One of my very favorite passages is from Philippians, Chapter 4, Verses 4, 6, and 7, which goes like this: “Rejoice in the Lord always…Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
I have heard that passage interpreted in two different ways. Both interpretations agree that everything is to be taken to the Lord in prayer. However, when some terrible tragedy or disaster occurs, some people feel that, since God is not the cause of evil, He should not be thanked for the misfortune. Instead, they feel that one should think of something else for which thanksgiving is easier and more logical and offer thanks for that. This, to me, is like changing the subject: It is like saying “I’m overcome by grief because of this misfortune, so I’ll just think of something pleasant and thank the Lord for that.”
However, others believe that the thanksgiving is to be offered for whatever it is that is causing the anxiety, no matter how terrible or how widespread the problem seems to be, because if God allowed it to happen it must fit into His plan.
I believe that the second viewpoint is the correct one, and for a great many years I have followed that advice. For me it works like nothing else ever did.
Example 1…Stolen Toiletry Case in Chester, England
Anyway, at the risk of sounding very trivial, I want to use an illustration that happened to me, and one that I am reminded of every time I shave: I have never enjoyed shaving. It has always been a time-consuming annoyance for me — until the summer of 1995 when Dorian and I were in Chester, England with other singers from our church on a concert tour of the British Isles. We stayed in hotels every night, except for Chester, England, where we were put up in very nice private homes that offered bed-and-breakfast.
In ours, I was bunking with a young man who was the accompanist for our group, because Dorian was bunking with our granddaughter, Becky, whom we had taken along with us. Our rooms were on the third floor of this house, and theirs had a private bath. Eric and I had our own bathroom, but it was outside our bedroom and across the hall. Since we were the only ones assigned to that bathroom, I felt that it was O.K. to hang my toiletry kit in it on a hook. What I didn’t realize was that the landlady apparently expected us to keep the bathroom door closed and locked at all times, even when it wasn’t in use. We just left the door wide open when it was vacant.
As a result, when I went to shave the next morning I found that my toiletry kit was missing. I figured out later that the landlady must have taken it so that other guests passing by wouldn’t see it and steal it. That was nice of her, except that she didn’t show up for breakfast — it was her husband who fixed our breakfast — and she hadn’t told him anything about removing my toiletry kit, so as far as I was concerned it was just plain missing.
The problem was that with me singing in a concert that night I had to look presentable — not unshaven — and our schedule was so tight that I had only 20 minutes that morning to find a store that sold razors and shaving cream (and toothbrushes and tooth paste). I managed to do all of that, but it required me to run into a little shop and ask for directions to some appropriate store, run (literally) to that store, and buy the first thing that I saw that looked as though it might work and then run back to rejoin our group.
For those of you who have never been to England, you should realize that the British use some of our words to mean something entirely different from what we mean, likeunderground to mean the subway, subway to mean something into which only pedestrians can fit, lift to mean an elevator, till to mean a cashier, etc. As a result, I thought I shouldn’t ask for the location of a drug store for fear of being terribly misunderstood by the “bobbies” (cops). I don’t remember the name of the kind of store that sold what I was looking for, because it was just down the street and my informant needed only to step out onto the sidewalk and point to it.
I could have been very upset about all of this nuisance, not to mention the unnecessary expense, but I didn’t have time to complain. I prayed that this errand would be successful and that I wouldn’t hold up the bus, when it came time to move on. I don’t remember whether I took time to thank the Lord for allowing me to lose my old razor, but at least my attitude was the same as if I had done that: I accepted this inconvenience as part of God’s plan and just concentrated on what had to be done to correct the problem.
However, I was recently reminded of the many benefits that came out of this loss of a razor: (1) The new razor was on sale, so the cost was not something that I couldn’t afford. (2) The new razor was for me a radically new type that I would never have tried, if I hadn’t been forced into it. My father had given me my first razor, which I had used for 30 or 40 years until the brass handle literally dissolved, and it fell apart. At that point I bought a new one almost identical to the original one — both of them used the old Gillette double-edge “blue blades”. These blades were cheap, and one would last me a whole month, but for the first week when a blade was new, I was always cutting my face, and for the last week before I would finally throw it away the blade always pulled something awful. The razor that I had to buy in Chester was a new kind with a couple of narrow blades that were very flexible, and instead of lasting only a month, the blades turned out to last me over a year — and I have yet to get cut by one. So, I was forced into switching to a technological improvement that I am sure I would never have done of my own accord.
There is also a third benefit to this switch: Ever since then, every morning when I shave with this new-style razor, instead of being annoyed by the nuisance of shaving, I think of Chester, England, and that conjures up other pleasant memories generated by that concert tour –- like having our granddaughter with us, traveling around the British Isles, seeing sights like part of the original Roman wall that still stands on the edge of the old part of town, singing in different churches and on the sidewalks in a couple of places, and just enjoying life to the fullest. And that makes the time spent shaving a pleasure now.
My notes contain many other little anecdotes that could be cited to bolster the argument that we should be thankful for everything because all things do work out for good for believers, just as it says in Romans 8:28. When I get dismayed at some problem or group of problems that seem insurmountable, I just pray for that the Lord will enable me to understand more quickly whatever it is that He is trying to teach me.
