October 23, 2009

How God Gently Leads

2009 1529 page28 capur Sabbath school leader challenged us to let go of the control of all areas of our lives and allow God to be in charge. Her words rang in my ears as I considered the latest opportunity to learn this lesson: our firstborn’s first year away at college.

Our 18-year-old son chose to study in Europe. For someone who enjoys history, languages, and adventure it was an opportunity of a lifetime. And for someone like our son, who’s been waiting to “take flight” for years, the degree of independence he experienced was welcome.
The first several weeks of the school year he raved about walking down the hill from the school, hopping on a bus, and 15 minutes later arriving at the epicenter of the Renaissance. A few weeks later he took the train to Rome with a couple of Americans from the school and spent the weekend visiting places such as the Vatican, the Coliseum, and Trevi Fountain. One weekend he wrote about visiting Barcelona, Spain.
A Minor(?) Wrinkle
Knowing of our son’s thirst for adventure, we were quite taken aback a couple of weeks later when he e-mailed us expressing some restlessness and hesitation about staying in Europe for the entire school year. We tried to read between the lines, but we eventually had more questions than answers.
I wrote back immediately (thank God for e-mail) asking how things were going, hoping to get some clues.
2009 1529 page28These communications took place on a Wednesday. The rest of that day and all day Thursday I kept checking for an e-mail response every hour or two. My anxieties grew as I went over every cause for concern—both factual and imaginary. We had plenty to be thankful about. He was getting good grades, he wrote and phoned regularly, and he seemed more affectionate than he had been in years. However, as far as we knew, our son had yet to give his heart to Jesus. And, I admit, that was the main source of my concern.
My mind was in a whirl. Where was the place for him as far as his eternal best interests? We believed God had opened the door for our son to attend that school, but was it time for him to come home? What was our role as parents? What advice did he need from us? How could we give advice when we had so few facts? How could we get more facts if he didn’t write again?
After a day and a half of this, I woke up on Friday after a restless night with anxious knots in my stomach. I knew I’d get sick if I went on like this. I had prayed many, many times in the last two days for our son’s well-being and for wisdom for him and us. But I still was a wreck. “God, please help me!” I prayed. “Your Word says: ‘Do not be anxious.’ But how do I do it?”
My Refuge
I’m still in awe of what the Lord did for me in the 30 minutes following that prayer. I praise Him because He’s so loving and faithful! The Lord led me to a series of Scriptures I had been memorizing, and showed me from which angle to view them. Frankly, I marvel at the customized prescription He put together: just what I needed to cure this episode of anxiety! He reminded me to entrust my son completely to Him.
The first verse was Psalm 130:5: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.” I had been waiting for word from our son, and time after time I’d been disappointed! I sensed the Lord telling me: Stop putting your hope on news from your son to bring you assurance. That’s a very iffy thing! Look to Me and My Word.
The next Scripture I remembered was Psalm 16:7-9: “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure.”
My body could sure use some rest, I thought. I’d love to have these stomach knots dissolve. And there’s nothing I’d rather have right now than the Lord’s own counsel and a sense of His presence at my right hand. It would also be nice to be able to say that my heart is glad. How I would love to have David’s confidence and say, “Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
Then I noticed the sentence wedged right between these assurances: “I have set the Lord always before me.” I will set the Lord always before me, I thought. I will focus on the Lord, not any person or situation. I sensed the Lord telling me outright: Esther, that’s what you have to do; that’s My assignment for you today.
Sanctified Imagination
All right, I thought, I’m supposed to focus on the Lord. In the following minutes the Lord guided me to a sequence of four Scriptures, each providing an image of the Lord in action.
The first image was from Luke 15:4: “Does [the Shepherd] not . . . go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” As I visualized this scene I saw Jesus, our Shepherd, in the foreground, a big spotlight shining on Him as He scrambled up and down the landscape with His sleeves rolled up showing His strong arms. No matter where the sheep ran off to, the Good Shepherd went after it. I refused to focus merely on the sheep as it ran off to precarious places. Instead, I fixed my attention on the Shepherd’s agility, strength, and stick-to-it-iveness. Three verses later ?is the beautiful scene that completes the story: “There [is] more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents ?. . .” I love to imagine that celebration.
The second image, in Isaiah 40:11, also presents the Lord as a Shepherd. This is such a beautiful promise for parents: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in ?his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
Once again I felt the Lord encouraging me to focus on His action instead of on the weakness or immaturity of the lambs. I imagined the Lord gathering the lambs in His arms where they would be safe; carrying them so close they can feel His heart beating for them.
I sensed my anxiety level going down, and I felt relaxed for the first time in two days. But the Lord had two more passages to bless me with that morning. For a long time Isaiah 44:3-5 had been one of my favorite Bible promises for parents: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel.”

What Do You Think?

1. What makes praying for grown children so frustrating? What other types of situations are likewise trying?

2. Why is focusing on the Lord's abilities preferable to focusing on our inabilities?

What biblical promises have become precious to you as you've wrestled in prayer for God to guide those you love? List at least three.

Beyond simply praying for our loved ones, what practical demonstrations might be useful? Again, list at least three.

I had claimed these promises before, but I sensed the Lord encouraging me to focus on His action of pouring out His Spirit on my children as if it were a stream of water, not a drop or trickle. I also sensed the Lord encouraging me: Esther, I want you to resist dwelling on the thirsty land and dry ground. Your child’s heart may look like dry ground at times, but remember that it has 18 years’ worth of seeds in it. I promise to pour out My Spirit on your child as streams of water. And you know what water will do to the seeds. Just focus on what I’m doing!

The fourth image is the familiar scene of Revelation 3:20: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and ?he with me.” In this case I was led to focus on Jesus continually knocking, instead of on the closed door. I focused on Jesus patiently, persistently knocking until my son swings open the door and invites Him in.
These images of the Lord in action continued to bless me as I replayed them in my mind. I thanked God repeatedly for providing in His Word what I needed to grow in faith. The Lord taught me that being anxious over the salvation of a child is not a sign of a good parent, but rather a sign of little faith. Instead, God called me to pour my energy into the more productive and rewarding activity of intercession with faith in His Word, with plenty of praise and thanksgiving.
About that time I ran into these words from the book Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing. Ellen White wrote: “The words of God are the wellsprings of life. As you seek unto those living springs you will, through the Holy Spirit, be brought into communion with Christ. Familiar truths will present themselves to your mind in a new aspect, texts of Scripture will burst upon you with a new meaning as a flash of light, you will see the relation of other truths to the work of redemption, and you will know that Christ is leading you, a divine Teacher is at your side” (p. 20).
Wow, I thought, this describes just what God did for me.
Our son completed a successful and enjoyable year abroad. As we continued to pray for his salvation throughout his college years, the Lord taught us precious lessons of trust and dependence upon Him. I thank God for His Word, which “was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
Esther Block is a pseudonym. This article was published October 15, 2009.