Many years ago, I had finished my sermon earlier than usual and decided to take Fritz, my dog, for his morning walk before, rather than after church. It was always difficult to fit the dog in for his or my constitutional on a Sunday morning. There is the Saturday crash and the early Sunday scram, and it was getting no easier with the years!
Fortunately there were about 23 acres at the back of my house and so the two old codgers ambled down the garden through the gate and out into paradise. For those with dogs you will know that you catch glimpses of them as they sniff, hunt and mark their territory. At this age, Fritz was deaf, partially sighted and had arthritis in his spine. He just ambled along and so did I. In his younger day he would run ahead of me, but now he struggled to keep up with my dawdling. However sometimes as I stopped, meditating, he would pass me at a gentle lope.
I looked up suddenly and could not see him anywhere, he was gone. There were many bushes, trees and tall undergrowth and I couldn’t see him. Slight anxiety gripped me. I clapped my hands twice, which was my call sign, and then realised he was deaf and couldn’t hear me. I had used this training technique since he was a puppy. Over the years he had learned to come at command, and he would emerge from the undergrown running at full pelt until he slithered to a stop at my feet. Not this time however, but he would eventually make it to me.
Here I was, a lost deaf dog, who couldn’t hear or recognise me. I had noticed that he often went up to the wrong person, one sniff and he would know it wasn’t me! That was some consolation! As I considered what to do, I looked at my watch, and realised that service time was fast approaching. I stood still and contemplated the next action, and as I did, turned round and there right behind me, looking up at me was Fritz. He seemed to be saying, “what’s wrong you silly old man, I’m never far away – you feed me!”
It was then that God spoke to me. “You wander through life and catch a glimpse of my grace, in the multitude of secular activities. You then lose sight of me as you become caught up with non-essentials and, looking up, I’ve apparently gone. You panic not knowing what to do, but listen son, I’m just behind you, and I’ll never leave you or forsake you.”
I stood transfixed as this revelation caught my attention. So often He does things like that. In the least expected moment of apparent crisis, there comes His riveting word of comfort. “Never leave” and “never forsake” — what security that is. The lesson of life is that people often forsake and leave us. The arm of flesh fails, no matter how loyal. Not Jesus. He stood by us from the cross and will bear us through the grave.
As I wrote this I got up from my work-desk to leave my study. As I looked out of the side-landing window, I noticed a spider’s web, highlighted by raindrops. Sat behind my computer I hadn’t noticed the change in the weather. The web must have been there for some time, but it was invisible until it rained. The thought came to me, “look, it’s a second confirmation. God is always there, it takes the rain of adversity to reveal His presence.”
Our house then was in North Wembley, under the flight path from Heathrow and on occasion, when the wind was contrary, which was about twice a year, the planes fly over. They often entered the clouds and passing through and emerged on the other side. That is like God. He comes and we know he’s in the clouds and that he’ll soon come out on the other side, it’s the waiting that bothers us. The clouds disturb our peace. God’s invisibility and apparent inaction cause us the greatest anxiety.
In times of pain and perplexity our faith is tested. The puzzlement of life tries our tranquillity as we search for answers that have no answer. Often God does not explain himself; there is no reason why he should. We are left to discern amongst the morning mists the figure of Christ, like the disciples on the Tiberius Lake. John not Peter realised it was Jesus, because John loved and Peter lived. He knew the heartbeat of Jesus for he often leant on his bosom while at the meal table. We ought to do likewise.