By, Isam Itson III
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Psalm 46:1-3
When I moved back to Los Angeles after university my great aunt, “Granny” had just turned 100 years old. She still lived in her simple five room house on 51st and Main Street in South Los Angeles. In addition to holidays and special occasions, I visited her once a month by myself, for the next two years, before I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. After two and a half years in Las Vegas, I left to teach at a Bible College in the Southern Philippines. Nearing Christmas break of my first year I received word that Granny had died. She was 105 years old. I immediately traveled back to the States and of course I said yes when I was informed that the two nephews would speak for the family at her funeral. “God, what should I say? How do I put into words what Granny meant to our family? To me?” She embodied love, grace, and faithfulness like no one I have known before or since.
Foremost in my mind were those monthly visits with Granny. I always arrived mid morning just as she was finishing her breakfast. I walked her to her chair by the big window in her front room. Within moments she fell asleep and I sat patiently on the couch, because it felt wrong to leave so soon. After a few minutes she woke up and spoke to me, “Son, God has been so good to me. He gave me this house, my son in law, my family, and everything I need. But whatever Jesus puts in your hand you have to open your hand and help somebody.” As she spoke I could see the cloud of God’s glory fill the room and feel the weight of God’s presence pressing me into the couch. Then she fell back to sleep, the cloud dissipated, the weight lifted, and I washed her breakfast dishes before leaving. Every single visit was like this for two years.
As I thought about her I realized that in her own words Granny was reminding me of God’s greatest words to us. The Lord is the source of everything and everyone we need in our lives. And no matter how much or little Jesus Christ puts in our hands, we have to use it to help others as an expression of God’s love for them. That’s it. The first and second greatest commandments taught to me, a university graduate and biblical studies teacher, by a tiny soft spoken black woman from South Texas, born in the early 1890’s, with a third grade education, who never worked as anything but a housekeeper. Thank God, and help others, no matter what.
We often focus on what God does, can, or should do for us and our loved ones. And that is good. The scriptures are clear that God is the source and strength of our lives. He created us, he provides for us, he protects us, and he hears us as we live under the shadow of death that defines life in this broken world. We trust in God’s faithfulness and are comforted by his presence with us and in us through our faith in Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit living in us. God is our faithful creator, provider, and helper through times of triumph and tragedy. Thank you God.
The scriptures are also clear, that God has made us in his image, to represent him in relationship to one another and to honor his value for the rest of the earth and the other living creatures. So not only does God want us to look to him for help when we are overwhelmed, he also wants to help us as we help others in his name when they are overwhelmed. The more we represent God’s extravagant and faithful love in relationship to our neighbor, especially our enemies, the more we experience our unique and authentic humanity.
1. Where do you turn when you are overwhelmed, where does your help come from? In a time of need do you turn to your phone or turn to God first?
2. Do you hold the things God has given you with your fists clenched or with outstretched hands?
3. How can we use the things that God has given us to bless others?
4. How can we represent God’s extravagant and faithful love in relationship to others? To our enemies?