God Holds the Key

"The Lock-Keeper's Cottage," ©2016 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission

“The Lock-Keeper’s Cottage,” ©2016 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission

©2016 Lynn Abbott

Rain or Shine, I wandered along the Wey River.  I relied on the river’s rhythm to push back the stress of the day.

And stress was an ongoing part of my professional life at an International School.  The continual clash of cultures complicated everything. Educational politics, student unrest, and an overwhelming work load required all the stamina and grace that I had.

When I arrived home from a long day, I generally donned my sweats and runners. Although I could see the river from the second story of our 300-year-old cottage, the closest route was not a direct one.

Thus, I picked my way through the narrow streets, past the old boatswain’s cottages.  I smiled as I rounded the corner and crossed the grassy field that lay between me and the dirt path that led down to the river.

Yet, the cares of my day did not wash away until I crossed the bridge down by the old Lock-keeper’s cottage. At that juncture, I could view the Wey River canal and its locks as well as the Thames River.  There, the two rivers paralleled one another and eventually joined.

Often, I’d peer through the heavy growth of trees and bushes to see the broad sweep of the Thames.  But I felt safest walking along the Wey River’s canal, and pausing occasionally to admire the gates that formed its locks.

I frequently stopped to watch the lock-keeper work.  Often a boat would sidle up to the canal’s edge.  The captain would temporarily anchor his rig, and approach the lock-keeper’s cottage.

the-lock-keepers-cottage-copyright-2016-lynn-abbott-studios-with-watermarkMost of the time, I observed both the captain and the keeper laughing over some private jest and sharing a moment’s conversation before the task at hand.

On occasion, however, a boat owner spoke loudly and pointed vehemently at his craft.  I guessed some question regarding the process had been raised.

The locks and this “right of passage” fascinated me.

At first, like many Americans, I was perplexed by the need for locks along the canals.

However, one of the locals explained the system to me like this:  although kayaks and other small boats readily navigate a variety of river terrain, larger boats are not as nimble.

And so, on smaller and more geographically challenging tributaries such as the Wey, larger vessels need assistance. After all, as they move up or down river canals in which water depths vary, they risk running aground.

The lock system answers that concern by using a series of gates  to  dam water.  A boat enters a lock, and gates are closed behind and before it.  This creates a chamber into which water gradually fills.

As the water rises so does the boat, and in this way. the boat lifts to a higher elevation.

Of course, the process requires trust  between sailor and  lock-keeper.  But as  I noted  in the evident dissatisfaction of that crusty captain, some sailors place greater faith in the lock-keeper than others.

Actually, I can’t say that I blame some of his misgivings.  Obviously, in a lock, one’s autonomy is at stake…

Gliding into a narrow chamber, the boat is restricted.

The gates swing shut.  And the waters begin to rise.

I suspect less experienced, yachting enthusiasts  pray  that the hull will escape  unscathed.

The boat’s captain, of course, remains alert.  When the gate re-opens, he once more directs his vessel along the river’s circumscribed channels.  But until then, the boat’s fate rests completely in the hands of the lock-keeper.

Sometimes I feel like that boat, caught in the lock.  I’ve been sailing along quietly on the river.

But then,  I see the gate ahead of me.  It blocks the way.  I pray for an open door.

And the Lock-Keeper opens the way.  I steer my vessel into the chamber.  When the gate closes behind me…well, quite honestly, fear grips my heart.

Then, the second-guessing begins:  Was this right way to steer the boat?  Or should I have turned my boat around?

The rising waters persuade me; I’ve know without a shadow of doubt that I’ve made a mistake.

After all, this direction is  difficult.  It’s flooding.

My vessel jostles about and sometimes, hits the canal walls.  I hurt.

And I think, “I obviously misread or misunderstood God. I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

“My vessel is not made for this,” I further complain.

“What am I doing here?” I question.

the-lock-keepers-cottage-copyright-2016-lynn-abbott-studios-with-watermarkOh, me of little faith!

I wonder if Daniel ever felt that way. He definitely was caught in a tight spot.

And yet, the old hymn exhorts me to “Dare to be a Daniel.”  His courage is legendary in Sunday School circles.

Undoubtedly, Daniel loved Yahweh.  Even so, his “ship” had been taken captive by the Babylonians.  In fact, he and his friends were carried off to a foreign land, and the gates had closed with clanging finality.

Trapped in Babylon with no way out, Daniel and his friends watched as the waters began to rise.

We’ve all been there… trapped by circumstances beyond our control.

Perhaps, you have been trapped in a high pressure job.

Or maybe, school deadlines fenced you in.

Financial concerns may flood your life.  Interpersonal relationships may also cause stress.

You may even face persecution for your faith.

It could be that your faith is tested by health issues that limit your ability to accomplish what you wish.  Chronic illness limits your days. And there seem to be no solutions, no easy healing.

Yup. The pressure cooker terrifies most of us.  The flood waters threaten.  The water swirls in whirlpool intensity. The boat begins to toss and turn.

Not far into his Babylonian sojourn, Daniel encountered enormous spiritual pressure.  Chosen for Nebuchadnezzar’s court, Daniel appeared to have it made: power, prestige, classy accommodations, gourmet food, and an overall, luxurious lifestyle.

But his so-called good fortune actually presented an extraordinary difficulty for a committed Hebrew.   The Palace menu did not include Kosher food.

Uh, oh.  Daniel and his friends had a choice to make.  They could remain silent, lay low and avoid any trouble.  Or they could take a stand, go against the flow.

