Over the course of my ministry, I have met with a number of folks who believe that God is not interested in the smaller details of their lives. God is only interested in the big, capital letter business of your life. I have even ministered to Christians who are ashamed or embarrassed because they care about things that they believe should not matter to them. Or would not matter to them if they were more mature.
I felt that way myself back in August of 1991.
I graduated from the University of Maryland (Go Terps), in December of 1990 – I took an extra semester because I changed majors twice as an undergrad. I immediately applied to and was accepted by the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. That meant that I had nine months to earn as much money as I could to go towards the cost of grad school. Every morning I would wake up at 4:45 and get to Duke’s Deli by 5:30 a.m. The deli closed at 4:00 p.m., so I would be home by 4:30. Then I would either teach saxophone lessons to aspiring jazz musicians or rent myself out as a handyman. In this last endeavor, I did quite a bit of painting.
My parents’ house had aluminum siding, but the woodwork from the soffets to the window trim needed to be scraped and repainted. That was a good job for me. Until I smashed the two smallest toes on my right foot, anyway.
I was working with a thirty-foot extension ladder to get up under the eaves on the second story in front of the family room when, having extended the ladder to its full height, the ladder came sliding back down its full length and landed on my right foot – with which I was maneuvering the ladder into position. To this day I have no idea why the ladder’s safety latch didn’t catch on any of the rungs to stop its collapse. In my sleep deprived state, I watched the ladder come clattering down, and then I felt pain. And lots of it!
My older brother rushed me to the Urgent Care in town. Doug and I had removed my shoe and my foot was in a plastic grocery bag that had collected quite a bit of blood by the time we arrived. My two smaller toes on my right foot looked like smashed red crayons. The doc picked out bits of toenail for about fifteen minutes, wrapped me up, and put me on crutches for three months. He taught me how to care for the toes and told me that the toenails would not regrow – I should not be alarmed by their absence as I healed.
So come September, I hobbled off to seminary, where one of my classmates was a medical doctor who was leaving medicine for ministry. He examined the wound a couple of times a week to make sure it wasn’t getting infected. And when I shared with him how disappointed I was that the toenails were gone for good, he suggested we pray about it. My first thought was that surely this is a silly thing to be praying about. Well, my doctor friend convinced me that God meant it when he said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything… present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6).
I am reminded of this every morning when I pull a sock on my right foot and can count five toenails – each precisely where it should be.
In my current recovery, I have taken to praying for every step of improvement – however small or seemingly insignificant it may be. By the end of my first full day in the hospital, I realized that I couldn’t spit. The nurses kept an accordion-like, collapsible vomit bag right near my face during that first day. I was evidently reacting strongly to coming out of anesthesia and being introduced to new meds. And when they asked me to spit in the bag, I could only drool into it.
During the night I was trying to get Kerrie’s attention but I couldn’t speak above the hoarse, quiet whisper the surgery had left me with. I could not wake Kerrie up. I couldn’t clap because of the lines going into my right wrist and my left hand. Knocking on the bed rail was too quiet. My next idea was whistling. Please note that under ordinary circumstances, I do not recommend whistling as a method for summoning your best-beloved. But these were extraordinary times. So I puckered up and… blew air. I couldn’t spit. And I couldn’t whistle. Two weeks later, sitting up at our dining table at home, I realized that I couldn’t drink out of a soda can either. The left side of my mouth just couldn’t make a satisfactory seal against the rim of the can.
Harking back to my toenails, I have been praying about things like these trivial matters. “Lord, help me to spit, whistle, and drink from a can… and give me patience with all of these things I can no longer do.”
Fast forward five weeks: I can spit. I can whistle. I don’t need to drink my soda through a straw.
There is a scripture in Psalm 18 in which David reminds us of God’s role in our accomplishments:
“With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.”
These are relatively mundane military tasks, given that they have been performed countless times by countless people over the course of human history. But David, our father in the faith, acknowledged that even these things are occasions in which we see the gracious assistance of God himself as we face the conflicts and obstacles that confront us.
What are the smaller troubles in your life? Do you believe that God wants you to bring even these to him? I will continue to pray about things like spitting and whistling. Especially whistling. I used to be able to whistle Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony from beginning to end – today I am nowhere close to that kind of range and pitch control. But I can get Kerrie’s attention!
May God grant to all of you the desires of your hearts as you delight yourself in Him. (Psalm 37:4).