Recently I was given the privilege of sharing with the junior high youth group at Central Ministries. They are a great bunch of kids and they were attentive and fun! Because the youth group has been talking about unexpected gifts, I told the story of one of my most memorable unexpected gifts.
It was Christmas Eve in my small-town Presbyterian church and service had just concluded. Always the best-attended service of the year, Christmas Eve had filled my head and my heart with all the carols of my sixteen-or-so years. As I reached to grab my coat I spotted Ed, my Sunday school teacher, heading my way. He quickly shook my hand, stuck a plain white envelope under my arm with his other hand, wished me a Merry Christmas, and walked straight out the door.
I was disappointed we didn’t get to chat, but my jaw dropped as I opened the envelope revealing a crisp $100 bill.
I grew up in a small church in a small town. Our youth group had about ten participants, and our Sunday school class had even fewer. By his own admission, our teacher hadn’t come to know Christ until mid-life. Following a complete spiritual transformation, Ed became keenly aware of the needs of others. That meant noticing the needs of the students in our little Sunday school class. Because he knew me and my family, Ed knew that our farm was in danger of foreclosure, and that my dad had lost the factory job he’d taken to get us by. He also knew that my hope was to attend college after high school, and that I didn’t have the resources to do so. His concern led him to reach out.
After that first Christmas Eve, Ed passed me a plain white envelope every Christmas Eve through the rest of my high school and college years. He also gave me a summer job mowing lawns at his home, his factory, and his farm a few miles away. When I’d visit his office for payment every couple of weeks he’d ask, “What do I owe you, Vicki?” I’d say something like “Thirty-two dollars.” Then he’d write me a check for one hundred thirty-two dollars! Ed and his wife Leone also invited me to use their pool to give private swimming lessons and Ed paid my dad to run occasional errands for his business.
Because Ed got to know me, he saw many needs in my life. He contributed to my financial needs, but there was something even more important that Ed extended to me. You see, there was never a time I visited Ed’s office that he didn’t ask me if I was spending time with God. He wanted to know If I was learning about Jesus through the Scriptures. He wanted to make sure I was growing my faith. He also prayed for me and prayed with me. As a spiritual father, he prayed for my future including God’s provision and spiritual blessings.
Today I count Ed’s encouragement among the greatest influences in my life. He had taken the time to get to know me and my needs and he made a difference. The few hundred dollars Ed gave me over a number of years helped a little with college, but the spiritual encouragement Ed extended to me were a great source of strength during my teen and young adult years.
Ed’s encouragement taught me about God, who knows our needs. Philippians 2 tells us that although Jesus was in very nature God, he emptied Himself of many divine privileges so that He could live among us and relate to us on our level. We needed to know that He understood, and continues to understand, our struggles. Jesus faced ridicule, disappointment and denial by His closest friends, betrayal, beatings and finally death. The way God sent His son was not what the people of Jesus’ day expected. In fact, it was quite unexpected. He loved deeply, and His heart overflowed with compassion. Yes, He understands us. He is with us. He knows who we are, and he knows our every need.
God has shown me His understanding repeatedly through the years. In fact, just today I learned how a difficult decision I made in obedience a few months ago has turned out for my good. A benefit of having a God who understands me is that He goes before me, and guides me in the paths I need to take. Sometimes I pray for a long time over an issue, sometimes only briefly. But one thing I know: He understands. –okay, I’ll quit rambling. I think He’s great.
Hebrews 4:14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,f Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
I’m so glad we have a God who knows who we are and what we need. More than just our creator, he is our confidant, our sympathizer, and our companion. He is with us.
Since I annually post my favorite Christmas song by Steven Curtis Chapman, allow me to attach it here. Our God is With Us. It just fits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGC2USU9Law