In the the spring of 2003, I bought my first car. Well, my second car, actually. The first one was a gift from my Grandpa. That was in 1996, the year my second car was made, ironically. But in 2003, I bought my first car. A green Pontiac Grand Prix. A four-door SE model, complete with tape deck and power windows and locks. I loved that car.
I called it my Miracle Machine.
I called it that because in the summer of 2003 some friends and I were out fishing in the creeks near my home town at dusk when the driver’s window refused to roll up. I tried every trick I could think of- opening and closing the door; pushing the button rapidly; banging on the control panel; turning the car on and off; tuning the radio- the usual things. After I and my friends had exhausted our repertoire of tricks to no avail, I had the idea to pray for the window. And so I did. Aloud. My friends watched and muffled their snickers. When I had finished, I hit the button.
The window rolled right up.
My friends and I were dumbfounded. I tried to play it cool, offering some pithy remark about the power of “faith,” I’m sure. But inside I was astounded: here for the first time was, in my mind, proof that God actually answered prayer. And directly at that! Of course, the car started getting nicknames- Mountain Car, ATC (All Terrain Car), etc. But I stuck with Miracle Machine, or “MM” for short.
It wasn’t long before MM gave me another opportunity to prove my “faith.”
I was giving a friend who is a mechanic a ride over to my house later that summer, and as we neared the house I stopped at the mailbox and rolled down the window. Wouldn’t you know it, the window refused to roll up once again. My friend noticed what had happened and said “Oh, don’t worry. I know exactly what that is, happens to these cars all the time, easy to fix. When we get to your house I’ll pull the cover off and get it working in no time.” I replied “Don’t bother. Here,” and I prayed once more for my window to roll up.
And once again, it rolled right up.
My mechanic friend was astounded. He said that once that problem occurred the window should be inoperable until repaired; that it was an “on/off” sort of issue, no “in between phase.” I just smiled and continued my pontification about “faith” and God answering my prayers. The verse from James 5:16 flashed through my mind: “The prayer of a righteous person is very effective.” I hope I had the good sense not to proclaim it, but it was certainly encouraging to think that way. Heh, “encouraging.” The pious way of saying “ego padding.”
But it’s funny how often faith is really folly.
In January of 2004 the window got stuck down again. This time, it stayed down. It was -30 Fahrenheit, and I was freezing my extremities off driving to work. I prayed and I prayed. I prayed alone and in the presence of others. Nothing. Finally, I got some cardboard and duct tape, and covered the gaping hole right next to my head so that my heater would be effective once more. I called my mechanic friend and made an appointment to get the window fixed.
And I wondered what had happened to my “faith.”
Now, ten years later, I am finally beginning to get an idea of what was going on with ol’ MM and her window. It stands as a turning point in my life; a point where I began to be aware of what faith is and what faith isn’t. Faith is not a crutch that keeps us from being responsible. It is not a blank check to the easy life where cars don’t need to be repaired and personal piety is left secure.
Faith is, instead, the choice to act when God calls.
It is the radical open-ness to God’s action in my life. It was of course faithful to ask God to roll up my window that first spring evening. It may have even been faithful to ask God to roll my window up with my mechanic friend in attendance that summer day. But it would have been more faithful to make an appointment, pay my friend for his time and labor, and have him fix the problem that was causing my window to fail. In a sense, I was living entirely by faith. I put myself out there for God, expecting him to take care of my needs. And he did. And I liked it. So I did nothing. And when the mountain of a window refused to get back out of the sea where I had cast it, I felt completely betrayed. How could God leave me out to (freeze)dry like this?
I think we mistake God’s messages and warnings as a provisional “end.”
If I had been faithful to God’s warning in the spring and summer of 2003, I would not have had to endure both the frostbite on my left ear and the humiliation of admitting that my “faith” was not strong enough to keep my car from needing repairs. In hindsight, the humiliation was infinitely good for me, but were I humble in the first place the lesson would not have been as needed.