“Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht” (Man plans, God laughs) — Yiddish proverb
When we moved near University of the Pacific in the fall of 2007, I had intended to start a small group study at my home for college students. I had envisioned heady theological discussions over coffee. I don’t know exactly what I had in mind, but it was something akin to Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” or C.S. Lewis and his faculty cronies at Oxford.
After gentle prodding from God and his earthly representatives, my wife and I agreed to host a small group Bible study in our home on Thursday evenings. After nearly six months now, I can say with confidence that it’s not what I had planned. How doth God humor me? Let me count the ways:
- None of our members have a car. We picke up most of our group and bring them to our house. During these months, we have endured two flat tires — same car, same day! — and a dead transmission. But we endure. And endure. And endure.
- None of our members have a home environment that allows them to host, or they simply haven’t arrived at the point in their journey where they are comfortable hosting our little dysfunctional band of brothers. So, instead of a house-to-house ministry, we’re a stationary group, in which my wife and I play the role of permanent hosts. We also teach the group in tandem, since our group hasn’t evolved to the point where they are asking questions (that pertain to the lesson; of the irrelevant sort, they know no bounds).
- Three of our regular members have been county mental health patients. Two have been incarcerated. Two have had their children taken from them. Most of them come from gangs, with the accompanying body art. At least three of them are recovering drug addicts. And this is just the stuff I know.
And yet, amid all the chaos and level of need for which I feel woefully unprepared to meet, the miraculous occurs on a regular basis:
- One of our members prays for a job. She gets a job for a national retailer that allows her to work weekdays, which allows her to spend time with her children, continue to attend our group and make it to church Sundays.
- Another member asked that we pray for a place to live, since the home she was renting with her daughter had gone into foreclosure. She didn’t find a place; the new owner of the home she was renting decided to let her and her family stay.
- This same member asked for prayer about a tumor the doctors had found in one of her kidneys. Sometime before the biopsy, the doctors learned it was a deformity of her urinary tract.
Perhaps the most miraculous goings-on involve the change in attitude among our members. One member who is going through some extreme hardship regularly expresses frustration bordering on exasperation with her children. On a whim, I asked the group if they had any advice.
“I’d read Psalm 61,” chimed in our group mother. “It helped me out a lot.”
Stunned, I reached for my Bible and looked for the advised psalm. I don’t remember the last time I heard Psalm 61 read or taught, much less recommended. But there it was, in all its appropriate wisdom:
1Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.
2From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
3 For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.
4 I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah.
5For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.
6Thou wilt prolong the king’s life: and his years as many generations.
7He shall abide before God for ever: O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him.
8So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows.
This same person correctly identified Manasseh and Ephraim as Joseph’s children at the beginning of a lesson. It’s all I can do to avoid falling out of my chair on some Thursday evenings.
Our latest endeavor involves memorizing scripture. We’re starting off with Psalm 1, a grounding passage dealing with the blessings that come from following God, and the danger in seeking ungodly counsel.
I can hardly wait for my next plan to unravel.