They took a risk.  Daniel spoke for them, and apparently God had gifted him with extraordinary diplomatic skills; he successfully negotiated with the commander of the court officials, (Daniel 1:9).

The commander agreed to a trial, allowing Daniel and his friends to temporarily eat vegetarian.  If at the end of the allotted ten-day trial, they suffered no ill effect from their choice, they would be allowed to continue their chosen diet.

God blessed their faith.  At the end of the trial, they actually appeared healthier than all the other young men serving in the palace.

Their boat survived the first flood.  The Lock-keeper orchestrated the rising tide, and worked for their good.

But greater tests would come.  Water continued to pour into the chamber.

Sometimes that’s the way it goes.  It seems you face one challenge after another.  Some river journeys require a lot of locks.

In this case, Nebuchadnezzar had a nightmare.  He awakened terrified, but couldn’t actually remember the dream.

He couldn’t shake his uneasiness and therefore,  he summoned his wise men.  I imagine they looked at one another in disbelief when the king demanded that they both describe and interpret the forgotten dream.

A little unreasonable, to be sure.

But the temperamental Nebuchadnezzar took irrational to extraordinary heights.  If his wise men could not identify and interpret the dream, they would all be “torn limb from limb” and their houses destroyed.

Talk about a high pressure position.   In the event of their failure to meet his demands, Nebuchadnezzar intended to slay all his courtiers, and that included Daniel and his friends.

You betcha.  Daniel and his friends dropped to their knees in prayer.  They recognized their complete dependence on Yahweh.

They begged God to demonstrate compassion and to reveal the “mystery” of the dream so that they might be spared.

God answered their prayers.  After Daniel’s revelation and interpretation, their lives were spared.  Daniel, in fact, received a promotion.

Babylon hadn’t finished with the young Hebrews, however.   When Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego refused to worship the approximately 1000 foot high, golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar, the king demanded they be cast into a blazing furnace.

It seemed the tide would finally sink the boat.  Circumstances had moved from bad to worse.

Yet, once more, our God proved Himself sovereign over the affairs of humanity.

Without a doubt, God protects His children from the fire.  We may face it but we will not be consumed by it.   Our same God who allows the waters to rise also cries, “Peace, be still.”

the-lock-keepers-cottage-copyright-2016-lynn-abbott-studios-with-watermarkYet, our omniscient and omnipotent  Lock-Keeper allows the flood waters to rise in order to lift His beloved children to a new level of faith.

And when He opens the lock’s gate, we move forward into greater grace.

Of course, if I am perfectly honest, I must admit that when the waters begin to rise, I frequently panic.   But despite my limited faith, our Sovereign God remains faithful, (2 Timothy 2:13).

Our infinite Lock-Keeper directs every part of our lives and nothing escapes His loving watch.

And so it was for Daniel and his friends.  I’m sure the move to Babylon would not have been their first choice.  And time within the gates, meant rising tides.

But God had a plan bigger than they could conceive.

The book of Daniel records their encounters with the Keeper of All things, Yahweh. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego  experienced the miraculous again and again. Not only did their faith increase, but so also did the faith of those whose lives they touched.

Nebuchadnezzar, in fact,  testified to the greatness of God after Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego survived the fiery furnace.  Yeah, those Hebrew young men had a huge part to play on the Babylonian stage.

Being there at the right moment obviously matters.  Daniel discovered that when Nebuchadnezzar had a dream once more, ( Daniel 4:4-18).  Again, God revealed to Daniel the interpretation.

The dream came as a warning.  With the golden statue, Nebuchadnezzar had claimed deity.

God intended to deal with the king’s ignorant arrogance, and demonstrate God’s truth for all the known world to see.  Nebuchadnezzar would know without doubt that God is in control.

Daniel delivered God’s prophecy: “you [will] be driven away from mankind and your dwelling place [will] be with the beasts of the field, and you will be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes,” (Daniel 4:25).

And so it was.

Nebuchadnezzar lost his sanity for seven years.  Nevertheless, God restored the king’s mind at the complete of those years.  And a much humbled Nebuchadnezzar testified to the sovereignty of God.

God had used Daniel to communicate His Word to the most powerful king of that day.

Yes, our God is in control.  Indeed, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God of the universe directs all things in His time.  He raises as well as removes kings.

At times, He allows us to experience flood waters. Yes.

Our boats enter the locks.  The gates shut.  The water fills.

But Abba controls the river’s rise for our ultimate good.

In this lies our hope: you and I personally know the Lock-Keeper.  He loves us. He leads us onward and upward.

Our boats remain safe under His care.  He gently and graciously lifts us to the next level, and then, sends us out on a Great Commission, (Matthew 28: 19-20).

Feeling trapped by circumstances beyond your control?  It’s tough, I know.  I’ve walked there, too.

For this reason especially, I’m grateful for Daniel who reminds you and me that our Heavenly Father holds the key to everything.  We can run into Abba’s throne room with our concerns just as Daniel and his friends did.

Our heavenly Father longs to give us the same kind of grace that He gave the-lock-keepers-cottage-copyright-2016-lynn-abbott-studios-with-watermarkto Daniel.

That’s right. The Lock-Keeper is always on duty, and He tirelessly works on behalf of His beloved children.

God is in the “house” and redirecting humanity’s faulty choices to ultimately bring about God’s gracious and good end.

For this reason, when the waters rise, we hold to this:  Immanuel, “God with Us,” walks with you and me.

And He never fails, (2 Timothy 2:13; Deuteronomy 31:6).

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;  I will counsel you with My eye upon you,”  ~Psalm 32:8

“The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry,” ~Psalm 34:15

“I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken,” ~Psalm 16:8