Example 2…The Benefits of Not Insuring
A recent example of this is ongoing at present. About two months ago we received a bill from the company with which we had had a contract to either repair or replace our appliances. A note on the bill indicated that if we paid for two years now, they would not raise the price for next year. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, because I had been threatening for several years to look into the benefits that we were receiving for our money. So, after a careful analysis of records covering 12 years, I concluded that we could no longer afford their service —- and that I could take over the diagnosis of problems and how to get them solved.
So, we did not renew the contract. And, yes, you guessed it! During the next month five major problems developed in quick succession: (1) The pool pump froze up solid, and (2) the kitchen garbage disposal failed, so both had to be replaced. (3) The freezer out in the garage no longer kept ice cream frozen, and I had to pay a Sears repair man $60 to tell me that it would cost more to repair the freezer than to buy a new one. (4) The refrigerator in the kitchen began acting up (collecting water on surfaces that were supposed to stay dry). (5) The pool underwater light failed to turn on.
However, even out of that mess some good came. The replacement pool pump produced much more suction than the old one ever had, so now our pool cleaner works very much better than it used to, making our pool easier to keep clean. The pool underwater light came on after I remembered that near the pool pump was a transformer switch which might have been turned off during the repair, and that turned out to be correct, so just turning that switch ON solved that problem.
I tried fixing our refrigerator by reaming out a drain line, but since it was not plugged up, cleaning it out didn’t fix anything. However, because this relic was 21 years old, we decided that it was time to replace it, and we quickly found a new one on sale that Dorian liked much better than our old one. Meanwhile, I had concluded that there was really nothing wrong with our old refrigerator except that, by putting everything from the freezer into it, we had overloaded it and disrupted the airflow in it. By simply changing the setting on a switch labeled “Power Saver” and using up some of the excess food with which we had overburdened it, it returned to normal satisfactory operation. So when the deliverymen came to install the new refrigerator, I had them put the old one in the garage where the freezer had been, instead of hauling it to the dump. And now we find that we like the new arrangement much more than when we had a stand-alone freezer.
So, outside of the fact that we will have to restrict our diet to beans and franks until all this stuff gets paid for, everything has turned out much better than I could have hoped for. At least we have “the peace of God” in our hearts and we can sleep at night.
Example 3…Understanding Comes from a Deluge
Sometimes the Lord has to cause problems to happen to us in order to teach us things that we want to know or, if, even if we don’t want to know them, at least things that we need to know. An example of this occurred after this was first posted to this web site.
We have a patch of ground in front of our house where the front walk meets the driveway. In its center is a bougainvillea plant that seems to be growing satisfactorily. However, I have surrounded it with scutillaria, which is a tropical plant with a bright red flower (all year long) that grows into a small bush and crowds out the weeds…at least that is what it does on the side of our house. Scutillaria is very easy to start from cuttings, so I have a patch where I let the cuttings root, and then I transplant them to several other places around the house.
However, the transplants in front of our house have never done well. For a couple of years I tried all kinds of fertilizers, but nothing seemed to get these bushes to be healthy looking like those elsewhere in the yard. When I would go to pull up the weeds, the ground was like pavement. I would break it up with a garden fork but the next time I weeded, the “pavement” would be back. This week I found out what was going on and what was causing the ground to cake so badly: I had determined to fix up this patch properly, so I had dug out and discarded the top couple of inches of soil and replaced it with Miracle-Gro “Garden Soil”. I didn’t bother to read all of the fine print on the bags…at least not the part that said “Do not plant directly in this soil…Mix it with the soil underneath before planting.”
So I had this new soil lying on top of the “pavement”. I had previously dug up all of the scutillaria plants and had them stored in a 5-gallon bucket of water, which rinsed off all of the remaining soil that I hadn’t been able to knock off. The roots on these transplanted cuttings were huge, compact, matted together…beautiful, even though the tops of the plants looked miserable. So, I planted them directly in the new “Garden Soil”.
About two hours after I had finished doing this, we experienced a typical Florida afternoon thunderstorm, which, in this case, dumped a huge deluge of water. The next afternoon we got a repeat performance…two deluges, two days in a row…each time dumping about one or two inches of rain in 15 or 20 minutes. This is not at all unusual in south Florida in the summer.
On the morning of the third day I wondered why the driveway at the swale was so black. Inspection showed that it was covered with about a quarter of an inch of black dirt, and then even from a distance I could see what was happening to the patch that I had just planted: We had an erosion problem! The wash from the roof was running down the walk, taking a shortcut across the patch, and continuing on down the driveway and into the swale. And in the shortcut, it was picking up anything that would float, like the compost, humus, and peat moss, and washing it out. That is what had been happening. No amount of fertilizer and stirring up of the ground would prevent the wash from removing anything of value to the plants, leaving only sand and gravel packed together like concrete.
Once the cause was visible, the correction became possible. I went to Home Depot and got a roll of black rubber edging, which I put between the dirt and the walk, creating a dam that should deflect the water from the roof runoff and keep it on the walk and driveway instead of allowing it to shortcut across the dirt.
Now that I know what caused the problem, I can monitor the ground after a thunderstorm. If we ever get a deluge big enough to cause the water to flow over the new “dam” that I created, all I will have to do is to get a pair of pliers and pull the edging up an inch or so higher all along.
Sure, those two deluges caused a lot of work for me, but look at what I learned from them. How else was the Lord going to show me what was wrong and how to fix it? I am very thankful that all of this trouble occurred, because if it were not for it I might never have figured out what the problem was or how to correct it.
— Louis G. Stang, Jr.