I’ll never forget the time I almost killed my wife in the middle of the desert at 3 A.M.
It was our first Christmas as husband and wife and we were driving in a tiny Hyundai Accent (henceforth referred to as “Betsy” – may she rest in peace) from Waco, TX to San Diego, CA to visit my wife’s family.
We were too poor to afford a hotel room so we decided to make the 1,361 mile journey without stopping.
My wife had made the trek a few times with friends and assured me we could do it no problem…
As the hours ticked off we found ourselves on a long, remote section of highway in New Mexico in the middle of the night. It was snowing and my wife was fast asleep. I remember thinking how incredibly blessed I was, seriously. As a newlywed who had just completed my first semester of seminary and was working at my first real church job, life was good.
But then life wasn’t good.
As we were driving, I noticed the gas gauge needle had started to make some rather flirtatious advances toward the “E.” Much like Dorothy, I realized I was not home anymore and there was not a gas station at every exit. Not out in the desert.
I tried to stay calm but it just wasn’t working. As I thought about how my wife and I would be remembered once they found our frozen bodies (if they ever did), I only prayed my mother-in-law would somehow know it was never my intention to kill her daughter before we celebrated our 1st anniversary. That’s just inconsiderate.
So I white-knuckled the steering wheel and started to pray, “Lord, I really need to find a gas station.” When I looked down, much to my dismay, the gas needle was already bumping uglies with the “E.” It was not long until their relationship would be fully consummated.
I started to formulate a Plan B. If we couldn’t find a gas station, surely there must be a place for us to at least take cover from the cold. But I started to realize I hadn’t seen a diner, a store, or even a house in a long time. Looooong time.
I was popping Betsy in neutral any chance I could get as we rolled on to our imminent deaths. We had actually just rescued a beautiful Labrador, Zoe, from the humane society and she was on the journey with us as well. Now I would be remembered as a wife and a puppy killer. Great.
As I continued to pray and rack my mind for Plans C-X I kept having this one thought, “There’s no way I can make it over one more hill. There’s no way I can make it through one more valley.”
Until finally, the most glorious sight appeared. This was no ordinary gas station. No, at the bottom of the next hill I saw a 24-hour truck stop, blazing with light and food and clean restrooms and ultimately…gas!
As we pulled in my heart began to slowly exit my throat and descend back to its normal resting place. My wife slowly awoke, pet our sweet new dog, Zoe, and sleepily asked, “Everything going alright, sweetheart?”
“Yes, dear” I
replied. “Go back to sleep.”
Imagine my dismay if, after coasting into the truck stop on the last bit of Betsy’s fumes, there was no gas. I knew this place was a gas station and not a Chuck E. Cheese because I had seen millions of other gas stations just like it. Imagine what it would be like to pull up and find it closed. No longer fit for service.
A lot of people in my part of the country look like Christians, at least on the outside. You can tell they’re not anarchists or brothel operators. We talked about this in depth in my home group tonight. There’s a cultural form of Christianity that is alive and well. I say this a lot in my church but I think it’s worth repeating:
Whatever it means to love Jesus has to be something categorically different than what it means to love college football and sweet tea.
Remember, I was never confused about what the gas station was; I just needed to make sure it could provide for me what it appeared to offer from the outside. Christians have the only real version of what the whole world needs, hope. If you’re celebrating the season of Advent you probably talked about hope yesterday. One of my big takeaways from yesterday was the responsibility each one of us have to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)
Sometimes, Christians can get caught up in some form of cultural Christianity where they go to church because they think it helps them be good people or it makes them feel encouraged, which is all good but none of that’s Gospel. None of that’s hope. That would be like me coasting up to the station needing gasoline and only being offered a cup of coffee. It would make me feel good for a minute but it does not solve my fundamental problem.
Christians have a tremendous opportunity, especially during the Christmas season, to be stations of hope to people simply running on fumes.
Life is tough, no matter what belief system you adhere to. That feeling of being overwhelmed and beaten down is a universal one. People all around you are struggling through life, looking around for help, thinking there’s just no way they can make it through one more valley or over one more hill.
So how do we help? How exactly are we supposed to give hope to a hurting world?
This largely depends on the situation. Honestly, I don’t always know how to specifically help, but I know when I can never help. Imagine if we had coasted up to the pump, lights are on, workers are present, but the pump does not work. So one by one we check and none of the pumps work.
Why? They lost connection to the true source, to the reservoirs below the ground.I can never really help people find hope when I forsake my only connection to real hope.
This is incredibly encouraging, because it means we don’t have to be the hope people need. If someone were depending on me for that they would be mightily disappointed. No, we are simply called to point them to the hope we have found and to which we are connected. You can’t point people to a hope you don’t really have.
Stay connected to Jesus, the true source of hope. How? Lots of ways! I have friends that remind me how important things like prayer, Scripture reading, meditation, silence, and service are to staying connected to Jesus. There are lots of ways to stay connected but almost all of them require you slow down in a season where we feel we’re supposed to frantically hurry up.