A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at lunch with some friends. I had taken my keys and phone out of my pocket and sat them on the table as I usually do. As we sat and ate and conversed, one of my friends pointed to my keys and asked me what that thing on them was. I’d waited for that question since the day I put that thing on my keys. It’s big, it’s heavy, and seemingly useless. I was more than happy to provide an explanation.
About a year ago, on a Wednesday evening, we were getting ready to leave for church. I had just walked out to the car with the girls trailing behind me, ready to put them in the car so we could leave. As I approached the car, I heard a loud rumbling and crashing sound. This didn’t startle me as our property is bordered by a major 4-lane street. We frequently have large trucks banging and clanging down the street. I just chocked it up as big truck full of gravel rumbling down the street (that’s exactly what it sounded like). But as I approached the car, I caught a glimpse of a car perched atop our now smashed fence and tree. Obviously, we didn’t make it to church that night. Instead, I spent the evening cleaning up the wreckage, and in the process, realizing what an absolute disaster it could have been.
The first thing I noticed was that this car crashed through the fence and came to rest less than a foot from my daughters’ swingset. If it had been any other night of the week, the girls almost certainly would have been out there swinging, completely oblivious to any danger. Another thing I noticed was the angle at which the car entered the yard. Because of where it entered, it had a fence post, a small tree, and my hammock frame to help stop it. Had it come through at a slightly different angle in either direction, it would have either come through our sunroom into our living room, or through the girls’ bedroom wall. Again, had this happened any other evening, it likely would have been a disaster with the girls playing in their room, or us sitting and watching TV in the living room.
As I thought about all of the factors that came together perfectly to keep my family and I safe, I was in complete awe of God’s grace and mercy.
That’s where the keys come in.
As I surveyed the wreckage, I looked at my hammock frame, warped and mangled. Bolts bent and sheared off. But there was one piece, a little loop that the cables clipped to. It was still in perfect condition. The bolt attached to it was bent and broken, but it appeared unscathed. I pulled it off and put it on my keychain as a reminder of what God had protected us from.
I was excited to tell that story at lunch and explain the significance of the big heavy metal thing on my keys, but it connected with me even more today after I taught my kids in Sunday school about the Philistine army defeating the Israelites and capturing the ark of the covenant.
Let me explain.
In 1 Samuel when the Israelites are battling the Philistines, the Israelites lose the battle. The leaders of Israel lamented the loss, saying “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines?” And then they had an idea - “Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”
What happens next?
The ark is brought into the Israelite camp, and amidst Israel’s shouting and rejoicing, the Philistine army recognized the power of the presence of God, and trembled.
“the Philistines were afraid, for they said, ‘A god has come into the camp.’ And they said, ‘Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.’” - 1 Samuel 4:7-9
What happened next was definitely not what the Israelites expected, or bargained for. When they took to the battlefield with the ark in tow, they were defeated handily, losing thirty thousand men, and the ark itself.
You see, the trouble was that the Israelites looked to the ark in that moment as a sort of good luck charm. They treated it like a glorified rabbits foot, or horseshoe, or lucky penny. They believed that just the presence of the ark on the battlefield would bring their victory.
The ark was more than just a shiny gold-plated good luck charm. It was a reminder to the Israelites of everything that God had brought them through so far and the place where the priests literally met with him. The ark itself was powerless to protect them. It was the presence of God which surrounded the ark that Israelites sought. And it was the power and presence of God that the Israelites likely would have seen, had they cried at to God at the mercy seat of the ark.
As I drove home from church this evening with that lesson still fresh on my mind, I happened to glance down at my keys, think back to that conversation with my friend, and think about the similarities between my keychain and the role of the ark in that story. In that moment, the Lord connected those dots for me.
For an entire year, I’ve carried around that keychain. A near-constant reminder, right at my fingertips, of what God spared my family and me from. A reminder to give him thanks and to be fervent in prayer for his continued grace for my family. But instead, there it has sat, on my keychain, much like the ark in the battlefield.
Too often, we try walk into battle with our little reminders of God’s great grace, expecting a victory, rather than humbly coming before God in prayer, and seeking his favor.
This morning, as you march into battle, remember to first approach God in earnest prayer. Give him thanks for what he has already seen you through and seek his wisdom and mercy in all things.