May 15, 2013
 Bailing Us Out
Appreciating God's
Radical Protection
In Your Life
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Halfway through an intensive graduate program I lost my zeal. My pastoral heartstrings tugged at me; I wanted to get out of academia and back into people-centered ministry. I came close to quitting.

On Evie's advice I decided to seek counsel from the dean of students. When I walked into his office the next morning, he received me warmly and spoke with me at length, even though I hadn't made an appointment. After I explained my dilemma, he offered some simple advice: Since I had come this far in the program, it was a minimal sacrifice to continue. Besides, the long-range benefits of finishing the degree well outweighed the momentary relief of getting out.

Fortunately his counsel hit a receptive chord, and his affirming spirit was reassuring. By the end of our meeting my motivation had begun to return. I'm now eternally grateful to this man for his advice and encouragement. Staying with the program gave me the background to write my first book, and the degree has opened numerous doors of ministry. In this case God used a man--one individual--to keep me from a regrettable course of action. Were it not for his counsel, I likely would have bailed out.

The experience speaks to me of God's protective hand in my life. As I reflect on his protection, I'm reminded not only of individuals who have been like angels of light to me but also of fortuitous circumstances. One evening when we were living in St. Louis, I was studying in my basement office. I took a short break to go to the kitchen for a soda and while upstairs heard the noise of glass shattering in the basement. I rushed downstairs to find that the fluorescent bulb over my desk had come loose, falling onto my desk and exploding into hundreds of fragments. I had barely missed being in its range of fire.

I'm frankly humbled to realize how often the “barely missed” scenario has described my life. Perhaps you feel the same about your experience as well.

Rescue Missions

I'm not building up to the thought that the Christian never experiences problems or that faith will deliver us from every predicament. God allows challenge and pain to come into our lives as needed to strengthen us and increase our dependency on him. Yet a friend and I who were talking about it agreed that our most common experience of God's grace has been of his providing us ways out of tight spots. Often these have been predicaments of our own making--dilemmas into which our limited insight has plunged us. Call this a rescue operation if you will. I'm perfectly comfortable with the idea. In fact, if we don't have a profound and ongoing sense of needing to be rescued, we will miss many of the benefits of the grace of God.

But this sense of need must be accompanied by the conviction that God will come to our rescue. We need this confidence not only for the sake of humility (as vital as that is) but for the sake of courage. One of the reasons we hesitate to take important steps of faith--toward building relationships or seeking better opportunities for our gifts--is our fear of problems that might confront us on the way.

Divine Compensation

Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus demonstrated his willingness to care for those who followed him, to the point of bailing them out of the most hideous predicaments. His first miracle was precisely such a rescue mission. He and his disciples were attending a wedding feast in Cana (Jn 2:1-11). Marriage celebrations in New Testament times amounted to festivals that lasted many days. The families of the bride and groom were often bound by a legal contract, and the groom's family could be sued if the reception's provisions were inadequate. Partway through this particular feast, the wine gave out. Jesus proceeded to transform the water filling six twenty-gallon jugs into wine of superb quality.

By doing so Jesus not only taught a symbolic truth about the superiority of the new covenant over the old. He also demonstrated something profoundly practical about God's willingness to come to our aid in human affairs. By protecting the groom's family from embarrassment and legal liability, he showed how God can shield us from unforeseen consequences as we take steps of faith.

Jesus showed his willingness to rescue us in perhaps an even more comforting way through his last miracle--restoring the ear of the high priest's servant after Peter slashed it off (Jn 18:10-11; Lk 22:51). Peter undoubtedly intended to do something far more destructive with his sword--to kill the servant or the high priest himself. The healing of the servant's ear not only symbolizes God's rectifying our mistakes but reminds us that he often protects us from the more extreme effects of our impulsive and destructive tendencies.

A Confident Perspective

We should meditate often on the fact of God's rescue missions in our lives, for this is one of the vital ways in which he shows his providential care for us. Appreciating his willingness to rescue us shouldn't lead to sloppiness in our walk with Christ (“If God will bail me out, I can do whatever I want”). If it does, then we haven't taken the grace of God seriously to begin with! To the contrary, it should strengthen our boldness to take steps of faith.

I realize it can sometimes be hard to know precisely what God wants us to do. We may struggle long and hard to discern his will for a particular decision. Yet even as we come to understand it, we're often panicked at the thought of moving forward. Our mind is filled with countless “what ifs”--imagined future disasters that paralyze us from taking action. At this time especially we need to be fortified by confidence in God's willingness to rescue us if it proves necessary.

From the human angle, of course, we want to figure out solutions to all potential problems before they arise. Yet concern with troubleshooting every possible contingency in advance will paralyze us from ever taking a major step of faith. As the Cana wedding feast reminds us, the time comes when we simply need to move ahead, trusting that God is abundantly able to come to our rescue where our planning has been inadequate. And as he protected Peter in the incident with the servant's ear, he can safeguard us from the effects of our more extreme human tendencies.

God cannot steer a parked car. But as we move forward, we discover his infinite ability to navigate our lives. And he is just as able to do the maintenance necessary to keep us on course.

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This article is adapted from Blaine Smith's Faith and Optimism: Positive Expectation in the Christian Life (formerly The Optimism Factor: Outrageous Faith Against the Odds).

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