For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Several years ago, my wife and I spent a weekend in Yosemite where we celebrated our wedding anniversary. Over the years we visited this beautiful national park many times, hiking up various trails, including ones to Vernal and Nevada Falls. This time around, though, we decided to bike around the park. As we pedaled past old sites like Camp Curry, Mirror Lake, and Yosemite Falls, an old memory surfaced of a previous trip to Yosemite. Recapturing this memory, I reminded Myrna of a boy on that trip who was a part of our youth group at church. Since Father’s Day was only a few weeks away, I thought this boy’s story might be a good basis for this Father’s Day message. She agreed, and so I wrote the following article with that young boy in mind.
Ted was 15 years old and a part of the church youth group I pastored. Most of the kids came from well-adjusted homes where their fathers were great examples and good portraits of God the Father. But not Ted. His Father had been awful and abandoned him along with the rest of the family when he was in junior high. Even though Ted had given his life to Christ, he still struggled mightily with what his dad had done. In the meantime, God sent others to Ted to help fill that role of his Father, but this just wasn’t working for him. He simply didn’t want God’s plan B for his life; he wanted plan A, which was his dad back. However, that was not possible, so Ted languished in his despair and became more and more angry and disappointed with God. Fortunately for Ted, as with all of us, God was very patient, understanding, and loving with him as he worked through his hurt.
During this trip to Yosemite on a late spring weekend before Father’s Day, God spoke to Ted in an incredible way that completely changed his heart about his dad, and God. The way God did this surprised me, but it was the vintage God I knew who always knows how to get through to someone who is struggling.
On this trip I took about one hundred and fifty high school students to Yosemite to build unity and better relationships between them. Large youth group ministries can be very infectious in winning other young people to Christ but tend to lose intimacy and affection for one another in the process. So, I had to work on this with our youth group all the time.
In preparation for the Saturday morning devotion, I gathered the kids together for a time of worship and singing in a meadow beneath Yosemite falls. After we finished, I asked each to find a separate place in the meadow for a quiet devotion. Before they took off, though, I asked them to read one of the Psalms and be prepared to share what they had learned when they returned. I also suggested they pick a Psalm nearest to their birthdays. I do not know why I decided to do this; it was a last-minute inspiration brought on by the Spirit, I believe.
As I explained how to find their birthday Psalm, I gave them an example. If February 7th was their birthday, then pick Psalm 2, because February was the second month of the year. Since their birthday was on the 7th day of that month, choose verse seven to read. If this formula did not work exactly, then adjust and find a Psalm nearest to their birthday.
After about forty-five minutes, each of the kids began making their way back to our meeting place. Their sharing during this time was special; it was very personal, sincere, and lasted about two hours. Yet during this time, no one seemed anxious to get it over, which said a lot about these high school students. Out of all the comments made, Ted spoke the loudest to everyone that day.
When he got up to speak, Ted said at first he had no intention of reading any Psalm, because his heart was bitter about his dad that day. Then after a few minutes of sitting underneath a huge Sequoia tree, looking up at the falls, curiosity got the best of him, and he started searching out the Psalm that matched his birthday. After he found it, he read it again and again with growing emotion and intensity. After he finished reading it one last time before making his way back to our meeting, Ted told us that tears began to well up within his heart and roll down his cheeks, for as far as he was concerned, God had spoken to him that morning about his father.
Of course, as Ted spoke, we all wanted to know the Psalm he had found. After holding back for a minute or so, he told us it was Psalm 2:7, which read, “I will surely tell you of the decree of the Lord, for He said to me, “You are my Son, today I have begotten You.” When Ted read these words, he felt God telling him, “You are my son, Ted, and I am your father, and I will never abandon or stop loving you, no matter what.” As we all listened to Ted talk some more, we could see a growing calm come over his face and a new spirit of joy within. This calm and joy lasted throughout the weekend, and long after returning home from Yosemite. Whether this was the correct application of that Psalm really didn’t seem to matter, for Ted’s anger and bitterness about his father was gone.
In a week or so after Yosemite, Father’s Day came, but as far as Ted was concerned, the Father’s Day he had always hoped for happened in Yosemite. Only his own children’s celebration of him on Father’s Day years later compared, for Ted ended up becoming not only a loving husband but a very attentive father to his children. He was always there for them, as God was there for him that day at Yosemite. (Malachi 1:6)
Sometimes in life, God moves you to an alternative, particularly when His initial plan (Plan A) for you is not going to work. This change is not just because of something you have done, but often what another has done, as was the case with Ted. The best response is to accept God’s new plan and move on with it. By responding this way with a loving attitude, God knows He can then trust you to the highest degree in this life. And it may very well be that an alternative in life may surpass that first plan for which you had hoped for so long. For as the Scripture teaches, “All things,” even the changes you must endure and adjust to, “work together for good.” Not only for your good but the good of everyone else around you. (Romans 8:28)
Malachi 1:6 A son honors his Father…
Romans 8:28 We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.