Not long ago, my husband and I attended a weekend ministry event as partners of the ministry. The gathering’s purpose was to thank supporters, updating them on God’s current use of the ministry world-wide. Specified sessions provided information regarding the deliverance of hope, salvation and practical solutions to people’s many needs, as well as personal ministry time for attendees. Lesson opportunities abounded.
But as powerful and moving as both the information and prayer sessions were, they were not what God used to deliver His message to me that weekend. Instead, He used a plate of food that was placed on the table before me during the first night’s dinner… a simple plate of food.
Some years prior to this meal, I had experienced a serious reaction to a food additive. The incident was serious enough to cause me to approach all foods with caution. The net result is that I avoid eating foods that contain any chemical additives. At home, this is quite manageable, as I control the brands and types of ingredients with which I cook. Eating out, though, can be challenging, especially at catered events.
During the partner weekend, we were being housed and fed at a hotel-restaurant complex on the ministry’s property. Having both stayed and eaten there multiple times, I was confident of my well-being in their hands. Previously I had spoken to chefs and waiters regarding numerous dishes that the restaurant regularly prepares, and I trusted this restaurant more than any other.
Yet, I still use prudence when it comes to eating any dish with which I am not familiar. So when we sat down at the dinner table on that first evening, I explained my situation to the woman serving our table. She, in turn, relayed the information to the person overseeing the wait staff, who then brought the food manager to my table to speak with me personally. The service and care that they provided were exceptional.
The food manager offered a solution to my dilemma with a vegetarian alternative to the evening’s selection, assuring me that the dish consisted only of vegetables cooked in canola oil and served over rice. The dish was perfect, exactly what I needed, as well as being one that I really like. Delighted by my positive response to the offer, the food manager went off to oversee my meal, and I returned to the conversation around my table, glad to have the situation resolved.
But a short time later, when the plate of vegetables was set in front of me, my smile quickly vanished. The vegetables and rice were covered in an orange colored sauce, that (as far as I was concerned) should not have been there. Sauces are notorious for containing ingredients that harbor all kinds of additives.
My husband, seated next to me and seeing the sauce, asked, “What’s that?” Still staring at my plate, I could only say, “I don’t know.”
I was absolutely certain of what the food manager had said, yet the dish just did not match my expectation of what vegetables over rice should look like. My previous experience with similar dishes told me that something was wrong. If an error had occurred in the chain of events that had concluded with this particular plate of food being given to me, the results could be bad. Yet, I knew what the food manager had said. The difference between what I saw and what I had expected to see as a result of what I had been told created confusion in my mind. I didn’t know what to think, let alone what to do.
Returning the meal would insult the food manager, dishonoring his word and proving me ungrateful. Leaving the dish on the table uneaten would be the cowardly way out, still allowing doubt to rule, but at an additional cost of depriving me of dinner. Yet, eating the meal could prove disastrous. In the midst of the stalemate, I didn’t do anything except stare at the plate.
My husband, however, moved my decision-making along by getting our waitress’ attention. After I pointed out the sauce, she hurried off to the kitchen to double-check the dish’s ingredients. Returning a minute later, she relayed the food manager’s complete assurance (once again) that the dish contained only vegetables, canola oil and rice. But she gave no explanation for the sauce.
As the waitress returned to her duties, my husband returned to his conversation with the gentleman sitting next to him, leaving me confronted by an orange sauce that continued staring back at me.
I realize in writing about this incident that words alone cannot convey the enormity of the conflict nor the gravity of the situation as I sat doing nothing (which was itself a choice). The ordeal may even sound silly, coming across as a non-ordeal that was an ordeal solely in my mind. Maybe that is the point. To me, the matter was not trivial, but a matter of life or death—my life or death that could be literally hanging in the balance of what I chose to do next.
In reality, whether or not the sauce contained additives, my “life” or “death” (in multiple ways) did indeed depend upon my decision. If what the food manager had told me was not true and the dish contained “extra” ingredients, then I faced the possibility of physical death… if I chose to eat it. But if his words were true and I chose to bypass the meal, I faced another kind of death—the “death” of a heart that is ruled by distrust, unable to accept the truth of the words that had been spoken.
In a world that colors many of life’s events in shades of gray, good and evil (God and “not God”) remain as distinctly different as black and white. Truth is not relative, fluctuating with time and circumstance, as some like to think. But it is life’s forever constant foundation. As the one and only true plumb line, Truth alone sets us free from the confinements produced by misguided thinking.
As I sat staring indecisively at the orange sauce on my plate, I was anything but free. Prudence is different from being fear-driven. Prudence adds to our lives, keeping us out of harm’s way. Fear, on the other hand, cheats us out of good things that could be ours. It is a liar and a deceiver that wrongly imprisons us in doubt.
