Once upon a time there was a boy named Jason.
He was your typical three-year old ball of energy mixed with dirt, determination and a charming smile.
And one day, Jason fell in love.
His Mom got him a book about cowboys from the library.
And the obsession began.
After that, Jason loved all things cowboy.
Shiny brown boots.
Anything and everything cowboy.
His parents even decorated his room with cowboy sheets, and cowboy curtains, cowboy pictures, and a full set of cowboy action figures. His prized possession was his pint-sized Stetson, which he only took off for baths and bed – and even that took quite a bit of persuasion.
Everything cowboy. All the time.
So it was no surprise that when his Kindergarten teacher asked Jason, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he promptly replied, “I’m gonna be a cowboy!”
Today is Jason’s 18th birthday.
Today he is an adult.
He has big dreams.
He wants to become a doctor, specializing in pediatric oncology.
He knows that means years of schooling and tons of student loans.
But he also heard a whispered conversation in the kitchen last night that has his heart soaring. He heard his Mom ask, “Is it ready?”
And his Dad whispered back, “Yep. Went to the bank today and got it all taken care of. Who knew we’d be able to save so much money! Jason is going to be so surprised!”
Mom replied, “I’m just so happy to know his future is secured and he won’t have to borrow any money!”
Jason didn’t give even a tiny hint that he had overheard them. He just went around with a HUGE grin on his face, knowing that his dreams of going to medical school just got a whole lot closer.
So now it is evening. Dinner has been eaten, the birthday song has been sung, the candles blown out and the cake devoured. Jason’s Dad grins at him and reaches into the inner pocket of his suit jacket to pull out a long white envelope.
“Son,” he says, “we know you have big dreams. And we are so incredibly proud of you. So I am happy to say that your Mother and I were able to make some investments that paid off – and because of that, we can give you this. Since you want to be a cowboy when you grow up, this is the deed to your very own dude ranch!”
So I have to give credit where credit is due.
No part of that story is real. It is based on an illustration I once heard Tony Campolo give, many years ago. But it has stuck with me.
Because it is a beautiful picture of my – of our – relationship with God.
You and I, we are Jason.
We have big dreams.
But there is a big difference between our three-year old dreams and our all-grown-up dreams, isn’t there? With time, with perspective, with growth, with that wondrous thing called hindsight, we can look back and see how times have changed. How we have changed. How our dreams have changed.
And we can look back and say, “Thank You, God, for what felt like unanswered prayer. For what seemed like You not listening to me. For what felt like You not understanding my heart. Thank You for closing the doors that needed to be closed. Even though it hurt at the time. Thank You for not buying me a dude ranch when You knew I would need a college education.”
It is one of the reasons that God calls us over and over again in the Scripture to “Remember.” He had the Israelites set up altars, standing stones, and places of remembrance throughout their journey. He gave them the Passover, an entire holiday of remembering their bondage in Egypt and how He brought them out. And then Jesus fulfilled the Passover by becoming the perfect, sinless Lamb of God, sacrificed on our behalf. And he gave us the Lord’s Supper to help us to remember that. Remember his death. His resurrection. And that we now have eternal life waiting. That this life is not all there is. That we live for a higher purpose than our own pleasure. He calls us to remember.
Remember, remember, remember.
And, with the Psalmist, I can look back into my life and say, “I have seen in my history the faithful love of the Lord.” (Psalm 107)
But here’s the tricky part.
Applying the memory to today.
Today’s changed plans.
Actively remembering the goodness of the Lord in the midst of the “valley of the shadow”.
Remembering that I am still growing.
I am not a three-year old any more, dreaming of being a cowboy who would love to live on a dude ranch.
But my good, good Father, who sees the end from the beginning, who has a good plan for my life, who loved me enough to sacrifice His only Son on my behalf – He sees and understands the future. What I need. How I will change. How my circumstances and even my dreams will change. He knows the difference between cowboy dreams and doctor dreams.
And so He is sometimes silent to my requests. Even when I am hurting.
I don’t know if He is saying “No” or “Wait”.
I do know He apparently isn’t saying, “Yes”.
And I know that I don’t like the feelings.
I don’t like the struggle.
I don’t like the pain.
And my heart is tempted to forget.
To forget all that He has already done.
To forget all of the wonderful gifts He has given to me.
And to only focus on the pain.
The current lack.
The “unanswered” prayer.
Worse than that, my heart is tempted to listen to the lies of the enemy, the same lies he used in the Garden with Eve.
“Is God really good? Or is He holding out on you?”
“Did God really say…?”
“Can you really trust God? Or should you take matters into your own hands?”
I doubt the character of God when I forget.
I forget His goodness.
When I focus on me. My pain. My feelings. My circumstances.
And so my challenge to you and to myself today is the same one David gave himself in Psalm 103:
“Let all that I am praise the Lord;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.”
Life is hard for many of those I love right now.
They are hurting physically.
My prayer is that they – that we – that I – remember.
That we CHOOSE to remember.
Remember God’s character.
His unfailing love.
Remember what He has done in the past.
And that we have the hope of Heaven in our very near future.
Remember we are dust.
A “flower quickly fading”.
With limited eyesight and understanding.
But that we are beloved dust.
Cherished dust that Jesus died to save so that we could have this eternal hope.
Cling to that, my friend.
Cling to Him.
And remember that God knows the difference between a dude ranch and a college education.
One day we will all see.
And we will say, “Thank You, God. For all of it – thank You.”