(In 2017, I wrote this series for the 40 days prior to Easter to prepare our hearts and minds for the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. I’m reposting the series now for the 40 days after Easter to encourage us to follow through, living in the risen Savior and King.)
I was about 13, standing with my full weight on the clutch and break of my Dad’s 1950 tractor and towing an old trailer full of 55 gallon trash cans, and there was nobody around to hear or help. I didn’t know what else to do but scream and blame. But the mass of metal didn’t seem to care. It kept plodding stubbornly right over that short, skinny pine.
Thankfully, the resistance of the tree eventually bogged down the tractor. Otherwise, it might’ve kept going until it ran out of gas.
I was already mad about having to haul the garbage for the week. My brother didn’t know how to drive the tractor yet, and my parents had to tend to other parts of our family’s fish camp. I knew it was my job, but I still hated it. The only thing worse than the slow, smelly, two-mile drive to the highway was pouring each can into the dumpster by hand. All of them were heavy, rusty, and full of nasty trash like fish heads and maggots. I felt like God has really dealt me a bad hand.
When I walked back to the house and complained to my Dad about his tractor, he calmly asked, “Why didn’t you just turn off the ignition?”
I hadn’t thought of that.
We walked back to the tractor together and discovered that the cast iron clutch had broken. Sure enough – nothing but cutting the engine would have stopped it any sooner.
A few years later, I was on the same tractor when the clutch broke again. What were the odds?! But this time, I was a towing a $30,000 boat on its trailer. And this time it wasn’t a little tree I was trying to avoid – it was a cement picnic table. Immediately, my father’s words came back to me like he was standing right there: “Turn of the engine.” So I did, and the tractor came to a stop within seconds.
Before, I hadn’t seen any possible good that could’ve come from running over that poor little pine. And at the time, my Dad’s advice had seemed more like salt in my wound than helpful counsel. Yet, the Lord used the first embarrassing and frustrating situation to prepare me for the second, far more serious situation.
That’s part of what we see the Lord doing in the book of Jeremiah. God had given Israel over to captivity because of their stubborn plodding over each other and His counsel for Life. But He was using their bad situation to prepare them to turn from their rebellious ways and eventually to seek Him with their full hearts.
God still uses hard circumstances to prepare His people to worship and enjoy Him more fully, to see the wisdom and goodness of the Father, to trust and obey Him in love.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord , “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
But that kind of deep, heart-level change requires more than intellectually realizing our mistakes. It requires His Spirit re-creating us to turn from our selfish anger, embarrassment, fear and shame and turn to seek the Father through faith in the perfect Servant and Son, Jesus. (Isaiah 42, John 3:3-8, Mark 10:45, Ephesians 2:1-10, etc.)
Every day, the Lord is preparing His people. He prepares us to turn from our sins and to want deeper relationship with Him and other believers. He prepares us to serve others for His glory. He prepares our character to grow as leaders and supporters, spouses, parents, and neighbors.
The Lord’s greater goal is His glory in the hearts and relationships of His people, not pine trees or picnic tables. And He will use whatever it takes to grow us in Christ. If you’re going through a hard time right now, take heart. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)