The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Ps. 121:7-8)
Have you ever known you had lost your way or fallen out of the will of God? Let me share that moment in my life and God’s providential yet strangely dramatic way of pulling me back on course.
I returned from work overseas in 2004 and started searching for a job. But the economy was tanking and my hopes shriveled into a horrendously long unemployment. Frustrated and determined to make something happen, I decided to return to retail management with the drugstore where I had worked eight years beginning in high school. But it would be somewhere away from my stagnant hometown region.
So I went hunting. I analyzed cities and matched them with a list of personal criteria. I finally settled on Indianapolis. This would be my life’s first throw-a-dart-at-the-map-and-go moment. I then emailed a district manager in the area about the possibility of a management position, and in one day I received a reply telling me to come and interview.
Well I got the job and things were mostly fine, except one unsettling thing. I would often walk out of my apartment headed to my car thinking, Michael, why are you here? Away from home on my own in the city of my choice, enjoying my independence, yet I sensed that I was out of the will of God.
Time passed until one momentous day—Thursday, June 8th (2006), around 12:30 p.m. Let’s call it the “intervention.”
It was my day off. I still remember it: I was sitting on the couch watching the French Open tennis tournament. Someone knocked at the door, which was unusual; I opened it and greeted a professional plumber not part of the complex staff, even more unusual. He talked to me about the laundry room just a few feet away; it had been flooded for some time.
He explained that all signs pointed to a blockage most likely directly beneath my kitchen. And the only way to reach it was tear out the floor. Action needed to be taken immediately lest it led to further trouble.
The office offered me two options: place all my things in a provided storage pod and stay in a hotel for a few weeks or move out without penalty and receive my deposit back—oh, I needed to be decided today; the work needed to start tomorrow.
In previous weeks my sister had talked to me about returning home. My finances were slowing sliding into perdition. Bills were stacking up and the rent was now difficult to pay. My sister gladly offered to let me stay at her place and insisted that I come. But I resisted because I didn’t wish to be there and felt that I could get a handle on the situation.
For any normal person, moving, at all, would have certainly been an inconvenience, but they would have gone on and moved into the hotel. Who could possibly pack up and move without notice? But when the plumber left, I closed the door and thought, Could this be God giving me a way out? I seriously considered returning to Virginia.
I cannot express the stress I endured for the next 12 hours. This decision seemed to throw my world into a tailspin, and I was a basket case. The management nagged me about my decision. Then, I wondered how would I leave my job or haul away my belongings if I indeed decided to leave? Staying was the reasonable (and sane) thing to do. Any image of a nervous wreck you can come up with, I fit the bill that day. At one point, I sat in my car in tears, beaten merciless by a pressing decision.
(And why does it seem God isn’t speaking whenever you need to clearly hear him?)
By 4 p.m. or so I called the management and told them that I would move away. I could hear the stun in the woman’s silence. In fact, in the hours following the conversation with the plumber, I had a terribly difficult conversation with my boss and I borrowed money from home to rent a U-Haul and car hitch.
By 2 a.m. my entire apartment was packed in boxes; at 6 a.m. I loaded the truck; at 8 a.m. I dropped off the house key; then I had my car hitched to the truck and returned my work keys; and in 600 miles and about 24 hours after my decision to leave, my life had totally changed.
The Providence of God
I apologize for the details, but they mean so much to the process God used to teach me what I share now. I’m sure you understand.
Romans 8:28 explains that God works together with us to bring about his good purpose. But Paul also explains in the preceding verses that the Spirit helps us in our weakness; that we don’t always know how to pray as we should, so he helps us.
I knew I was on the fringes of God’s will just being in Indiana. Moreover, I experienced the worst spiritual slump of my life during that time, and vice grew like weeds. I didn’t like myself. Yes, I was weak, but thank God I was never lost to him.
Just maybe God was in the details of my bizarre departure, you think? I was out of place geophysically and spiritually. God knew that I would have never left Indianapolis without the rushed decision coupled with my growing financial burden.
I heard later that people at my workplace assumed I was running away from some type of trouble. No, I recognize it as divine providence, God’s guidance and preservation over his creation, including human life. It is his sovereignty over situations and even evil that ultimately results in the fulfillment of his will and good purpose. It is as much mysterious as it is pervasive and great.
The providence of God supplies us with confidence that when we veer off course, he watches over and steers us back into the right lane. But his way with us may not always be conventional.
Sometimes we get a glimpse of the value of his saving hand. Psalm 116:8 says, “For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” Perhaps there was a financial collapse ahead of me or worse. Where in your life do you perceive God saved you? Some of us, by now, might have been in grave troubles or even dead, but God intervened. Is he not worthy of praise?
The psalmist continues (vv. 12-13):
What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.