So it was last Saturday afternoon and I was driving to “The Homestead”, which is what I call the place where I grew up and where my entire immediate family still lives.
To get from my house to theirs involves a long time on a major thoroughfare in our area, Route 301. Major road with major traffic. Always. And especially on a Saturday afternoon.
It pays to be alert on 301. You never know when someone will suddenly decide they need to be where you are. Now. Without you moving. Or when someone will decide to completely rewrite the rules of the road to fit their needs. Regardless of what it does to you. It pays to be alert.
But as it is said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” So I have to admit, it is easy for me to drive that road on some version of auto-pilot. Even with all its inherent dangers.
So I am tooling along on Saturday, perhaps fairly alert because of the sheer volume of traffic but perhaps less alert because I had made it through what I consider to be the worst stretch, known as Brandywine. And I was closer to The Homestead, on very familiar roads. Auto-pilot.
But then I saw him.
A young man with a plaid shirt, jeans, cowboy boots and a hat.
Waving his empty hand above his head like he was swinging a lasso.
Galloping down the median of the highway. On a gorgeous horse.
With a huge grin on his face.
I must say, auto-pilot disengaged very quickly at that point!
So many thoughts. So many unanswered questions. Where did he come from? Where was he going? Didn’t the heavy traffic freak out the horse? What was he going to do when he came to the VERY busy intersections ahead? What if the horse stumbled on the steep pitch of the median in that stretch? Was the man crazy? And was I really seeing this?
ALL unanswered. No clue what the rest of that story is. How it began. How it ended.
But I was suddenly on much, much higher alert to EVERYTHING around me.
How often this same story applies to my walk with the Lord!
Fairly alert to the dangers around me – but not really.
Forgetting that Peter says to “Be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times. That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8)
Slipping in my prayer life.
Not as hungry for the Word.
Content with moseying down the highway.
Sort of numb to both the dangers and the glories of all that is around me.
But then God sends – or allows – a cowboy in the median.
Sometimes something glorious where He pulls back the curtain for just a moment and I see His hand at work in answered prayer or details coming together in the perfect way or the transformation of a life.
Or sometimes something devastating that I would not have planned, chosen or asked for, like a diagnosis that shakes my world, or the betrayal of a friend or a misunderstanding that leaves debris in its wake like a tornado has passed through.
Some kind of cowboy riding down the middle of a major highway on a Saturday afternoon in a suburb of Washington, DC.
God shakes my world. Or allows it to be shaken. And I wake up out of my stupor. I look around with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. Back to more alertness. And perhaps with some new lessons learned that will stand me in good stead a little farther down the road.
I am often left with unanswered questions when that happens. Pieces of the story that I may never know – or will not fully comprehend until much, much later.
But I am grateful that God sends them. The cowboys on the highway.
Because I need to be “well balanced and self-disciplined, alert and cautious at all times”. I am a soldier engaged in a cosmic conflict. And while I am on the winning side of the war, the battle still rages. And I have seen way too many casualties around me. People who were doing well on the highway – until something caused them to wreck. Sin unchecked. Bitterness allowed to grow and take over. A little step off the path leading to a leap completely off the cliff into unbelief. Or a redefinition of God in a way that excuses their sin, using rationalization rather than repentance to ease a God-inflicted guilt. And suddenly, they are ineffective for the Kingdom, a soldier cut down in battle. A brother or sister-in-arms that I need to help me stand strong suddenly toppled because of complacency. A lack of alertness. A highway-induced drowsiness.
Oh God, send the cowboy in the median in my life whenever You want! Whenever I need it. Whenever You see complacency creeping in – or a certain behavior or thought pattern that needs to be weeded out. Because I want to be alert. Ready. Self-controlled. And diligent. So that I can defeat that roaring lion. Fighting him consistently until the day You call me home. Until the day I finish well on this highway of life. And the day I can hear You say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” If a cowboy in the median gets me there, bring ‘em on, Lord! Yee-haw!