van

I prayed for safety, but what I really wanted was a smooth, uneventful trip that would get us to our conference on time with no problems. A group of ladies from my church were travelling to a women’s retreat in Raleigh, NC to attend leadership conference. We were hoping for new ideas and inspiration for the women’s ministry of our church. There were so many good classes and speakers, and I wanted our group to have the opportunity to benefit from the entire conference.

Problems began after lunch. When we got back into our van, and it wouldn’t start. Repeated attempts yielded no progress. While I called AAA, one of our ladies saw men from the North Carolina Highway Department park near us and asked for their help. One man listened as I tried to start the van, and he said, “Have you kicked the gas tank?” I thought he had lost his mind, but I was desperate because our time was short and my goal was to safely arrive at the conference on time. He lay down in the parking lot and kicked the gas tank while I tried to start the van. No one was surprised when the van continued to not start. Finally, the man from the AAA towing service arrived. He listened to the sound of the engine as I tried to start the van. His response? “Have you kicked the gas tank?” I was fascinated that this seemed to be the standard modus operandi for van repair in North Carolina. I got in the driver’s seat, and he lay down in the parking lot where he banged on the gas tank with a lead pipe. To my utter shock, the van started. He told us that the fix might just be temporary. We might make it all the way into Raleigh, or we might only make it a few miles. I reminded God of our prayer in the church parking lot back in Richmond, and we took off once again, certain that God could get us the last thirty miles into Raleigh.

However, about three miles down the road I could tell that the van was losing power….fast. There was an exit ahead, and I told the ladies we were going to have to get off. We coasted down the exit, got into a left turn lane at a busy intersection…and the van completely died. I could not believe that God couldn’t handle a fuel tank. I had not asked for a big miracle! I was irritated that we were trying to hear from him and learn how to better serve his church, and he couldn’t even get us to the conference on time. I was concerned because these ladies were my responsibility, and my head started spinning, trying to create options for us. How would we get the van fixed? How would we get to the hotel with so many women and all their suitcases? Keeping the van running until we could get to the place we felt God leading us to did not seem like a really big request…certainly minor compared to a lot of miracles. I was clear in my prayer request, and God had not obeyed me.

As we were sitting at the stoplight, blocking traffic, frustrated that we would surely be late, calling AAA for the second time that afternoon, I looked one block farther down the road and saw concrete evidence of God’s divine control. Less than two blocks from where we broke down was a GM dealership and an Enterprise Car rental. Two ladies from our group went to rent us another van, while the tow truck took the rest of us to the dealership. I gave the pertinent information to the service department at the dealer to have our fuel pump replaced. They promised we could pick up our van the next day so we would only have to pay one day for rental on the new van.

We could have broken down on the interstate in the middle of nowhere with far too many women and suitcases to fit in the front seat of a tow truck. We could have been stranded on a Saturday when that particular dealership was closed. We could even have gotten to a mechanic that could have repaired the van….with no proximity to a car rental place. But that is not what happened. God got us to the exact spot where we would not only have access to everything we needed, but we could see his hand at work. He was watching, we were protected, and he had bigger plans than we did. I wanted an uneventful trip and a timely arrival at the conference; God wanted us to see his power, his presence, his protection. Many women attended that conference and went home with renewed enthusiasm for ministry in their church. We went home, acutely aware that God has complete control, even when he doesn’t obey us. I would have been relieved by an uneventful, timely trip; I was thrilled by a glimpse of the power (and humor!) of God.

When we are disappointed in God’s answer to our prayers or his choice not to obey us, we need to choose whether we trust him to continue to be whom he has always been, or whether we trust ourselves to become our own god. When we trust God with our disappointment and choose to believe him and trust him anyway, we give him room to display his glory and power in our world. We don’t just settle for temporary relief of pain or the thrill of getting our way; we become a part of his solution that is bigger than we can ask or imagine in that moment.

People who trust in themselves end up disappointed. I have learned the hard way (and over and over) that I am not smart enough or strong enough to take God’s place. I’m not omniscient; I don’t know the future; I am not enough. God is who is he is, not who we try to make him into, not who we demand that he become. If my relationship with God is based on his obedience to me, then I’ve put myself in his place and demand that he serves me. Obedience is not about insisting that God conform to my expectations; it is about choosing to honor him as God whether or not things work out like I want.

When God doesn’t obey us, when he allows adversity or hardship or pain that we want to avoid, we can allow that disappointment to separate us from him, or draw us closer to him. What God teaches during the times we are disappointed can be the moments that give us deeper faith, stronger trust, and a glimpse into the glory of God himself.

This is an excerpt from my new book God Chooses People Like You, available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com

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