There have been times in my life when God could get my attention no other way so He used crisis and chaos. Those two elements stopped me in my tracks 100% of the time. That was a good thing; sometimes my own tracks were leading me nowhere, and God knew it. In His love, He did what was necessary to get me back on the path toward a life that would ultimately fulfill me on the deepest level.
If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time and energy on pursuits you believed could get you to the life you want without giving God a second thought. And if you’re like me, when God began to show you a better way, you argued or worse, you ignored that still, small Voice telling you what you knew deep inside was the wiser thing to do.
If you then reaped the consequences of getting your own way and blamed God when it all went south, I would say we are twins. That is exactly how I used to be. But that was yesterday; today is a new day.
I received a newsletter in the mail this morning from a pastor in Texas. Here is part of what he shared:
I’m writing to you today from Northern Iraq, where I’ve seen multitudes of men, women and little children walk for days to escape ISIS. I’ve heard reports of young girls kidnapped and tortured. I’ve seen masses of people living in hunger, squalor and desperation, having lost everything they’ve known.
But I’ve also seen the glorious work of the hand of God through His amazing servants. Thousands of refugees fleeing Syria have been ministered to in Christ’s name. Rejected by those of their own faith, they’ve been given clothes and food and even had homes built for them. Some have received prayer and been healed. And now many believe in Jesus. I asked a Middle Eastern pastor if it was true that hundreds are turning to Christ as a result of the conflicts. “It’s not hundreds or even thousands,” he answered. “It’s millions.”
Millions… wow, think about that. To those who care about such things, that is an amazing fact.
Yes, I still believe in the power of God. Yes, I still believe Jesus is the only way to salvation. Yes, I still believe release upon acquittal is still very possible, if not likely one day, for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: when God is done doing what He does best: using crisis and chaos in this young man’s life, the same way He has used it in mine.
With that paragraph, I know I just lost some readers and that’s OK with me. Sometimes I write from a legal perspective, even though I am not an attorney. Sometimes I write from a spiritual perspective and to do that, I must write about my own life, for that is the classroom I learned in.
Dzhokhar’s current classroom is a jail cell. Mine is a crappy little apartment in the projects, a far cry from the luxury of my old life.
The apostle Paul was familiar with jail cells. So was the apostle Peter. In fact, the Bible recounts the miraculous way in which God delivered Peter from prison in Acts 12:
Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.
On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.
When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.
When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. They said to her “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” Then he left and went to another place.
Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution.
While I don’t expect God to release Dzhokhar from prison in this manner, I do believe His supernatural power will be part of all that transpires to affect his eventual freedom.
Still don’t believe God does things like this today? Here’s another story from more recent times: Excerpt from “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom (Story takes place during WWII in Nazi Germany):
Toward evening there was a commotion at one end of the tent. A line of S.S. guards was moving across it, driving women out from under the canvas. We scrambled to our feet and snatched up our blankets as they bore down upon us. Perhaps a hundred yards beyond the tent the chase stopped. We stood about, uncertain what to do. Whether a new group of prisoners had arrived or what the reason for driving us from the tent, no one knew. Women began spreading their blankets on the hard cinder ground. Slowly it dawned on Betsie and me that we were to spend the night here where we stood. We laid my blanket on the ground, stretched out side by side and pulled hers over us.
“The night is dark and I am far from home…” Betsie’s sweet soprano was picked up by voices all around us. “Lead Thou me on…”
We were waked up some time in the middle of the night by a clap of thunder and a deluge of rain. The blankets soaked through and water gathered in puddles beneath us. In the morning the field was a vast sodden swamp: hands, clothes and faces were black from the cinder mud.
We were still wringing water from our blankets when the command came to line up for coffee. It was not coffee but a thin liquid of approximately the same color and we were grateful to get it as we shuffled double-file past the makeshift field kitchen. There was a slice of black bread for each prisoner too, then nothing more until we were given a ladle of turnip soup and a small boiled potato late in the afternoon.
In between we were kept standing at rigid attention on the soggy parade ground where we had spent the night. We were near one edge of the huge camp here, close enough to the outer wall to see the triple row of electric wires running along the top. Two entire days we spent this way, stretching out again the second night right where we stood. It did not rain again but ground and blankets were still damp. Betsie began to cough. I took Nollie’s blue sweater from my pillowcase, wrapped it around her and gave her a few drops of the vitamin oil. But by morning she had agonizing intestinal cramps. Again and again throughout that second day she had to ask the impatient woman monitor at the head of our row for permission to go to the ditch that served as sanitary facility.
