|Photo by Kenny Louie 2012|
Saturday, May 21, 2016
As I was walking toward our front door about two weeks ago, I noticed three long, thin, dried up oleander leaves lying on the walkway in a distinct formation. As regular readers of this blog know, I am intrigued by patterns of three, in Scripture and in nature, as reflections of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19). So these leaves caught my eye, especially since they were aligned to form the Roman numeral for “9” – one leaf vertically by itself, to the left of two leaves crossed in an “X” pattern, the three leaves clearly displaying “IX.”
Odd, I thought, and wondered if God might be sending me a message, although I had no idea what it could be, until I stepped inside the house and turned around to shut the door. At that point, I was viewing the leaves upside down from my original vantage point, so I now saw them as “XI,” or the Roman numeral for “11.”
9-11: the telephone number to call in case of emergency. Since September 11, 2001, these numbers have always evoked even more dire warnings of terrorism, death, and destruction. I also felt that the oleander leaves spelling out 9-11 may have had additional significance. The oleander is a beautiful evergreen tree with colorful, attractive blossoms, but all parts of the plant are highly poisonous. What seems attractive at first glance is often not what is best for us (Proverbs 23:31-32; 31:30; 1 John 2:16).
So I thought God was sending me a warning, but about what? I had a sense of restlessness in my spirit, and although I prayed about it, I had no clear answer. But God, Who is not the author of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33; Isaiah 26:3) kept getting my attention with various other references to warnings.
At a Bible study one night at our church, the Pastor’s message was about those who disobeyed God’s law and pursued their own will instead, at their own peril. Because they did not “observe to do” His commandments, He removed His blessings and allowed curses instead (Deuteronomy 5:32; 6:25; 27:8-26; 28).
God’s Word serves to “admonish,” or warn us (1 Corinthians 10:1-14) by giving us examples of those who disobeyed God and succumbed to idolatry, meaning not just worshiping statues, but having anything stand between us and our relationship with God. The devil can trap us and destroy our testimony and ministry (1 Peter 5:8) even when we are saved and want to fulfill God’s perfect plan for our life (Jeremiah 29:11; 33:3). However, Satan’s power is limited by what God allows (Job 1:10), and once saved, we can never lose our salvation (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:39).
Later that week I heard a Charles Stanley sermon about listening for God’s voice so that we can hear Him and obey. Most often He speaks to us through our reading or hearing of His Word (Psalm 119:105), which can correct, instruct, and encourage us (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:2-4),
If we take time to be still (Psalm 46:10), He may speak to us in our quiet time (Jeremiah 29:12-14), or even through dreams (Daniel 2:19; 7:13; Matthew 2:12,22; etc.) or nature (Psalm 19:1). Sometimes God speaks to us through fellow Christians who warn us of behavior that displeases God (1 Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 1:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).
When Dr. Stanley said that sometimes God wants to give us a warning, that surely caught my attention! He related an incident in his own life when he was a seminary student and had planned to spend the summer working in his church’s missions’ office. One day he tripped, hitting his head, and he felt God was sending him a warning. He became restless in his desire to know what God had planned for his life, when one day in prayer He clearly felt God telling him not to work in the missions’ office that summer, but to vacation in a small town in the mountains instead.
At first he dismissed this idea, thinking it was just his own selfish desire to relax over the summer rather than providing needed service to his church. But he also clearly felt God asking him to trust and obey Him (1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 50:10). So he did, and the first week he was there, the church where he had visited asked him if he could fill in the following week by preaching for the pastor who was unexpectedly called out of town. After he had preached there several times, the church invited him to be their new pastor and was even willing to wait for him to complete his final year at seminary!
He ultimately accepted the position; the church grew; and his ministry expanded astronomically to the point that his sermons and messages are now broadcast on television, radio, and online around the world. None of this would have happened, and he would have fallen short of this amazing plan God had for his life (Ephesians 3:20; 1 Timothy 1:14), had he not listened to and followed God’s call to do something that made no earthly sense at the time (Isaiah 55:9).
God often works that way, with miraculous results when we obey! Servants poured water into pots at Christ’s command and watched it drawn forth as the best wine (John 2:7-10), and armies marched silently around Jericho and then saw the walls come tumbling down at the sound of the trumpet! (Joshua 6:1-11)
In my own quiet time, I had been asking for God’s guidance about financial issues, and how to balance these with time and resources to be spent in ministry and in fulfilling His perfect plan. Soon I sensed that the warning God had for me was in that vein, that our earthly life is but a vapor (James 4:14), and that it will soon be the time when we can no longer use it to serve Him (John 9:4).
He does not want us to waste our mental energy on worry (Philippians 4:6), for perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and we can cast our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). Rather, He wants us to find joy in Him and in our salvation (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 21:1; 35:9; 51:12). Every day is a gift from Him, and He wants us to rejoice in it (Psalm 118:24), for we are not promised tomorrow (James 4:14).
As we left our house one morning a few days later, we heard sirens, then spotted an ambulance at a neighbor’s house, followed by two police cars, and soon thereafter by a medical examiner’s car and hearse. This neighbor had worked very hard for many years to take an early retirement. He had purchased the vacant lot next to his property, built his dream house there to live in, and gave the house where he had been living to his son, so that he could watch his grandchildren grow up.
But he had lived there only a few short months when he unexpectedly died in his sleep, and he could no longer enjoy all that he had worked so hard to achieve.
So now I feel I understand the warning – our time here is short; we can’t take our earthly possessions with us; and only those rewards we have stored up in Heaven will have eternal value (Luke 12:15-34). Work is necessary to provide for our families (2 Thessalonians 3:10), but overemphasis on wealth, albeit admired by the world, is a distraction that can keep us from God’s best (Proverbs 23:4-5).
Sadly, I don’t know whether or not our neighbor was saved, and now the opportunity is forever gone to witness to him. I’m ashamed that I never took the time to knock on his door and tell him that we are saved only by our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). But it’s not too late to give his widow a copy of God’s Word, a plan of salvation, and an invitation to visit our church.
May we always heed God’s warnings before it is too late, for the night is fast approaching when no man can work. The numbers 9-11 in my special warning may have had yet another meaning: if we commit our lives to God, He will give us more time to serve Him in joy, peace and love.
Proverbs 9:11: For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased.
© 2016 Laurie Collett