Praise The Lord (For What Didn’t Happen)

“The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life.” Psalms 121: 7

We are all entering the season when we typically assess the degree to which the Lord has been blessed us throughout the concluding year. But we tend to measure God’s blessings exclusively by our increase.

`What did God’s faithfully provide for me this year?’

`What did the Lord miraculously accomplish through me over the last 12 months?’

What a foolish mistake! What an inappropriate measuring system for determining God’s divine grace and ever active presence in our lives!

During our year-end assessment, God’s matchless faithfulness should not be measured solely by the Holy provisions that He allowed us to witness in 2015. Nor should our outpouring of Godly thankfulness be restricted only to our recognition of positive outcomes that conveniently line up with our self-centered expectations.

If your list of blessings at the end of the year doesn’t quite match up with your list of prayerful desires at the beginning of the year, take heart! The Lord often blesses us by providing what we want…..but He also blesses us by preventing what we don’t want.

If you find yourself stuck in the exact same spot this December that you were wallowing in last January, give thanks! Maybe God isn’t abstaining from your desires to move forward after all. Maybe He’s sustaining you through your current struggles, and restraining you from the much greater devastation that perpetually lurks. Maybe the status quo is actually your blessing, not your burden!

Therefore, maybe….just maybe ….the best way to end this year is not by commiserating about what didn’t happen in 2015……but by celebrating it.

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My wife, Marya, and I have taken a real liking to New Harmony, IN. It is a quaint little quiet town hidden in the southwestern corner of the state: bordered to the west by the Wabash River, and just a few miles north of the Ohio River. We love New Harmony for it placid, scenic beauty; its overall peacefulness; and its spiritual ambiance.

On a trip to New Harmony during the late summer of 2013, Marya and I were taking a leisurely drive, on our way to one of our favorite restaurants – located in Haubstadt, IN. The stillness and serenity was never more consuming than on our relatively short drive from New Harmony to Haubstadt.

But on this especially gorgeous day – about half way to our destination – I noticed a sight that completely disrupted and disturbed the peace and equanimity of our journey. As we slowly wound around a long curve I saw a house that had completely burned down, just off the road to our left.

Judging by the feint hint of smoke….and the still evident smell of smoldering wood…the fire obviously had just recently taken place. It was an eerie, uncomfortable sight – seeing this black charred skeleton of a house resting among the bright white farm houses and dazzling green fields…all under a shimmering yellow sun.

As we got closer I noticed something perched on the front ledge of the house, among the black ashes and the gray soot. It was a brightly colored Fisher Price Little People toy farmhouse – obviously belonging to a toddler that once resided in the house….before it was stricken by the tragedy. The sparkling little farmhouse was not only the lone item not completed destroyed…it appeared to be completely untouched by the fire.

As we drove by, my mind began to wander:

“Why was the little farmhouse completely spared, while everything else was completely ruined?”

“What happened to the little owner of the toy farmhouse?”

“What happened to the family?”

These were unnerving, haunting thoughts that I couldn’t shake….even as we continued along the winding, scenic road toward Haubstadt.

One reason these thoughts were so disturbing was because my then 3 year – Dylan – had a Fisher Price Little People toy farmhouse exactly like the one comfortably nestled beside the rural farmhouse’s complete devastation.

“What if it were MY son that suffered the fate of that fire instead of the nameless, faceless country toddler?”

I then vowed to take a picture of the destroyed house – and the undamaged toy farmhouse – on our return drive after dinner.

But when we arrived at the Haub Steakhouse, the 16 ounce rib-eye and homemade bread pudding had a way of compromising my short term memory.

After dinner, on the drive back, I was once again enjoying the views and daydreaming about the additional merriment that awaited us back in New Harmony. All of sudden, and without warning, Marya whispered softly, “Did you see that?”

I immediately knew what she was referring to…even before glancing in the car’s rearview mirror for confirmation.

There it was again – the charred remnants of the completely devastated farmhouse, intruding against the scenic natural beauty of southwestern Indiana. Marya continued, “Dylan has a toy farmhouse just like that one.”

As I turned the car around, I told Marya that I felt that I was being led to take a picture of the tragic scene, but that I didn’t know why at the time. I parked the car, took my picture, and off we headed to New Harmony, without speaking another word of the disturbing scene….or the strange ironies associated with it.

Fast forward almost exactly one month later

I was at home, in our children’s play room, watching Dylan play. Dylan was busy….drawing pictures one moment….playing with his trains the next….then it was off to “blue car” for a little speed racing the next moment….all in typical Dylan fashion – going 100 MPH with nothing holding his attention for more than 12 seconds.

In the meantime, there I was, silently commiserating about the exhaustive effect of life’s constant little unpleasantries. There were issues on the job to address; a stack of bills to pay; silly little family quarrels to referee; and a suddenly ailing elderly father to comfort and tend to. I was now in full `woe is me’ mold. `Where was God, and why was He neglecting to protect me and my family?’

Then, suddenly, Dylan – as if receiving a mysterious directive – stopped everything, and headed to one of his favorite toys to retrieve a tiny resident….and then handed it’s to me. “Farmer”…..”Farmer!”

Dylan had gone to his Fisher Price Little People farmhouse – the exact replica of the one that sat eerily in front of the fire ravaged farmhouse right off of the winding country road in southwestern Indiana – retrieved one of the little residents, and was now demanding that I take it. “FARMER!!”

As I took the little farmer I was immediately taken back to that uncomfortable scene of the completely destroyed farmhouse in southwestern Indiana. The same farmhouse that clearly once housed a simple, happy, fun loving family… just like ours.

As I examined the smiling little toy farmer I immediately felt convicted. Here I was, spewing inaudible complains about the petty stresses of everyday life – while a family somewhere in rural southwestern Indiana tried to cope with the complete loss of their home and possessions…..and perhaps much, much more.

Did I really have the audacity to question God’s faithfulness – even while He was actively sustaining my job; protecting my family; safeguarding our belongings; and preserving our health?

Since that day, there have been many nights – during the wee hours – when I have gotten out of bed and headed to the bedrooms of my quietly sleeping sons. First to Dylan’s bedroom – then to his older brother Theo’s bedroom – to gently kneel down and pray by their bedside.

I pray for their development. I pray for the Lord’s guidance in raising them properly. I pray for the Lord to enable me to model Christ-like behavior as a man of God – behavior that hopefully will be worthy of emulating someday.

But I almost always end my prayers by asking God to put a hedge of protection around my boys. To protect them from the harm that Satan would gladly inflict upon them…if given even the slightest opportunity.

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We, as Christians, are conditioned to be cognizant of, and grateful for, God’s many blessings as they manifest in our lives. What we often don’t do as well is search for the times when misfortune randomly strikes others – but misses us – and then give thanks to God for sparing us from a similar plight.

My picture of the tragic scene of the remains of a charred and completely demolished farmhouse – and the undamaged toy farmhouse of its likely smallest former resident – serves as a constant reminder of God’s grace, His mercy, His providence…..and His answer to my nightly prayer:

“Please look over my boys, oh Lord, and put a hedge of protection around them to shield them from daily unknown dangers. And thank you, Lord, for all that has happened to our family through the years…..and for all that hasn’t!”