Years ago on a gorgeous pre-spring day, I grabbed my iPod and took off for the river park. I liked this particular park because of its remote location, away from the hustle and bustle of the daily routine. With no one around to overhear, I could sing along to my worship music at the top of my lungs.
Occasionally, I would stop, sit on a tree stump along the isolated path through the woods. This was the place I had claimed as mine to be alone with God. A safe place where I could pour out my heart, remind Him of my dreams, and get His feedback as to where I was in my journey. I had never thought about the safety factor since I’d never been one who looked for trouble. And this day was no exception.
I was worshipping, singing and intermittently talking away with my Heavenly Father, but for some strange reason, my mind kept reflecting on God’s protection. I kept steering it back to my need and again my thoughts went back to His protection. I had experienced so many times His faithfulness surrounding provision and protection, but I was frustrated that I could not get off these thoughts. I needed some answers, not a reminder of protection! That is what I thought!
I began to follow the thoughts and remembered times past when God had demonstrated His Father’s heart of protection. Interestingly, the person I most needed protection from was…myself. I had made some stupid mistakes growing up, but in each instance, God had gone before me and had made a way of escape. I stopped in my tracks, pausing to listen. Why these thoughts? And why now? I ignored them, pushed “skip” on my iPod to another favorite song and sang aloud with the worship singers as I walked down the sandy path by the riverbed.
I had not gone far when I sensed an unknown presence. I was not afraid, only suddenly alerted to something in the atmosphere. But when I turned around to scan the area on all sides, I couldn’t see anything. I continued to walk, lifting up a prayer for God’s protection. I had seen nothing, heard nothing, but I had definitely felt something, and the feeling was getting stronger by the minute. To listen more intently, I took off the headset, turned off the music, and stopped abruptly, hoping to throw off anyone or anything coming up behind me. Again…nothing.
Sensing that something was wrong, I focused my prayers to hear and gain clarity from the Lord. My attention was drawn to a bench that had been built around the base of a tree. I had passed this bench earlier in the afternoon and considered sitting there for a while, but decided against it for no apparent reason.
Now, only a few yards away, sunning on that bench, was a large, coiled-up snake. It was beautifully designed in a myriad of browns and beiges. I kept my distance, though, trying to determine what kind of snake this was. When I heard the tell-tale rattle, I knew. I had always kept my eyes peeled for Copperheads near the water’s edge, but at this time of year I had not given a thought to rattlesnakes in this area. “Thank You, Father, for protecting me from things I cannot see. You are showing me that you’re always at work, whether I see the evidence or not.” What I had perceived earlier that day as my decision to move on was my Father protecting me from the snake.
I had walked these paths many times and had never stumbled across a snake nor had I experienced a sense of foreboding. In fact, the only problem I had ever encountered was becoming so absorbed in praying and worshipping that I lost my bearings and forgot the way I had come in.
“This is silly,” I scolded myself. I shook off the uneasy feelings, put on the headset, pressed “play” again, and continued to sing and walk…a little faster.
“What can take away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” I sang, then moved into “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Any momentary fear I might have felt vanished and I walked more slowly as a green truck rounded the corner and pulled in close to me. I was surprised to see “Park Police” emblazoned across the door of the vehicle. In the decade I had been walking here, I had never run in to a park ranger. I smiled, waved, and moved on. But the truck kept slowly following me.
The Park Police gained greater speed and pulled in front of where I was headed and stopped. “Ma’am,” came an authoritative voice, “get in.” It was his tone that made my pulse pound. I obeyed and jumped into his truck.
“Are you aware of the man behind you?” the ranger went on. “He appears to be following you. Did you not see him? And why are you out here alone?” He fired the questions faster than I could answer them. The Park Ranger had come right on time!
* * *
I have often reflected on that day how God, rich in mercy, stepped into my world and rescued me when I was in harm’s way. I had been so captivated by His presence that I was completely unaware of anything else that was going on around me. But God knew every detail of my life and had already provided a way of escape (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).
In that moment it dawned on me that God was demonstrating the answer to some of the questions I had been asking Him. My Heavenly Father had just proven to me that He cared about every detail of my day. He protected me from the snake by changing my desire to sit on the park bench. He protected me from possible harm at the hands of a stranger by having the Park Police show up at just the right time. He knows when a little sparrow falls (see Matt: 10: 29). He has counted the hairs on our heads (see Matt: 10:30). He dresses the flowers of the fields in all their finery (see Luke 12:27). And he designed the subtle coloration of a rattlesnake with its warning rattle. If He bothered to insert Himself into such small, seemingly insignificant details, could I not trust Him to care about my future?
I began to further meditate on how God had changed my desire to sit on that park bench. I had walked for quite a while, and I was tired. That bench, situated midway through the park, looked inviting. It would have felt good to take a breather. But “something”—or someone—had nudged me to keep going. The Holy Spirit had stepped in and changed my desire. Could I not be confident that He would change other desires that did not line up with His perfect and best plan for Rita? And if He would change desires that were not best, He would also confirm and not change the desires that were from Him. I had given God permission many times to change my heart, and had been open for Him to alter any promise that was not from Him. Many He had not! In fact, He had led me to Scriptures encouraging me to remember His promises and faithfulness.
As I reflect back on that day it is a simple reminder that my Father loves me and is committed to revealing His best for me. In this case, He changed my desire to do something different. I had not even recognized it was Him. I thought it was just me! This story reminds me that I don’t have to work at discovering His will. Instead, I take His hand, allow Him to direct my steps, and He will keep me safe on the path.
That day as I turned into my home’s driveway, opened the garage doors, pulled in, turned the ignition off, and sat in silence I remember clearly that all fear was gone, replaced by hope, encouragement and a sweet peace. I had experienced God’s Father Heart for me. Here I had been praying and thinking His gentle guidance (nudge) was taking me off track, but He had met me at the very core of my need. With my faith renewed, hope restored and having peace, I could rest in a deeper abiding assurance I had not known. I had made “hearing” His voice and understanding His plan for my life so difficult.
The questions behind the questions I had been feeling the need to have answered no longer needed answers. God had practically demonstrated His concern, faithfulness and love. In time, I trusted that when I needed greater understanding, it would come. For now, it was enough to know that I did hear His voice. I simply had not recognized the creative ways in which He spoke to me. In that day, I saw My Father reveal His plan literally step by step, moving me in the right path by changing desires, arranging divine encounters that were a way of escape (park police) and renewing hope that He is in the details. I could breathe a long sigh and rest again.
God is in every detail of your life too! As with me, He is placing His desires within you to direct your every step, answer your heart’s desire and to demonstrate practically His ever present love for you. The question is will you respond?