Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mysterious Ways

by Dan Jones

We’ve all heard that “God works in mysterious ways,” but this is another one of those phrases we’re all sure is in our Bibles somewhere-- but it’s not.

The phrase is actually a misquote of a line in an English hymn written in 1773 by William Cowper. The actual lyric is, “God moves in mysterious ways.”

Cowper was correct, though. God does indeed move in mysterious ways, and he was probably thinking of Isaiah 55: 8-9 as he penned those words:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Just this past weekend, I was at the center of God’s mysterious ways and I’m still amazed and smiling about the whole thing even though it was a long string of events that didn’t work out anything like I planned.

I had planned to be fishing in the Brainerd area, but that didn’t work out. So, since the weather was going to be gorgeous and I had not gone fishing opening weekend (shocking in itself) I decided to hook up the boat and head up to the Willmar area where I had “discovered” a beautiful little lake hardly anyone fished. (It has a very tiny and difficult public access.)

And since I didn’t want to drive almost three hours one way, fish for a partial day, and drive back another three hours, that meant I would “camp out” Friday and Saturday night.  (My “camping out” means I sleep in the back of the pickup.)

While I still appreciate a certain degree of wilderness “adventure,” I’ve also become somewhat lazy in my advanced age.  So, part of the plan was to buy a cheap electric fry pan to avoid lugging along the small charcoal grill, the charcoal, and the lighter fluid I normally use in these situations.

You can cook a fine breakfast in an electric fry pan and they work very well for frying fish, I reasoned.

Almost all the sites in public campgrounds are wired and I was going to want electricity anyway to run the heater I put inside the pickup where I slept.  (Yes, I take an electric heater when it’s going to be 50 degrees at night. The name is “Dan Jones,” not “Daniel Boone.”)

I had done some research and found Sibley State Park was less than 10 miles from the lake. I had never been there before, but our Minnesota State Parks have been good to me before.

So, after spending all day Thursday getting stuff done around the yard (Can’t go fishing until the tomatoes are in, right?) and getting the boat, motor, and trailer ready (Oh yeah, I have to fix the trolling motor hold-down that broke last fall.) I was ready to leave first thing Friday morning.

Of course, I would pray before I left on such a journey for my safety and the safety of my family—and I prayed, as I often do, that I would be a witness and a light to everyone I met.

I remember thinking the “witness” thing was pretty unlikely since I was going to be fishing alone.

I left home right on schedule at 8:00 Friday morning, stopped and got the electric fry pan, and all went well. Kinship Christian Radio was playing some wonderful praise songs as I drove along and I arrived at the lake, launched the boat without any major drama, and started the motor to find all was working well.

The fish, however, were not working at all. I could actually see some of them up near shore and they were not at all interested in biting. I did catch one small bass by accident but it most assuredly was not destined for my brand-new $18.96 electric frying pan.

After several hours of beating the fishing equivalent of a dead horse, I decided I should probably get registered at the campground before there were no sites left.

Upon arrival at Sibley State Park, the lady checking me in (Marge) was very nice but the State’s computer kept insisting that I was from Hamby, Texas instead of Amboy, Minnesota. Finally someone came to her aid, sternly rebuked the computer, and I was allowed to select my campsite.

My choices were sites 14, 15, 47, or 48. None of this meant anything to me as I had never been in the campground before, but since my lovely wife will often answer “14” whenever she has no idea of the correct answer, (or sometimes just to be a smartyboots) I said, “14, Marge. I’m sure 14 will be lovely.”

Marge confirmed 14 was a great site and off I went.

As I was backing the truck in, I noticed there was a lady setting up a tent in the adjoining site. She immediately struck up a conversation and turned out to be a very nice person, even offering to “spot me” as I backed the boat into the campsite.

She told me she had been coming to Sibley State Park since she was a little girl and was a wealth of knowledge as to the location of the various amenities at the park.  I remember thinking it odd that she seemed to be alone, but so was I, so who am I to judge?

We talked for a bit, and she offered me a beer, for which I thanked her kindly but explained that I had been sober for over 30 years. That often makes people uncomfortable, so I also explained that I don’t have a problem with people who can responsibly enjoy adult beverages and she shouldn’t feel bad.

(Jesus didn’t turn water into Grape Nehi, boys and girls.)

She was intrigued by my sobriety and asked several questions including, “What was the hardest part?”

She caught me off guard with that because I hadn’t really thought about it in 30 years, so I answered, “I suppose resisting the temptation, but that’s a pretty easy answer.”

She made it clear she recognized that as a non-answer.

