There I was, standing in line at the deli, waiting to order a sub after church. My sons and I were having an intense theological conversation :
“No, you may not have a motorcycle.”
“But, I will be 18 soon.”
The woman in front of us turned and said “Your mom is right. You don’t need a motorcycle.” I thanked this stranger for having my back. Then, I turned to my offspring and let them know God put this woman in line in front of us for a reason.
Little did I know.
She continued talking. It was obvious she was weary, her clothes wrinkled and eyes worn. As we waited a while longer, she revealed that she and her son had just gotten back from the hospital where he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Immediately, my brain went all hamster on a wheel—first I wanted to cry, because I was standing in line with two perfectly healthy seventeen year olds, then I wanted to pass out because I just can’t even imagine, then, I wondered what she was doing ordering a sub at this time, but finally, I searched for something appropriate to say to a stranger who just shared something deeply personal and gut wrenching. But, I got nothing.
The sub lady said “Next!” and she was on her way. Did I miss an opportunity? A divinely appointed time to step up and share God’s love? My sons simply stared at me. I reminded them with Mom eyes that I am, in fact, an introvert. And going up to a stranger is cataclysmically out of my comfort zone.
But, then there was this tap on my shoulder. From God’s Spirit. Don’t plan ahead. Just do it. Just talk. And, I didn’t have a choice, did I? Not if I was who I just sang about in church—you know, redeemed, saved, set free?
See, the past few months, I’ve been pruned by the book of Isaiah. I mean, read it and pray through it, and I dare you not to be changed in some way. Chapter one reminds Judah there will be consequences for years of disobedience. In fact, the only way through awful retribution is to make yourselves clean and learn good. (v 16-17) I’m thinking that ‘s not the easiest thing to do when an entire people has been corrupting themselves from the top down for generations. When you read on, you come to the heart of the problem.
Verse 19 states: “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;”
To be willing to follow God is not enough.
To want to follow, and then to not follow through, to only have intentions of reading God’s word, or forgiving enemies, or staying away from addictive habits will lead to a faith which never gets off the ground, which is easily swallowed up by the world, annihilated by the enemy who wants our faith flimsy.
Equally fruitless is simply being obedient like a robot.
God doesn’t need heartless rule followers. Checking things off a religious list ends up producing the mindset that we earn our way to holiness, that we are in charge. And, when we break a rule, or fail to live up to certain standards, guilt sets in, and faith collapses.
What God desires is a marriage of the two–willing obedience–following God because we love Him. Following His lead, submitting to His ways because we want to bring God glory, and so bring blessing into our lives. God wants us to follow Him with all of our heart. Isaiah lifts it up as the standard by which we continue to live in God’s Presence. When we mess up our lives with syncretism and sinful habits, much like Judah, the only way out is to repent, and then to continue on with a willing and obedient heart.
After this grocery store lady finished ordering and was turning to go, I took a deep breath and approached her. I heard myself asking the name of her son, and her name, because I didn’t want this woman to remain a stranger, swept out to sea in my busy life. I asked Cassandra if our family could commit to praying for them. And she teared up. We talked for a quick while–she was depleted and was on her way game plan her next steps. But, I ended up giving her a hug right there in the middle of the sub line. She teared up again, and her son joined her. And, then they left.
And, for all the worry I went through, I didn’t pass out, or say something stupidly awkward that would be the spiritual equivalent of a band aid on a gaping wound.
Be encouraged. If you’re a spiritual weenie, and God taps you on the shoulder, trust that He’s with you. Take the next steps, not as an introvert, but as a willing obedient participant in an adventure He calls us to take.
Finally, if you are a prayer warrior, please remember Cassandra and her son, Richard. Please remember all the people who would otherwise be on the outer banks of your life. May we never be too busy or distracted to be willing and obedient.