I loved baseball when I was a boy. I played every year. When I was ten years old, I had what was probably my best season. I finished the regular season with no errors and had a high batting average. It was the first year that I made the All Star team. During the All Star season accidents began to happen to me. Pitchers kept hitting me, balls would take unusual bounces and leave me bruised and bloody.
Slowly a fear began to creep into me. I began to find excuses to miss practices and games. When I did play, I found myself overwhelmed with anxiety and fear about what may happen. All they joy was gone. One day my mother pulled me aside and simply said, “Everyone is afraid sometimes. But you can’t focus on your fear… or you’ll never enjoy baseball again. Focus on what you enjoy, not what you fear.”
Fears surround us. Often they are the personal fears that stem from the problems that we each face, the challenges, the failures that we worry about. For some of us, they are financial fears that we carry around. We worry about our job performance because that affects our financial future, and many of us have struggled with losing jobs and being in that in-between land where we don’t have a livelihood. There are health issues that we fear. We fear cancer. We fear heart attacks and strokes and the list can go on. All of these are very real dangers.
In Isaiah 43:1, we read “But now, this is what the LORD says… ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’” This passage reminds us that we belong to God, and that God will see us through any trial. When we focus on our fears, we tend to forget our blessings. Eventually the fear and worry began to have a negative impact on how we enjoy those very blessings. There are some things in life that may be out of our control, but there are also things that we can do. It is only when we focus more on the blessing from God that life is truly a joy. You will never find happiness where you are going unless you take the ingredients along with you.
Early in our ministry things were tight for our family. My wife and I had both been working hard and rarely seeing one another. So one night we sent our children to their grandparents, and made reservations to celebrate our anniversary at a nice restaurant. It was something that we both looked forward to doing. Just before we left, a teenager from church walked up our driveway with tears in his eyes. His grandfather had died, and he simply wanted to be in our company. My wife and I spent the next several hours of our anniversary gladly playing monopoly with a grieving teenager.
It was a night of compassion and ministry. Occasionally I would remember it, and wonder how that young man’s life had turned out and if we had been of any influence. Last week, I received an email from that same young man after he had tracked us down. It seems that he had experienced some difficulties in life. He said that at one point when he was near the bottom, he remembered the last time he felt so low. It was the night when he wound up playing monopoly with a preacher and his wife who were all dressed up. He went on to describe an awaking of grace in his life as he remembered that he was loved. Eventually he found his way back to church. His note was not necessarily to reminisce, but to invite us to his ordination. He wanted to spend the rest of his life in ministry making others feel as loved as he felt that night so long ago.
Sometimes you never really know how much of a difference you are making in someone’s life. It can be discouraging to invest your time giving and doing and not see any dividends. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the Sower. In it he describes a farmer scattering seeds on different types of ground, and how the condition of the soil either helps the seed grow or prevents its. In this parable Jesus reminds us that God’s grace is lavishly scattered, but the conditions of a person’s life and heart can become obstacles to that grace. Our role in life is to remove as many obstacles as we can from the lives around us with our love and service. God does the rest. Every act of service and love, no matter how small, becomes an investment in God’s kingdom…whether we see it or not.
Although it has been many years ago, I can still remember as if it were yesterday sitting down at the table to begin what was at the time a monthly ritual of paying our children‘s medical bills. Paying the bills never makes me happy. It‘s trying and depressing because it seems that the more checks I write, the more bills I get. My then two-year- old daughter was in my lap, playing doctor… of all things! I continued writing checks and complaining while she tended my imaginary wounds. Suddenly she stopped playing and asked, “daddy, how da get dis boo-boo on your face?”
Her question brought back long forgotten memories. As a child I had received many “corrections” at the wrong end of a switch for playing in Granny‘s flowers. I learned that lesson so well that on one particular occasion I personally attempted to provide the same correction to a stray dog I found in Granny‘s flowers. Needless to say he did not appreciate the quality of the education I was providing and he bit me. I was carried into the house screaming, “I‘m blind, I‘m blind, I‘m blind, I can‘t see!” I‘ll never forget my father‘s words…”Well open your eyes then.”
As those memories flooded my mind, I looked into my daughter‘s eyes, and smiled. One of god‘s greatest blessings had been in my lap all along. I had not noticed because I was blinded by my own complaints. All of a sudden as I opened my eyes paying those bills did not seem so bad. It is amazing how much easier life‘s burdens are when you open your eyes to God‘s blessings. In the fourth chapter of Philippians, Paul encourages us to think about the blessings from God and not our short comings. When you think about God‘s blessings in your life, God will open your eyes just as he did for the blind man. Life is too short to miss God‘s blessing simply because we fail to see what is right in front of us.
As I turned my attention back toward the mountain of medical bills and looked at my daughter playing doctor. With a huge smile I thought, “two more payments and she‘s all mine!” How many blessings can you see?