I have a story to tell. It is about something that is universal – a truly human experience. And a story that, I believe, most people, if not all, will enjoy. However, I must tell it in a way that does not, immediately, make sense to most and may even cause some to be offended. I must do this because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Everything I do should be by faith, and when I see God’s hand in my life I cannot do anything but praise him. And this story is, in short, all about God.
Earlier this week I was under a lot of stress. Admittedly I don’t deal with stress very well so it means that I was stressed out. I know that scripture says that we are to be “careful [or full of care] for nothing” (Philippians 4:6) but that is something I have to work on every day. But, again, this is not about me or what I have done. It is only about what the Lord has done.
On one particular day I had many things to do and not much time in which to do them. I had purchased a car and I needed to get it registered so I could drive it home that night (an hour away). If I did not make it to the office on time, I would have to find a place to sleep in an unfamiliar city.
So I was quite pleased when everything went well at work. So much so that pretty much everything that happened went as I would want it to. This pleased me and I gave thanks to God. At the end of the day I was able to complete my responsibilities and register my vehicle with little or no hassle.
Imagine my shock, however, when as I prepared to walk over to pick up my car, I could not find my personal keys. My ring that had my house keys as well as my new car key on it. The car that only had one key. That key.
Surprisingly I did not panic right away. I have a habit of misplacing things so I figured (or hoped) I could find it in some odd place. I checked my bag and my pockets. Not there. I retraced my steps and went to a manager, asking her if my keys had been found. Not there. I went downstairs and asked security if anyone had turned in a set of keys. Some, but not mine. My heart dropped. How would I get home? Could I go home if my car was sitting on someone else’s property over night? I was tired and ready to go home but I could not. And then there was the issue of having lost our house keys. And a myriad of other issues flooded into my mind and heart and overwhelmed me. I said “No, Lord, oh my Lord and my God!”
Now you must understand that though I am a “man of faith” with strong religious convictions, this is not ordinary for me. I am not given to speaking the name of the Lord with frequency, especially not outside of worship. Perhaps I can be faulted for that, but I also believe that the Lord’s name should be used sparingly and always reverently. So I am careful, very careful in fact, to use the name of God in deliberate ways. But now I was undone. It was too much. My keys could be anywhere in the city that I had been that day. I always assume that they would be in my pocket but they weren’t there.
We assume many things don’t we? By experience, day after day, we assume what has happened will always happen. Or maybe we don’t even think about it, but there is no compelling reason to think otherwise. And then it happens: the moment when your assumptions are not merely questioned but, like a piece of glass, shattered.
“Oh my God,” I said. “Oh, please oh my Lord.” “No, please help me!” “My Lord and my God” I said, either vocally or in my heart. What was I to do? I walked back the building; I retraced my steps in the last 30 minutes. But nothing, and no one to help me.
Now, in the grand scheme of things, this was a minor matter. People are dying all over the world and suffering in imaginable ways. Losing my keys, though perhaps greater than a minor annoyance, nothing like losing a spouse, a child or even our home.
But it was too much for me to bear – particularly after a day of feeling stressed out. There was nothing left to do but to admit defeat, walk the 30 minutes to where my car was waiting and tell the previous owner that I would not be moving it off his property. Perhaps I could get another key made in the morning, but it was too late for that now.
Now, it was at this time that I thought I needed to go back to the truck and look again. I don’t know why I thought that. I just had to. Was it God’s “voice”? No. But some divine prompting? I cannot say. Nevertheless, I believe that everything happens because God has ordained it to happen. That is to say, first, I lost my keys because, in no small or incidental way, God wanted it to be so. And I suppose that is hard to accept. God wanted me to lose my keys? To be in anguish about my day? And does that extend to great suffering as well? In all things I must be a man of faith and so I must also say yes. Yes he does allow great suffering to occur. I cannot understand why, or at least I don’t have access to all of God’s reasoning. But I do take comfort that suffering has a reason. For I can derive no comfort from meaningless suffering.
At that moment, though, I wasn’t thinking in terms of my theology: only my wants. I wanted to find my key. I had begged God for a miracle, if necessary, to find my keys. And I went back to the truck.
I went inside and promptly decided to open the back door. And, there, I saw my keys sitting on the tailgate. Outside of the truck. Just sitting there. I don’t know how long; at least as long as it took for me to drop off my items at the door and park the truck in the lot. A minute on the road and a few turns, at least. And it was still there.
I bawled like a baby. I cried; I cried as I had not cried in some time. I wish, now, that I could weep that way over my own sins. But, nevertheless, it was a genuine cry. And one of pure thankfulness. What I had lost, had been found.
Oh my friend, I thanked my God profusely. I thanked him and thanked him even as I could not believe what had just happened. I was so grateful. Filled and brimming over with his praise. I told my manager that I had found my keys, praise God. So the man from whom I bought the car. So my wife and children. So you.
But now, what of all this business of God? After all, is it not possible that if I had not prayed and prayed, I would have found my keys? In one sense it is possible, for we live in a universe that appears to contain many possibilities within it. And perhaps an unbeliever, a rank agnostic or atheist could have or has found something they lost in such a fashion. I don’t know. Yet it doesn’t matter. God is sovereign. He determines the beginning and the end. The middle too. The means and the end of those means. If he wants someone to find their keys they will.
But I don’t think I found the keys. Neither did the keys find me. I was lost. I was undone. I was overwhelmed and I was, at that moment, destroyed. And the Lord gave them to me. Just as he done with all things in my life. Nothing I have is mine. Nothing I have is mine because of what I have earned, toiled or sweat to achieve. I am an unprofitable servant (Luke 17:10). I am less that the least of all saints (Ephesians 3:8). I am the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). But I am found.
So this story is not really about my keys, or even my gratitude but about the God who finds. Jesus, after all, tells a series of stories (parables) in Luke 15 that are very similar in theme to the story I just told you. It may be, as I experienced, that these parables were based on actual experiences. People of that time could easily imagine losing a sheep, or a coin or even a prodigal son. But the point of these stories was not merely that we should rejoice with those who find a lost animal, coin or son. The point of these stories is that God finds the lost. He saves the lost. They are lost and then they are found. They are not found because they were looking for God. The sheep does not find the master; the coin does not call out for help. And even the prodigal son, realising his predicament, cannot envision being welcomed as a son. The son is “lost;” a servant he might be if his father would allow it (Luke 15:19).
We have forfeited all our rights and all our freedoms. We have lost the privilege of God’s kindness and provision. But many of us, all of us in some way, have it day by day. And I know I have more than I need; God is good. But most importantly, God in Christ has found me. I was a wandering Syrian (Deuteronomy 26:5); even now I am a stranger in a strange land (Hebrews 11:9) but God is my stay (Psalm 18:18). Even if I never found my keys; even if someone had taken my car and walked into my house and stolen all my goods. Even if I lost my job, and was forsaken by my family and wandered the world without any earthly comfort, I am found.
I tell you that every time I think about that moment I found my keys, I am brought back to joy and amazement at what the Lord did for me. But how much more should I, should you, realise what joy there is in heaven when a sinner repents of his or her ways and comes to God in faith (Luke 15:7&10). What a gift!
And I want you to know that God offers this salvation to all, without exception. For we are all lost; we are dead in sins and trespasses. You are lost, even if you are too stubborn to acknowledge it. But God offers you life in Christ. And I believe the great shepherd Jesus calls us in the word of God. This is how he saves lost people; this is how he finds them. Listen to his good words and be encouraged now by a Saviour who finds the lost:
“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”