Okay...So a couple of months ago after a long period of seclusion in my house during deadlines – that pressure-packed, nerve-racking time when a book manuscript is contractually due complete with edits, and you are wiped out, brain-dead; the last two pots of coffee you’ve swigged down without cream, and you cannot face one more cup of black liquid sans milk because you loathe drinking coffee without it – I decided I had to make at least one foray outside to the grocery store.
With a golf cap pulled way down to hide my matted, unwashed hair, I drove to the grocery parking lot and reached to turn off my car – it was a new Jeep with a keyless ignition.
Guess what? I couldn't get the engine to shut off. Tried and tried...moved gear from one position to another, pumped the brakes, pushed and poked the ignition button: the engine would not shut off. I couldn’t do my grocery shopping because the technology of a keyless ignition won’t allow the doors to be locked while the engine is still running. Had to drive my car back home, hoping that if it was parked in its own driveway it would behave (gives you some idea of the level of thinking I was being reduced to). The engine would NOT shut off.
Went inside, leaving the car running in driveway, because: the doors won’t lock with engine running. Called the dealership: “Have you tried disconnecting the battery cables?”....I'm like: You're kidding me, right? They advise me to drive it to the dealership, only option. Do they have any idea I am in deadlines?
I arrive at the dealership and two men cannot get it to shut off either. (At this point, there is some degree of exulting on my part, admittedly.) They have to keep it overnight and wound up replacing the entire ignition button plus internal gears – the car had less than 40,000 miles. Their advice: don't punch the button so hard when you turn it on/off. I'm serious.
The dealership didn’t have a car available for me to use, so my husband had to leave work early in order to come get me. I kept thinking: I don’t have time for this. I don’t have time for this. After all, I’m in the middle of writing a book with great spiritual content – it’s a book for Jesus.
That night as I lay in bed thinking about the day’s events – a car that wouldn’t turn off, deadlines that wouldn’t vanish, black coffee that tastes terrible and a million things to do, I began to pray. “Lord, please give me peace. Give me peace.”
Silence. No hint of my prayers ascending above the ceiling. I felt my inner voice rising. Lord, I need peace!
Then suddenly I could almost sense that still, small voice whispering in my ear. “Just embrace the chaos: I’m right here with you.”
It was jolting, to say the least. But as I began to ponder what it might mean, I thought back to the disciples after Jesus entered into their lives.
I climbed out of bed, grabbed my Bible, and turned to the Gospel of Mark. Sure enough, over and over, I began to read lines and in between the lines some things I’d noticed a million times before but just never allowed the actual circumstances to sink in completely.
All the Gospels record the chaotic lifestyle of the disciples, but Mark perhaps shows it best. Story after story depicts electrically charged scenes with hundreds, sometime thousands, of people pressing in all around them. There’s shoving, yelling, shouting, demanding. One time, Jesus himself says to have “a boat ready for him because of the crowd lest they crush him.” Mark 3:9
Several times Mark tells us the disciples were so “busy they could not even eat.” Mark 3:20 Even by today’s standards, that’s busy!
People were running, carrying litters of sick friends; diseased people were pulling at them (and there were some scary diseases back then). At one point when the disciples surveyed a crowd of five thousand people, they ask Jesus to send them away since there’s no food. To which Jesus calmly says, “You feed them.” We can only imagine the eye-rolls.
Add to all this the multiple layers of people “plotting to kill him,” friends and family loudly claiming him to be “out of his mind” (which literally could be translated insane) and others who were just trash-talking about his message and methods.
At one point in the middle of a violent storm, his disciples yell at him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” You can hear the accusatory tone in their voices all through two thousand years of clamor.
They were in a “keyless” boat they could not control.
After Jesus shushes the storm, He turns to them and says, “Oh, you poor darlings – I’m so sorry you were overwhelmed and frightened.” NOT!
Here is what he actually says: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
In other words, “In the middle of your chaos, you need to remember this: you still have me.”
