Consider this reflection a heap of stones piled purposefully along the path as a memorial to the faithfulness of God.
The email reads:
We received your follow-up documentation, and we have processed a refund in the amount of $246.46, which we believe represents your reasonable expenses. The check will be mailed via U.S. Postal Service to the address you indicated in your correspondence.
Again, we apologize for your inconvenience and hope to have the pleasure of serving your air travel needs for many years to come.
So reads today’s response from Southwest Airlines approving my request for a refund of travel expenses incurred during their nationwide outages in July. After seven glorious days in the Grand Canyon, and eager to see my family, my flight was canceled and I was stuck overnight in the nauseating glitz of Las Vegas, paying for a traffic-snarled bus ride and an outdated room and three overpriced meals far from the airport, wondering if our favorite airline would cover the charge.
They did, and just when we needed it . . . but there’s more.
The day my flight was canceled, I received a $200 voucher for a future flight. Then a week or two later, I received a discount code for half off a future flight. All told, with the places I typically fly, I received about $400 in future air fare due to a 24-hour inconvenience.
This might not mean much to you, especially if your bank account is bigger than ours, but to us it’s yet another praiseworthy installment in the invincible pattern of God’s generous faithfulness over our lives. After thirteen years of graduate education, three graduate degrees, a cross-country move, our first home mortgage, and two international adoptions involving four children, money isn’t falling off our trees. Finances are for us what they’ve been for the past decade, and what they are for many of you: extremely tight. (I realize these are all first-world challenges. Hang with me; I’m making a point.)
But in the most non-cliché way I can say it, God has always provided. He’s provided directly and he’s provided indirectly. He’s provided after much prayer and provided despite my prayerlessness. He’s provided in baby steps and he’s provided in one fell swoop. He’s provided immediately and he’s provided eventually. He’s provided after much waiting and he’s provided with zero waiting. He’s provided anonymously and he’s provided through dear, known friends. He’s provided through Christians and non-Christians, strangers and family members. He’s provided for things large and small, things significant and things insignificant (in our estimation). He’s provided in every season, literally and figuratively — summer and winter and springtime and harvest, along with every other kind of non-calendared season that can cloud or brighten the paths of those under his care.
And these are just the times we knew about, which means they’re but a microscopic representation of his full and unflagging provision in our lives.
Sometimes I feel like the most sinful thing I’ve done over the past decade is fail to keep a “provision journal” documenting every time God provided precisely what we needed right when we needed it. I’ve utterly lost count of the times when God, from our perspective, “came through.”
These terms we typically use for God’s surprising acts of faithfulness are almost, if we thought more deeply about them, insults to his character. We say it was a “God thing,” as though such verbless generalities adequately capture the actional mercy he shows us in generosities large and small. We say “God showed up,” as though he were missing in action and had to rush to our aid from some other corner of the cosmos in which he had busied himself, thereby neglecting us and our concerns. We say he “came through” — through what, I’m not sure — as though a few hundred dollars had actually held up our all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, infinite, immaterial God who reigns from the heavens, owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and stores up the lightning and rain in storehouses all his own (Job 38:22-38). Even in our praise, in our good-hearted attempts to credit him, we weakly limit who he is and how he acts.
Frankly, it’s not that God shows up. It’s that God shows off. It’s not that he finally realizes we’re in need and jumps into action to do something about it. It’s that he chooses in his own particular ways and for his own particular purposes and in his own particular timing to reveal himself to us to draw our hearts out toward him in worshipful, warm confidence.
At the same time, in each of our weakish phrases that attempt to represent God’s faithfulness, we rightly demonstrate the inadequacy of our words to capture his mighty deeds. We do our theology from below, assembling our own down-here constructions of how he works. We look up and say “sun!” and “bright!” and “warm!” but we can barely begin to grasp the fearsome life-giving power of the burning orb that daily splashes life and light onto our planet. Yet God still tells us about himself, and allows us to speak with him and about him, despite our limitations. Thus the Israelites themselves sometimes spoke in terms that sound similarly strange when describing a faithful God who never forsakes his people: “God has visited his people,” they would often say (פקד, Exodus 4:31; Ruth 1:6; 1 Samuel 2:21; Psalm 65:9; έπισκέπτομαι, Luke 1:68).
Perhaps the lesson is that no single word, without the full weight of the story of Scripture, can adequately bear the weight of glory inherent in the Triune God. Indeed, my doctoral supervisor once said that our words bend beneath the weight they bear. If not for the words of holy Scripture, we would rightly shudder to speak of God in human language at all. But even here, just like in his condescending provision, he has stooped down to show us his ways that we might know and worship and fear him, and then rejoice and be glad.
So consider these 1,034 words, impotent though they be, as just one of many heaps of stones marking the long journey of the Gundersen family. Here I stand, between Mizpah and Shen, and here I raise my Ebenezer. God always provides.