“Rog, we’ve decided not to send you to the Philippines. We wanted to send someone who was actually…walking with God.” The words of my Navigator leader Dave Ostendorf stung pretty deeply. Had it really come to this?
My good friend Carl Bergstrom and I had been slated to be summer missionaries to the Philippines in the summer of 1986. I had sent out support letters and was financially pretty much ready to go. But other areas of my life didn’t evidence the same readiness. Carl would make the trip on his own that summer.
My troubles had started the previous summer (’85) with panic attacks, which morphed into a horrific bout with OCD during the ’85 – ’86 school year. At the end of the first semester, heading home for Christmas, I was placed on academic probation. I had always been a good student, and my shame was palpable.
And so when that conversation early in 1986 with Dave O came about, I guess I should not have been surprised. He wasn’t speaking of gross sin in my life…just plain old sin, which I guess is gross enough. Skipping class, blowing off responsibilities, pretty much caught up in myself, I wasn’t a good candidate for a summer mission trip in Illinois, let alone the Philippines.
“So Rog, here’s what we’d like you to do,” Dave continued. “We don’t want you burdened with any responsibilities like leading Bible studies or prayer meetings. We just want you to go to class, study, read your Bible and pray. That’s all. We want you to walk with God.”
And somehow, some way, I began to do what he said. I began to read my Bible, and I started in Jeremiah. I don’t know why this particular book exactly, but looking back thirty years, I remember those days in Jeremiah as especially sweet. Soon God would bring another godly leader into my life who would issue a different and important challenge, and through it all my year of Hell would eventually come to an end. I needed a C average that spring semester to escape academic expulsion, and my grade point for that semester was exactly a C.
And so it was that I was reading God’s word just yesterday, reading through Jeremiah’s other book, Lamentations, and another word from that beleaguered prophet brought me back to my experiences 30 years before…
Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old—
Lamentations 5:21 (ESV)
The principle from this verse is clear – when life is falling apart, when we are in desperate need of personal restoration and renewal, we should always seek first to be restored to Him. Jeremiah says, “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may…”
How foolish we are when we, the people of God, try to put the pieces of a broken life back together on our own. Our restoration, our renewal always begins with Him.