We don't see too many deer roaming around the "woods" in this part of Texas. Where my parents live in Virginia, however, it's not uncommon to wake up to a small band of the shy creatures foraging for food in the back yard and adjoining park land. Unusual drought conditions this Spring no doubt made for a difficult stretch for the suburban Virginia deer population. I imagine there were days they could be found literally panting for streams of water.
When animals go out in search of water, it's not a function of whim or fancy. It feeds a biologically-driven, life-sustaning need. How far removed are most Americans today from a "panting" compulsion to satisfy our most basic needs? We intake and process oxygen without ever regarding it. We turn a knob or pull a lever and fill a cup with water. We swipe a credit card and haul away bags of diverse foods from the local grocery store. We lay our heads on soft pillows every night and drift into slumber without unreasonable fear that our homes will be invaded, our things will be pillaged, and our familes will be harmed.
But what if you were miles into the earth in a coal mine shaft that caved in and your oxygen tank was about to expire? What if you were hanging onto a chunk of debris from a capsized boat that was wafting away on top of the ocean with your plastic jug of clean water? What if you lost your way hiking in the Colorado Rockies and you were alone and stranded with nothing left but a stick of gum to sustain you? What if you got lost and ended up on a mean city street in the dead of night with a flat tire and a dead cell phone?
In any of these scenarios, you would no doubt get very intimate with God. Everyone and everything would fade to black as you rushed to God with a desperate plea for help. Because basic needs that you otherwise take for granted would be under threat. It's a scenario in which, perhaps, the only conceivable option is God because you know you can't save yourself.
Let's say there is a spectacularly good outcome to any of these scenarios. You are rescued in what could only be linked to the supernatural intervention of God. You cried and God answered. Your gratitude to God simply cannot be contained. You are a babbling, bubbling brook as you zealously recount the details of your ordeal and recue to anyone who will listen. You are a blinking, blinding, billboard-like testimonial and most certainly forever changed.
Then some time elapses. You slip into a familiar groove. Your memory of God's saving grace begins to dim. The billboard stops blinking. You are no longer acutely grateful. Life is going predictably. Your basic needs are met. This frees you up to focus on the non-essential things that annoy you. And maybe you communicate a little less and a lot less passionately with God.
There's this human tendency (read all about it in the OT accounts of the grumbling Israelites) to forget to be grateful for our sustenance when things are abundant and free flowing. I'm not going to be too grateful for basic security until my security is threatened. I'm not going to be too mindful of air and water and a nice, soft bed until they're compromised or taken away. I'm not going to be too thankful for every day of good health until I get sick. I'm not going to be too aware of God unless I really need him.
Taking God for granted is a risk for people at every stage of maturity. You could argue that the most mature Christians are, in ways, even more at risk. Because they know He is here... night and day... 24/7... yesterday, today and tomorrow. Some of the most haunting philosophical burdens are resolved in Christ. Life in a groove resembles a brown-paper package. Secure but plain. We can lose our hunger and thirst for God... until our basic needs are threatened and we know we need Him. Then we're on our knees, our hearts are racing, we're herding prayer warriors, speed dialing heaven, etc.
I was at the neighborhood pool yesterday afternoon with the boys. We had the pool to ourselves. I knew I'd be receiving a phone call regarding the outcome of my biopsy. The boys were splashing in the water and I was plastered to my cell phone. It was now late afternoon and I knew the call had to be imminent. Thoughts of God were suddenly louder even than Daniel's cry that John was pinching him underwater. I was staring at my phone thinking, "What would I say to God if I could text message Him?" I'm a lousy text messager, but I began to tap out a text message to God poolside as I anxiously awaited the phone call. I got three-and-one-half-typo-laden words into my communication to God and the phone rang with good news. I breathed a sigh of relief, thanked God, deleted my "silly" communique to heaven, then turned my attention to John who was, indeed, pinching his brother in the deep end.
My transition from gratitude to God to yelling at John stopped me in my tracks. God had just answered prayers and my gratitude seemed barely sufficient. We've all known people who are users. People who come to us only when they need something. Is this how I treat God? Don't get me wrong: I thank God daily and try to be thoughtful in my prayer life. But my most passionate communication to God comes during times of trouble.
I am challenged to find creative ways to keep the memory of God's intervention in my life fresh and alive when the sun's shining and the air is still. I am also challenged to be increasingly grateful to God for the basic, abundant provisions I have come to take for granted. And to have a heart that beats with joy and thanks that matches or surpasses the intensity of the heart that pounds in need.
Thoughts on this, anyone?