It was the third night as we were getting ready to lie down again under the sky when the order came to report to the processing center for new arrivals. A ten-minute march brought us to the building. We inched along a corridor into a huge reception room. And there under harsh ceiling lights we saw a dismal sight. As each woman reached a desk where some officers sat she had to lay her blanket, pillowcase, and whatever else she carried onto a growing pile of these things. A few desks further along she had to strip off every scrap of clothes, throw them onto a second pile, and walk naked past the scrutiny of a dozen S.S. men into the shower room. Coming out of the shower she wore only a thin prison dress and a pair of shoes. Nothing more.
But Betsie needed that sweater! She needed the vitamins! Most of all, we needed our Bible. How could we live in this place without it? But how could I ever take it past so many watchful eyes without the overalls covering it?
We were almost at the first desk. I fished desperately in my pillowcase, drew out the bottle of vitamins and closed my fist around them. Reluctantly we dropped the other things on the heap that was fast becoming a mountain. “Dear God,” I prayed, “You have given us this precious Book, You have kept it hidden through checkpoints and inspections, You have used it for so many-”
I felt Betsie stagger against me and looked at her in alarm. Her face was white, her lips pressed tight together. A guard was passing by; I begged him in German to show us the toilets. Without so much as a glance, he jerked his head in the direction of the shower room.
Timidly Betsie and I stepped out of line and walked to the door of the big, dank-smelling room with its row on row of overhead spigots. It was empty, waiting for the next batch of fifty naked and shivering women to be admitted.
“Please,” I said to the S.S. man guarding the door,” where are the toilets?”
He did not look at me either. “Use the drain holes!” he snapped, and as we stepped inside he slammed the door behind us. We stood alone in the room where a few minutes later we would return stripped even of the clothes on our backs. Here were the prison things we were to put on, piled just inside the door. From the front and back of each otherwise ordinary dress a large “X” had been cut out and replaced with cloth of another color.
And then we saw something else, stacked in the far corner, a pile of old wooden benches. They were slimy with mildew, crawling with cockroaches, but to me they seemed the furniture of heaven itself.
“The sweater! Take the sweater off!” I hissed, fumbling with the string at my neck. Betsie handed it to me and in an instant I had wrapped it around the Bible and the vitamin bottle and stuffed the precious bundle behind the benches.
And so it was that when we were herded into that room ten minutes later we were not poor, but rich. Rich in this new evidence of the care of Him who was God even of Ravensbruck.
We stood beneath the spigots as long as the flow of icy water lasted, feeling it soften our lice-eaten skin. Then we clustered dripping wet around the heap of prison dresses, holding them up, passing them about, looking for approximate fits. I found a loose long-sleeved dress for Betsie that would cover the blue sweater when she would have a chance to put it on. I squirmed into another dress for myself, then reached behind the benches and shoved the little bundle quickly inside the neck.
It made a bulge you could have seen across the Grote Markt. I flattened it out as best I could, pushing it down, tugging the sweater around my waist, but there was no real concealing it beneath the thin cotton dress. And all the while I had the incredible feeling that it didn’t matter, that this was not my business, but God’s. That all I had to do was walk straight ahead.
As we trooped back out through the shower room door, the S.S. men ran their hands over every prisoner, front, back and sides. The woman ahead of me was searched three times. Behind me, Betsie was searched. No hand touched me.
At the exit door to the building was a second ordeal, a line of woman guards examining each prisoner again. I slowed down as I reached them but the Aufseherin in charge shoved me roughly by the shoulder, “Move along! You’re holding up the line!”
And so Betsie and I arrived at Barracks 8 in the small hours of that morning, bringing not only the Bible, but a new knowledge of the power of Him whose story it was.
I don’t know how one can hear accounts like that and not believe God is all powerful, that He does as He pleases in heaven and on earth. I certainly do. He has convinced me through events in my own life and, I suspect, Dzhokhar is learning it too.
And one day, God willing, I believe he will walk out of prison for the last time, a vastly different young man than he was at the beginning of his ordeal. And the story he will have to tell will draw millions more to a faith in Jesus that cannot be extinguished.
Maybe one day Dzhokhar will involve himself with victims like the ones that pastor in Texas wrote about. Dzhokhar, of all people, could understand their suffering, as we who have suffered can understand his right now.
Beauty for ashes: I think that’s what this life of sorrow is all about. Beauty for ashes, and the oil of joy for mourning.