Alabama's loss to Auburn in last Saturday's Iron Bowl was tempered for Frances and myself by the sharing of a meal with a very gracious gentleman whom we had just met.
Mr. Smith journeyed on the same train that took us home on the return leg of our trip to New York City. Like us, he decided to travel by rail while the rest of his family flew, and like myself, this was his first train trip in more than 50 years (in fact, we likely shared the rails in the same year, 1960). Frances and I agree that we have rarely met a more gracious and winsome person than Mr. Smith. We talked and laughed during our meal about things that matter (prayer, family, good fathers and mothers), and things that don't (football games). I cannot recall a more enjoyable time with a person completely unknown to us before our seemingly chance encounter (Chance? Not a chance!).
Midway through our time together, Auburn miraculously won the Iron Bowl (many people in the dining car kept up with the game - including Frances - on their smartphones. Our app was faster than anyone else's, so I made the announcement that Auburn had won the game - or, in our perspective, Alabama had lost!). Few cheers or groans greeted the news, but rather expressions of surprise (a very different reaction happened in the Houston airport, where our daughter Emmie says the outcome elicited raucous cheering, again, not because Auburn had won, but because the Tide had lost).
We were disappointed, of course, by an event that really doesn't account for much regarding things that matter. Again, however, the company of Mr. Smith tempered our dismay (yes, I know "dismay" is a strong word to use regarding a football game. Remember, however, we live in the state of Alabama!). This gracious gentleman's attitude and kindness helped us realize the things that do matter, namely, God and people. We'll always remember our time with Mr. Smith, and more importantly, as he, Frances, and I affirmed at the time of our parting, we will pray for each other the rest of our lives.
"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee" (Isaiah 43:2).
Presence enables us to deal with problems. This is true in human terms, as in our encounter with Mr. Smith, when his cheerful disposition helped assuage the sting of our team's defeat. Much more importantly, however, the presence of God enables and keeps us when for His good purposes, He allows the waters, rivers, fire, and flame to approach and impact us. We will not be overflowed, burned, or kindled upon in the ultimate sense, but we certainly feel the effects of life's tribulations in a manner that makes God's presence and keeping necessary. He does not always deliver us from trouble. He always meets us in trouble, however, and His heart draws particularly near when His children hurt. Of this we can be sure, and remembrance and affirmation of our Lord's "very present help in trouble" ensures that we will "pass through the waters" (Psalm 46:1).
The Mr. Smiths of our lives remind us that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ offers a special dispensation of His presence when we most need His nearness and companionship. We must believe and expect such grace to be available, and often with broken hearts and tears we must cry with the Psalmist, "Be not far from me, for trouble is near" (Psalm 22:11). God's trusting sons and daughters in Christ can be sure that He is not far from us, and that His presence will lead, comfort, and enable us through waters, rivers, fire, and flame...
"I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."(Psalm 16:8)
Weekly Memory Verse
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
(II Peter 1:20-21)