Forgotten Keys and Sovereignty

Saturday, November 22, 2014


I apparently have a thing for forgetting keys. Not often, mind you—just when it's incredibly important. Case in point: two months ago, as students and I arrived to set up for our all-important first large group meeting of the year, my heart suddenly sank as I realized I had forgotten to have someone pick up the key to the auditorium, and now the school offices were closed. We were locked out.

We tried everything—finding alternate ways into the room, calling Campus Security to see if they could let us in—but to no avail. Finally, we stopped to pray, and a minute later, God providentially ran one of our students, Steven, into a cleaning staff person who graciously let us in. We all breathed a sigh of relief, thanked God for his gracious provision, and got on with our meeting.

Fast forward two months, to last Thursday, the day of our big "Experience Hope" outreach event. We had been building up to this day for weeks: we had trained our students how to invite their friends; we had hosted daily prayer meetings to ask God to work in peoples' lives; we had even gone out together that week to survey students on campus about their hopes and hopelessness, to help shape and publicize the event. And now "Experience Hope" was about to happen.

Except for one thing: I had forgotten the room key.

Steven and I were the first to arrive and realize the news. We had learned one lesson from the last time: we stopped right away to pray. Then, once the usual tricks (looking for alternate doors, calling Campus Security) failed once again, we knew what to do, of course: we started walking around hoping to run into a cleaning staff person! But on this night, there was nobody to be found.

So a student and I prayed one more time and then, with time running out, we did the best we knew to do: we started setting up outside in the courtyard. It would work alright, especially since it wasn't a bitterly cold night, but I couldn't help feeling let down that God hadn't gotten us into the room like the last time.

To make it worse, somebody pointed out that, without access to the room, we no longer had a projector for all of our slides. "Actually, we do!" I replied. That night, of all nights, there happened to be a projector sitting in the trunk of my car, which a coworker had asked me to bring that night for a totally unrelated purpose.

Something about having that projector in my trunk filled my heart with hope. Suddenly, I knew that God knew.

I knew that God knew that we would be outside that night. I remembered that He was not caught off guard by my forgetting the keys that day. That projector in my trunk didn't need to be there; the night would have gone on without it. But it was, for me, a gracious tap on the shoulder from God, as if to say, "I may not have let you in the room, but I'm still at work."

Elijah Fed by Ravens
"Elijah Fed by Ravens" by Mikael Toppelius
Pause. Rewind with me about three millennia to a story about a man named Elijah, told in 1 Kings 17 (which I had studied with my coworkers just the week before). Here is the cliff notes version: Elijah obeyed God and risked his life by delivering a message of judgment to Israel's wicked king Ahab. Afterward, God told Elijah to run for his life into the desert, where God promised to keep him alive with a stream of water and—get this—by commanding ravens to bring him food. So he went, and sure enough, the water was there and the birds came twice a day, carrying bread and meat. (If we were smiling when God sent a cleaning staff to let us into our room two months ago, Elijah must have been laughing with delight at this miracle!)

But just when Elijah was getting used to his daily brunch and dinner service, with free refills on water, something unexpected happened: the stream dried up! The means of God's provision stopped flowing, and I suspect Elijah grew anxious. (I would have!)

But God had not left Elijah there to die. He told Elijah to go to a certain widow and ask her for food. Elijah went, only to find this woman and her son about to starve to death themselves! But in an even greater miracle than the ravens, God multiplied her last morsels of food to feed both Elijah and her family—not just for a day, but for years, until the end of the drought that was plaguing the land. The account ends with the woman's confession of faith: "Now I know... that the word of YHWH from your mouth is the truth."

Fast forward back to last week, and the question in the back of my mind: why didn't God open the doors for us that night? I don't pretend to fully know, but I do know this: it was a living parable that let me experience two key lessons I had learned from Elijah's story just a week before.

First, it reminded me that our hope ultimately needs to be in God Himself and not in the particular people or things He uses to provide for our needs—you know, like streams in the desert, ravens' catering services, or cleaning staff opening doors for us when we forget to pick up the keys. Just because God has provided for us a certain way in the past does not mean He will provide in the exact same way in the future. And I think this is by design: God knows that what we ultimately need are not formulaic answers to prayer, but a living, maturing, dependent relationship with Him.

It was only later that I saw a second, further echo of Elijah's story from that night. In Elijah's case, the desert stream drying up was actually the beginning of God's provision for someone else; it led Elijah to bring God's love and blessings to a dying widow and her son in their otherwise-desperate final hour. Even more significantly, that dried up stream was the first step in this woman coming to know the true and living God.

I couldn't help but think of that woman's story when, after the event, my coworker Jen found this anonymous social media post:


"Yes!" I wish I could shout back, "Sign from Jesus!"

I wish I could say to this person: just as God used a projector in my trunk to remind me that He had not forgotten me that night, I believe God used a forgotten key to place our event outside so He could remind you that He has not forgotten you either—and that He wants you to come to Him, just as you are.

After all, He is the God who can take even our worst mistakes and most hopeless situations and turn them into something beautiful.

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