I can’t tell you how many times since my car would not turn off (did I mention I was in the middle of deadlines?), that I’ve thought about what it must have been like to spend a day with Jesus. Majestic, mesmerizing, mystical, awe-inspiring. But it also must have been tiring, over-whelming, taxing, nerve-racking…and super chaotic.
Do you suppose the disciples just finally decided to embrace the chaos – to just tie a knot at the end of the rope and hang on for dear life? After His resurrection, I believe with all my heart that that is exactly what they decided to do. Because along the way, they realized that no matter how frazzled or demanding the lifestyle they were now experiencing seemed, it was worth every second – because Jesus was with them. And when He was around, things always happened that were truly magical.
This might seem like an odd Christmas message, especially since so many lessons this time of year urge us to slow down, be still, simplify, find a nice quiet spot and think about the meaning of the season. Please understand – if that happens to come your way, by all means take the moment. The only problem I see is that there is absolutely no evidence of that in Scripture. Even when Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet while Martha continues to work in the kitchen, there is chaos just around the corner for both of them.
SO – did Peter have peace, did John, did the others? Yes – but not until they learned that peace is an internal condition, not something that happened around them. Once they hooked up with Jesus, their motors continued to run all the time; they were always keyless.
They also gleaned something else: that a day with Jesus, no matter how chaotic, is the most enchanted time ever. I’m certain they also learned something else...
Just like I did the day I drove the “car that couldn’t be turned off” to the dealership. See…I haven’t told you the rest of the story.
As I sat on a little wooden bench waiting for my husband to drive the long distance from his workplace to pick me up, fuming I might add and tapping my foot impatiently at all the “stuff” I had left to do once I got back home, an elderly gentleman joined me on the bench.
He wore blue jeans held up by suspenders, cowboy boots, and a huge Stetson. At first, however, I was still engulfed in my predicament, but his friendly smile and twinkling eyes finally broke through my snarly attitude and we began to talk. He addressed me as “ma’am” when he spoke; he was absolutely charming.
Turns out the cowboy was a Christian whose days were filled mainly with caring for his wife whom I gathered was confined to a wheel-chair. He had several children of his own, grandchildren and even a few great-grandchildren. He said they all pitched in to help him, but he wanted to keep her with him as long as he could. There was no hint of sentimentality in his voice or woe-is-me attitude. His explanation was simple: “Jesus helps me everyday.” But I knew his life had to be filled with lots of confining duties and chores.
Finally the parts department brought his car to him – actually a large pickup truck – and he turned to leave. He had already opened the door when he stopped and came back to the bench: “I really enjoyed talking to you, ma’am. It was so good to meet a fellow believer – made my day.”
This is what the disciples finally learned – this is what they finally got the hang of and what we need to grasp. Once Jesus enters our lives, we are keyless. The motor turns on and never turns off. We are no longer in control. He is in the car, He has the key, and He drives it where He wants us to be. The peace is not that our lives are less chaotic on the outside – it is that the peace resides inside us, His peace: alive and well, shushing storms and ordering chaos. And within our hectic moments, He often comes with something so splendid, so wonderful, so special that we think of it with total wonder.
Like sitting on a wooden bench in the middle of a busy car dealership, meeting the nicest elderly gentleman with the sweetest spirit. Having a quiet conversation with another Christ-follower and hearing him share from his own challenging – and I’m sure chaotic – circumstances. And having the peace of Jesus everywhere and all around, and Jesus Himself loving every minute with us.
Carole Engle Avriett, former editor with Southern Living Magazine, is the author of eight books and over 1500 magazine articles. Her latest book, Under the Cover of Light, (Tyndale House publishers, May, 2017), is already in its second printing. It records the extraordinary story of USAF COL Thomas “Jerry” Curtis’s 7 ½-year captivity in North Vietnam, and how faith in God helped him survive brutal living conditions, solitary confinement, and physical abuse. Carole’s books are available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.