What we already have in our hands matters… but so do some of the things we have yet to hold.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. (1 Thess. 5:16-19 NIV)
During our first winter in northeastern Japan, our family had the privilege of attending a Christian camp, free of charge, thanks to funds set aside to give tsunami survivors and relief workers a few days of rest and refreshment in the beautiful mountains of Iwate.
The camp was located inland, where winds from the Japan sea blast over a mountain range, dumping tons of snow on the other side. I’d never seen so much snow in my life– at camp, the snow was at least five feet deep, and we saw a few places where it was easily double that.
Needless to say, our boys loved this winter wonderland. They got to sled downhill, make snowmen, have snowball fights, build snow caves, bury their old man in the snow…
On our third day, I was getting ready to take the kids outside for sledding when I reached for my keys and got an impression:
“Don’t bring your keys. You might lose them.”
I ignored the impression, thinking that I’d need my keys to get the kids’ sleds out of the car, and that I’d keep the keys safe in a zippered pocket.
I got another impression: “Instead of using the sleds in the car, just borrow some sleds from the camp.”
I ignored the impression again, as I too often tend to do. And this time, I’d learn my lesson the hard way.
Yes, I lost my keys in the snow.
Snow that was three to five feet deep, snow that my kids had buried me in, snow that we had trudged over uphill and sled over downhill countless times throughout the day. My zippered pocket had come undone and my entire set of keys was gone. (Thankfully, Soo had a spare car key in her bag.)
I tried looking for them, but this was in the late afternoon, and darkness would soon come. I went out to search again the next morning, but alas, an additional foot of snow had fallen in the night.
Upset with myself, I began to ask why I ignored the impressions to leave the keys inside, and I prayed, asking God why this happened. He answered:
“Why can’t you just be thankful that Soo had a spare key?”
Soo doesn’t always carry around our spare car key, but she happened to grab it as she was packing for this trip. If she hadn’t, I might have had to catch a bus back to Ofunato, find our spare key, and take a bus back to camp. (Not as easy as it sounds– it could take the better part of a day to travel by bus, back and forth between these two isolated towns.)
I thought about how we, as human beings, tend to dwell on the things we don’t have and not spend enough time expressing gratitude for that which we do have. Our adversary, Satan, would taunt us with what we lack, stirring feelings of inadequacy, covetousness, and envy, which, in turn, lead to feelings of discontent, and ultimately, despair. “Counting our blessings” reminds us that we have already been given much; it reminds us that God has been, and always will be, present with us.
When my kids were younger, they’d go to the toy store and point to things, saying “I have this! I have that!” But as they grew, they’d go to the store and point to things, saying “I don’t have this.. I don’t have that…”
Yeah. It’s kind of like that.
One of the camp staff joked that they might find the keys once the snow thawed the following spring. Another staffer chimed in and expressed the unlikelihood of ever finding the keys, as once the snow melted, the hillsides would be covered with vegetation that would camouflage the black and chrome keys.
I refused to give up hope. While digging through the snow earlier, I was praying, and I got the word mitsukeru, meaning “to discover or find.”
We left camp with Soo’s spare key and a funny story about losing my keys in the snow.
Later that spring…
Guess what arrived in the mail?
One of the camp directors happened upon my keys while walking up the hill in the springtime, when the snow had melted and the greens began to grow.
I didn’t want to overspiritualize something as seemingly trivial as this, but the incident did remind me of Luke 15, where we find the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. While others had given up hope on my keys ever being found, I did not, and I waited patiently for the day I’d be reunited with them, like the father waiting for the prodigal son to return.
I think about people whom others have given up on– the outcasts, the “crazy” person, the difficult personalities who push others away– while God has not, searching for the one lost sheep or coin, patiently waiting for that prodigal child to return to Him.
During our outreach to tsunami survivors, we would occasionally encounter resistance or difficult behavior from a handful of individuals, and it would have been easier to dismiss or ignore these people completely, but I was constantly reminded that I used to be such a person, too. If it weren’t for the God who didn’t give up on me, along with those in my life who didn’t write me off as a lost cause, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Therefore, we patiently endure with even the most unlovable among us and keep showering them with the grace-laced love that we first received from the LORD.
When we do this, sometimes, the lost get found.
Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15: 8-10)
In this passage, which is more important: the nine coins that the woman still had or the one coin that she lost? Bear in mind that this woman was probably poor (the fact that she had to light a lamp indicates that she had no windows, giving us a clue to her social status), so every coin would have mattered to her. Coins at the time weren’t like the loose change of today; they were the main form of currency and each coin could represent wages for a day or two.
All ten coins mattered to her. And all of us matter to God, whether He already has us in His hands or whether we’re still lost, outside of His embrace.
Stephen Bay is Newsong Children’s Pastor. You can check out more of his writing at www.ransomedlife.com.