As the battle raged in my head, I wanted to eat my dinner. I was hungry, I needed nourished, and the food looked wonderful. I had been in similar positions before, but not with food-handlers whom I trusted as much as these, and, therefore, not with such a stalemate in my thinking.
Fence sitting was not an option. The question that would not go away demanded a response. Was I willing to believe in the food manager’s expertise over my incomplete knowledge? Was I willing to place my life in his hands?
Again: Was I willing to place my life in the hands of one man, to accept his word as true, even when apparent contradictions seemed to indicate otherwise?
Do you see the bigger question being asked of every person: Am I willing to place my life in the hands of One Man, Jesus Christ, to accept His Word as Truth, even when apparent contradictions seem to indicate otherwise? Do I trust God’s every word or only those that don’t raise questions regarding my own lack of understanding?
The question confronts us not just once, but day in and day out, decision after decision, even after we make our confessions of faith in Jesus. Are we, who are confessed Christians, choosing to live every moment in continual trust of the Hands into which we have purportedly committed them? Do our actions reconcile with our words?
Jesus is the testimony (confirmed by the Holy Spirit) of the Truth of God’s Goodness. Both bear witness to the desire of God our Father to always bless us, never to curse us. Hence, God’s Son has covered our wicked thoughts of God and men with His own righteous actions, proving so. God has given us His Best—His life in His Son, because He wants His Best for us.
Do we really believe that? Even though we may love the words that say so, our senses still conjure up doubt about both God’s willingness and His capability to care for us far better than we ever could care for ourselves. Everyday we are faced with opportunities in varying circumstances to trust God or not. We can either interpret life’s events from the all-encompassing perspective of God’s Word, sure of God’s character through our personal relationships with Christ Jesus, or from the limited perspective of self-dependent pride: an “I know best” mindset.
The good battle of faith is won not by what we see or feel, but by believing God—the totality of His Word, no matter what.
I don’t know how the tide turned in my thinking that evening at dinner, but it did. As I continued staring at the sauce in a trance-like state, I suddenly found myself putting a large fork-full of food in my mouth. Something had literally “snapped” in my thinking, giving victory to trust and setting me free to eat. And eat, I did, with gusto, pausing only long enough between bites to declare, “This is sooooo good!”
My voracious appetite that evening was more than physical hunger. It was a hunger of the soul for freedom from worry, the freedom that accompanies trust. That evening, the freedom gained was the freedom to enjoy my dinner carefree, a freedom that had been taken from me when I had first suffered the reaction to the additive and fear had gained a foothold.
Twice that evening, the food manager had given me his word that the food served to me was exactly what I needed and would not harm me. There was no one of any higher authority or knowledge on the subject to whom I could have turned for help in my decision-making. I had to accept his word or reject it.
Even more so, the Word of God is the highest of all authority. We either accept it or reject It, accepting or rejecting the Truth of God. There is no fence between the two decisions upon which we can rest while contemplating the decision. By default, a nondecision is rejection of the Truth.
Jesus, the Living Word, demonstrated a life of trust in our Heavenly Father, showing us what a life of trusting God looks like. He provided us with the reassurance of God’s Goodness that we need. Jesus is the weapon that defeats all of mankind’s doubt of God and puts an end to senseless battles.
The war between good and evil has been won, even though the battles continue. Just as Adam and Eve succumbed to their senses, we today still feel the enticement to succumb to ours. And as Adam and Eve should have done an about-face, shifting their focus to the Tree of Life, we also need to do an about-face in our thinking when confronted by questions of doubt, shifting our focus to the Cross—the Tree of all Life.
In Spain, the exits along the limited access highways are known as “cambio de sentido,” literally “change of feelings.” They are the places where one has opportunity to change his or her course in conjunction with a change in thinking. Similarly, every life conflict that we face is an opportunity to make a course adjustment—a correction that puts our faith in God into action, according to His Word that always points us in the right direction.
The orange sauce that had muddied my thinking by stirring up doubt was nothing more than the sauteed vegetables, exactly as I had been told, only pureed to enhance the dish, a fact of which I had been unaware. The apparent discrepancy between what I had been told and what I saw was an illusion, a deception of my ignorance.
While not everything in life may appear as we expect according to God’s Word, we can be sure that any incongruence is due to a shortage on our end, not on God’s end. Experiencing victory over any and every doubt of God is never more than one liberating decision away, a decision that is within our power to make.
And should we discover that we are off course, heading in the wrong direction, away from God, instead of toward Him, we know exactly how to get back on track.
All that is needed is an about-face: one simple pivot in our thinking that puts all doubt of God right where it belongs; behind us, forever.
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent [have a change of mind; change your thinking] and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15, brackets mine)