Look with joy beyond today to the end of all things.
There was another Joseph who "went up from Galilee ... to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn" (Luke 2:4-7).
I'll bet they prayed for a place in that inn, like I did. I see no indication that their faith in God was shaken by their landing in a manger.