So, I decided to just shoot it to her straight.

“The hardest part was realizing I couldn’t do it myself. I could not do it in my own strength. It was God. Jesus saved me.”

I could tell that shocked her. People don’t bring up Jesus ten minutes after having just met. But hey, she asked and it was the truth.

We continued to talk and she revealed that she had just lost her job the day before. She had spent quite a while crying and then decided to come to the park and camp for reasons not entirely known to her.  

Perhaps she needed some quiet time. Perhaps being in a place of pleasant and safe memories from her childhood was what she craved.

Perhaps the Lord moves in mysterious ways.

It was growing later in the afternoon, and I still did not have any fish for that frying pan. Plus, there was another lake I wanted to explore.

At the second lake, I caught eleven northern pike and one bass—all of which were also too small to end up in that frying pan.

Well, being a seasoned fisherman, I had also brought along some pork chops and some potatoes. One does not count one’s fish before they are caught. That’s like making sure you have a camera and a net in the boat—a virtual guarantee you will catch nothing.

So, I went back to the campground fishless.

The lady (whom I will call “Ruth” to protect her anonymity) was still there and had been joined by another lady (whom I shall call “Naomi”) and Naomi’s son, Brian. (Yes, I know that’s not the name of Naomi’s son in the Bible, but “Mahlon” and “Chilion” are hard to type. It’s not a direct analogy anyway.) Naomi had been Ruth’s best friend for a dozen years and had come to support her and be with her.

Ruth and I were talking as I removed the frying pan from its box and I admitted my utter failure as a fisherman, but I had a back-up plan involving pork chops. She explained that she had been to a pizza place and they had mistakenly omitted green olives on her pizza and so they had made her a second one with the correct ingredients. This meant she had two pizzas instead of one, and she invited me to share in this unexpected and fortuitous abundance.

Now, I like pizza, and I enjoy just about any kind of pizza (other than plain cheese) but I have this “issue” with cold pizza. Yes, I know, many of you think cold pizza is better than hot pizza and I’m some kind of weirdo for not liking cold pizza. That’s why I said it’s an “issue.”

So, I readily agreed and even offered to heat up the pizza…yes, in my brand-spanky-new electric fry pan.

It was a fine plan and I was quite pleased with myself.

I proceeded to drag out the extension cord and prepare to turn creepy cold pizza into a gourmet delight when Ruth just had to ask me something and interrupted my plans.

She wanted to know more about this God thing. She wanted to know how Jesus had saved me. She wanted to hear my testimony.

And so, there I was sitting in Sibley State Park telling Ruth how I had strayed from the Lord as a young man and, one summer night in 1983 in a campground in Murdo, South Dakota, a tornado had passed over my pup tent and I had promised the LORD God that if He would save my miserable life, I would quit living this sinful life I had chosen for myself.

I told her when I left that campground I was sure there was no way I could keep those promises I made to God when I feared for my very life, but God saw to it that I did. I told her that within two years of making those promises, He had set my feet on the path of a new and so much better life.

And since then, He has blessed me beyond measure and I know for a very certain fact that Jesus loves me and that He always will.

I told Ruth that God loves her too. That He always has and He always will. I told Ruth that it was no accident she had come to Sibley State Park at this time nor was it any accident that I had chosen campsite 14 and showed up at the exact time she was pitching her tent.  I told her that the still, small voice that told her to come to this place at this time was the voice of the Holy Spirit and that the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is our guarantee that Jesus will save us. I told her that even though she thought she was without faith, listening to that voice and obeying it was indeed faith and that she would be saved. I told her that God does not believe in coincidence.

And Ruth was in tears.

And then, I understood why all of these plans I had made and how they actually turned out were not my plan at all, but His plan.

And His plan was greater and more glorious and more wonderful than anything I could have planned.

And part of that plan was that many months before, somewhere in an electric frying pan factory in some distant corner of China, someone forgot to pack the cord in the box with the pan that I would buy on that day.

And I would enjoy the best-tasting cold pizza I had ever had in my life, knowing that I was put here on this earth, at this place and at this time, not for my purposes, but for His.

God bless you, Ruth.

Today’s Praise

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV.

4 comments:

Beth Crosby said...

What a great story, Dan! Thanks for sharing it!

Dan Jones said...

Thanks, Beth! To God be the glory!

kalman1 said...

I will always believe that God sent you to that very campground . so that you could minister to that woman , because she needed to hear the WORD of GOD at that moment .

Kinship Christian Radio said...

Indeed He did, Christina!