Note: Mom, you won’t want to read this.
This weekend I got a real taste of the verse in John that says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Without me, you can do nothing.” Moments like these are priceless, of course. I just have to keep reminding myself of that. On my way out of town, my car decided it was tired of running. I had just had a new alternator installed on Thursday, but by Friday evening, the speedometer needles and gages all flipped around crazily, the dash lights pulsed, my car sputtered…. and quit. Unfortunately I was on the tollway, the sun was setting, and I was a young woman driving alone in a questionable area.
(ok mom, you can begin reading at this point.)
As I had been driving that night before the breakdown, I was thinking how amazing it was that you could just replace part after part in a car and basically keep it running as long as you wanted to. A car never really reaches the end of its life unless the owner chooses to send it out to pasture. Everything in the car was controllable, replaceable, fixable. Even my car, which is up to 269,000 miles, will keep on going as long as I replace whatever’s broken. And I had replaced several parts of my car that month alone.
I had formulated a game plan then. Whenever something started going bad, I’d replace it, and I’d never get stuck. I had caught the alternator problem when my dash lights started dimming and had replaced it. I had avoided that catastrophe. When the car clicked at each turn, I replaced the CV joints which were about to bust in half. Avoided that one too. I’d be better than the vast majority of car owners who simply missed the signs of car problems, put off general maintenance, or chose to wait to replace breaking parts. That way I’d keep my car running forever.
But some things are simply out of our control. I was cruising at 80 mph down the interstate when, despite my planning, my watchful eye, and my careful maintenance, everything in my car shut down. I couldn’t even work the windows. Not one sign of life ran through my car. I couldn’t even drive it to a safe, well-lit area. I was stuck in Gary, Indiana on an exit ramp as the sun set, staring at a boarded up former grocery store.
So many times in my Christian walk I’ve been tempted to blindly follow rules without thinking about anything. Like, if I do everything I’m supposed to do, keep up with the maintenance items, somehow it will all add up to having the kind of safe, out-of-trouble life we all desire. But as Scripture says, “our ways are not His ways.” We can follow the rules to the letter, and then be hit with a surprise health problem. A rebellious child. Family fights. Things we thought we would be able to avoid by living the right way, but somehow it didn’t happen that way. God has a way of stepping in and shaking up our carefully mapped-out plans to show us who’s really boss.
God did not give us commands with the promise that we’d experience a great life free of problems if we obeyed these orders. It’s true that when we deviate from them we face problems in our lives, but sometimes even if we do follow them we face problems. God wants these troubles in our lives for our own good. Look at the first chapter in James. What a great God, that He can take our little inconveniences and our extreme pains and make them into something beautiful – our holiness. And at the end of the day, our pains and struggles are what remind us how desperately we need him, and how even if we do everything we should, we can do nothing without Him. Sometimes I’m frustrated I’m not in control, but I’m awfully glad I’m giving that position over to a very trustworthy God.