Answers to Prayer in the Midst of Non-Answers

On the way to South Carolina last June our water pump froze up 16 miles east of Knoxville on the Interstate. The car immediately overheated and we had to stop. The nearest station was fifteen miles away, and it was Sunday morning. Pretty bleak. The sun was blazing down in the 90’s and I had no idea what to do. We were hurrying to get to Myrtle Beach for a once in a lifetime five days with my father and his only grandsons to do some deep sea fishing which was all scheduled.

After piddling around with the motor for 20 minutes or so I knew there was nothing I could do. No cars were stopping to help. But we needed help. Can you imagine how hard it was for me to try to stop a car on that freeway? It took me 10 minutes of walking in circles to get up the courage (or to get down the pride) to try to flag down a car.

Finally, I got a rag from under the front seat and went out behind the U-Haul trailer we were pulling, and held it up in the air to signal our distress. I stood there for 2 or 3 or 4 minutes and the cars just whizzed on by. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was on my knees, as it were, with a flag in my hand like the statue of liberty and they didn’t stop. It was very humiliating. (It’s not hard to see why the white-flag-waving truce of repentance and saving faith is so hard for people.)

Abraham came up to me and said, “I think we need to pray.” I said, “You’re right.” So I put down my flag for a moment. Abraham and I prayed right there by the trailer. When we opened our eyes two vehicles had pulled over. One of them was a mechanic. He looked at the car, diagnosed the problem and said, “You know everything is closed today. If you go into town you’ll have to wait till Monday. I could go get the part and fix it here on the road for you.” Well, that is what happened and we were on our way again in about 4 hours.

Now here’s the puzzling thing. I believe with all my heart that God answered Abraham’s prayer, and that he answered it with a one in a thousand possibility—a mechanic, Sunday morning, 16 miles from home, working for a trucking firm that was open for trucks on Sunday and willing to go all the way to town and back to help us. Incredible! I believe that was God. But, the skeptic says, “If your God is so powerful and so wonderful, why didn’t he just keep the water pump working?” In fact we asked the Lord for his help that morning. We asked for a good-working car all day.

But God did not give us a trouble free day. Instead he let us come into trouble (which of course he could have kept from happening) and then helped us in some amazing ways in the midst of our fear and frustration and sweat and disappointment. So here, as in a thousand other times of my life, I was thanking the Lord for his grace, not to keep me from trouble and sickness and frustration and disappointment, but to give me amazing help in the midst of it.

Why does he work this way? Two possible answers: 1) he knows better how to run the world than I do, including when I arrive in Myrtle Beach (or not!) 2) I gave the mechanic a copy of “Quest for Joy” and spoke to him of our faith in Christ. Only eternity will show the full wisdom and mercy of God in the curious derailing of our plans and prayers.

Preparing with you for today’s detours,

Pastor John

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