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Love Set in Concrete

There isn’t anything more powerful than a personal testimony. Industry pays famous people millions of dollars to endorse their products. Business is built on referrals from satisfied customers. Every resume provides a list of references, and based upon your friend’s recommendation you’ll go see an obscure movie, switch laundry detergents, and try sushi. Why? Because if it works for someone else, it will work for you.

Well, I have a ringing endorsement to give on a product you can’t live without: the sufficiency of Christ regardless of your circumstances.

I identify with C.S. Lewis when he said, "Pain is God’s megaphone. He whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts in our pains." On Tuesday, my chronically hostile spine decided dull pain wasn’t demanding enough and initiated spasms that made it difficult for me to get my breath, tough to lie down, and impossible to sit still. After missing most of my sleep Tuesday night, going to work on Wednesday wasn’t a viable option. I was tired, aching, agitated, preoccupied, and feeling generally unsociable. About the only thing I could do, I decided, was to take a walk.

I left early and drove to a trail that runs for several miles alongside the Trinity River. All things considered, it was a delightful morning. The great blue herons and the white egrets were stalking fish in the shallows, the turtles were sunning themselves, the mallards and mud hens were preening their feathers, the Trinity was a clearer color of mud than normal, and the sun was taking the thermometer toward sixty. I walked for almost five hours, pondering passages of scripture, praying, ranting, raving, and sorting through my questions—all in hope shat there was something I might discover that would give me insight into my current state of affairs.

My mind and will kept declaring the faithfulness of the Lord while my emotions complained that they were getting busy signals and answering machines in their desperate attempt to contact Him. While physical pain was driving this experience, the emotional-spiritual-mental-willful battle that raged was far more intense than the spasms.

Have you got the picture? I’m walking down this cement sidewalk, my back is in spasms, I need to be at work—not on a walk—the spirit world is fighting over my tired bones, and my emotions have decided God is in the quasar sector of the universe and won’t be back in the office until next Thursday. Then I see it: My name—Preston—scrawled in long hand in the cement.

How many people have you met named Preston? There’s the man I’m named after, Preston McCann, who was my Dad’s best friend. He had a bull named Cochise that I remember better than I do Mr. McCann. There’s Sgt. Preston of the Yukon with his faithful dog, King, but Preston was his last name; that doesn’t count. Besides, he wasn’t real; he was just on TV. There’s Preston Pearson who used to play for the Dallas Cowboys, but his earthsuit came in a different color than mine did. There was an older man our hometown named Preston, but he didn’t like me because I had lengthy, blond hair. Any hair was longer than his though. When he went for a haircut the barber used an onion for inspiration. Beyond these few, I haven’t met any other Preston’s.

I step off the sidewalk and stare. Preston, etched into the pavement with a stick years ago. I say out loud to the Lord, "What?! What do You want to say to me? I’m listening."

After a few anxious moments, I notice the shape of a heart scraped into the sidewalk. Scratched in concrete before my face is a message from God: "Preston, I love you."

But the transmission barely got through. Even though planned by God years earlier and drafted in cement, my heart heard only a quiet whisper. I knew I’d heard from the Lord, and my mind declared that this was a profound moment, but my emotions were screaming and moaning so loudly and the devil was accusing God so vociferously that God’s voice was barely audible.

A few days later I ran across Psalm 77. It was written by Asaph, who was in charge of music for both King David and King Solomon. As he writes, he is in the middle of what he poetically calls "the day of my trouble." I could identify. He talks about praying all night, his eyelids not closing, having trouble speaking, and difficulty getting his thought focused. I could identify. He records some tough questions that were scrolling across his mind: Has God rejected me? Is He mad? I thought He was loving and kind. What I’m going through doesn’t remind me of Someone who calls Himself gracious and compassionate. What’s the deal? And, I could identify.

But then Asaph makes a declaration I desperately needed to hear. "It is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed." (v. 10). In other words, whatever the trouble and grief and pain was that he was experiencing, it was clouding his ability to maintain an accurate portrait of God. The presence of pain was leaving him vulnerable to the enemy’s accusations that God had changed, that He was no longer who He said He was. And, it was the stress of trouble and grief that made these accusatory lies seem rational and reasonable. Again, I could identify.

Like a man wading through the jungle with a machete, God—through His word—was hacking His way through the undergrowth and adhesions of pain to deliver truth. Think of how personal this is. Truth by itself can be delivered by all sorts of mediums, but truth personally delivered through the entanglements of life is carried only by someone loves and cares—a genuine friend.

So what did Asaph do to overcome his problem? He writes, "I shall remember the deeds of the Lord: surely I will remember the Lord’s wonders of old. I will meditate on all God’s work, and muse on all His deeds" (vss. 11-12, emphasis added). Asaph carefully and methodically retraced his spiritual history.

It is always a ploy of the enemy to accuse God at the moment. Why? Because the moment is filled with pain, rampant emotion, grief, and trouble. Your history is filled with God’s lovingkindness, graciousness, compassion, faithfulness, provision, and mercy. Asaph’s counsel is to take advantage of 20-20 hindsight to do battle in the fog of the moment.

It just so happened that I was reading this psalm late one night. When I finished, I closed my Bible, crawled into bed, pulled the covers up around my neck, and began retracing my spiritual history. The litany was comprised of glorious moments, great lessons, instances of healing, revelations, mountaintops and spiritual wonders4rs. It also contained copious recollections of deep water, trials by fire, failure, droughts, dessert wastelands, laborious trudging, pain, uncertainty and dark nights with only a dim light. But in every instance, without fail, my history recorded the sufficiency of Christ and the dependability of the Father. The conclusion began to be obvious: With such a preponderance of historical evidence, why would the momentary accusations of the enemy and the moanings of my emotions be an accurate declaration of the truth? They aren’t, won’t, and never will be because 1) he’s the enemy and 2) emotions are not an accurate barometer of truth.

It was several days before I could get back over to the river trail. On Saturday morning the weather had turned wet, cold, and windy, but I retraced my steps, still experiencing spasms and pain, and located God’s inscription to me. I turned the collar up on my coat, tugged my hat down a little further on my head, and stared at the heart and my name.

I stood there a long time soaking up the message etched in front of me. I knew my heart needed the reinforcement and I figured that one night, not too long from now, when the shadows of the late hours cast eerie figures on the walls, and the wind howls its forlorn grief outside the windows of my life, I would remember this moment and muse on the Wednesday when God scrawled a message in cement for my hurting soul to see.

Preston Gillham

About the Author

As a co-founder, Preston Gillham led Lifetime for 30 years. Preston is a writer, speaker, and leadership guide. He has authored numerous articles and several books including No Mercy and Battle for the Round Tower. He blogs on “Life and Leadership”. More about Preston, his writings, speaking, and his consulting practice can be located at PrestonGillham.com.