The Mysterious Gifts of God

A few years ago I was unemployed; struggling to find a job and unsure of what I was going to do! My long term plan was to come over here to Chicago, but I had hardly any money and had just graduated from Bible College, so I also had quite a lofty debt hanging over my head. 

I was praying for a solution. I wanted God to intervene. Quickly! I desperately wanted Him to gift me with something. I didn't want to just sit around and collect the "dole" (the New Zealand term for receiving unemployment benefits). I knew how dangerous "doing nothing" could be for me, having once struggled through a crippling depression.

I needed something and I spent a lot of time praying for an answer; praying for God's intervention!

I was jobless for several months, and then out of the blue, a friend of mine from Church told me he could get me a job, painting houses! I was thankful to God. I viewed this opportunity as a gift from God. I was sure God had intervened and opened a door, just for me! So I took it!  

I remember driving to one of the richest suburbs of Auckland, called Remuera, and being alone inside this huge empty house and surrounded by white walls. Other people had spray painted, my job was to follow and touch up with a paint brush. The fumes were overwhelming. So I drove home that evening, feeling light-headed and with a headache. The fumes had got me pretty good; I was high! 

I knew the danger; white walls, overwhelming paint fumes and the potential to be immersed in my own thoughts. I knew such work could rapidly send me back into the horrifying depths of depression I had once wallowed in as a teenager! 

That night, I wrestled with God. Was this job really a gift from Him? Was it something He gave me? Would I disappoint Him if I quit?

That night, I also wrestled with the fact that a close friend of mine, from Church, got me this job. Many people knew this. I knew that if I quit, people may look down on me and judge me. I was scared people would see me as a slacker and a "dole-bludger". (This is a New Zealand term, meaning someone who is capable of working and could work, but has no intention of working and is collecting an unemployment benefit). 

That night, I wrestled so intensely, I felt so stressed, I hardly slept and became sick to my stomach. I wanted to do right, but the truth is, in that moment I didn't know what was right! 

The following morning I still felt a little sick, so I plucked up enough courage and called my new boss. We had one of those confusing, yet highly amusing, conversations; I told him I was quitting and he told me I was fired! And just like that; It was over! It was done! I could breathe again, but I had lingering questions and a cloud of guilt hovering over me. Did I deny a gift God had given me?

I can't remember the exact time-frame, but I know it wasn't very long at all. I saw an "ad", took a brief course, got my special license and started driving taxis. This job didn't feel like a gift from God, but it was there, so I thought I'd just give it a go. 

Cab driving was certainly not a glamorous job. It was hard! It was dangerous! It was long hours! I worked the graveyard shift and experienced and saw things I would have never imagined. I won't go into all the details, but I experienced the dark and evil side of the city. I saw it's disgusting underbelly. I saw what upright people do in the dark. I saw the secret and dirty lives of the rich, famous and elite. Yet, despite all this, I also saw how generosity and compassion can flow wonderfully out of people that society had deemed pathetic and unforgivable. 

Every night, I saw it all; whereas I saw plenty of love and compassion, the negativity was far more intense and gripping. The truth is; every night I couldn't escape the lasting and crippling affects of the rampant violence, addiction, poverty, injustice and inequality that plagues society.

Cab driving was intense. It was rough. It was painful. It was lonely. One night, I was even robbed! Two guys decided to press a knife against my throat while still driving, take my money and then toss me into my own trunk and drive me around in it! Another night, five young fellas decided to beat me and take my cash. All this to say; driving taxis was a traumatic adventure, filled with plenty of drama. (To read more about these stories, click on this link: Taxi Driving, Homelessness and A Life of Traumatic Events!)

You may ask: why would I give up the peaceful tranquility of painting white walls for this? Why would I sacrifice my own safety to live a life full of so much risk and danger? But you know what? That was just where God wanted me to be at that time. I didn't know it then, but I know it now! He gave me a gift, I just didn't know it. 

Isaiah 55:8-9 says; “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (NIV)

This verse reveals the mystery and love of God. He knows what we need! He knows what we need before we know it! I believe He didn't want me to be stuck by myself, sucking in paint fumes in luxurious mansions, He wanted to prepare me for my future. He wanted to open my eyes to the world. He wanted me to do this dangerous job, because He had something bigger and better in store for me.  

(As a side note, I was also able to make quick money to get over here to Chicago and pay off my College debt.)

God's thoughts and ways are far above mine. He knows what we need before we know it. He gifts us in mysterious and strange ways, and often, we won't realize it until many years later. While we're crying "Why Lord? Why me?", He's doing loving works, mysteriously behind our backs. I look back now and say "thank you Lord" for enduring through my cab driving experiences.

For those who don't know, I work with people experiencing homelessness and poverty on the Northside of Chicago. I help run a large homeless shelter in Uptown. I work with a lot of people who've been locked up, struggle with addictions and face extreme hardships. I see and experience a lot of what I saw and experienced as a cab driver.

It's unmistakable to me now; driving a taxi was an essential part of my journey. I don't think I could do what I do now, without having first jumped into that risky job! God knew that back then, I didn't!

I want to now look at another verse; the Apostle Paul said in Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (NIV)

To be honest with you all; in the midst of it all, it can be hard to discern what gifts are from God and what are not! Sometimes what we perceive as good, can be so detrimental, and what we perceive as detrimental, will be good! The gifts that God gives us are often laced in mystery, but we can't forget, He gifts us because He loves us. 

This verse from Romans gives us hope; it echoes the verses from Isaiah, and together they are telling us that God mysteriously and lovingly works behind the scenes; making impossible dreams become possible. He has the power and ability to turn what's negative and detrimental into something positive and good! He does this, because He loves us so much!
I want to close by saying: God loves us, He's gifting us and is "working for the good of those who love him". In knowing this, I believe we must dedicate our lives to loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to loving our neighbors as ourselves. 

I want to encourage you all with this final word: Go out and live in these promises, trust that God loves you dearly, has your back and "works for the good of those who love him!" 😃

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms.....
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about?
Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".

This was a sermon preached on 11/11/14, in response to this question;“God's Gifts”

What does it really mean for God to give you something? How do I know when God would want to reward me? How do I know if something is a blessing from the Lord, or something I’m just chasing? And when I do get a gift from God, how am I supposed to know what to do with it?
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