This message was first written as a journal entry and sent out as the Word of Grace for November 6, 2006. This week I was in the same place for the same reason that I wrote about then. I remembered this message and decided to share it with you again.
By the rivers of Babylon–
there we sat down and
there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
Memories have power. Sights, smells and sounds can bring back joy or terror with intensity. Geriatric care specialists say that Alzheimer’s patients can be calmed by the singing of hymns they used to hear even when they can no longer remember the identity of the singer. We should hope that the memories of grace and love run deep and true in our spirit to carry us home when we are no longer able to find the way ourselves.
I stand on the edge of a hotel parking lot beside an Arizona canal. Luxury condominiums and high rise office buildings have replaced the citrus groves and cotton fields that the canal once irrigated. This is urban desert now, the habitat of luxury pick-up trucks, but I hear the sound of water tumbling over a lowered weir gate and I remember grace.
Streams always reflect what has happened between their source and the present. The pooling behind dams upstream can raise the water temperature, even as they retain silt and debris. Discharges of wastes can rob the water of oxygen and life and the power of the flow to cleanse. Salts leached from irrigated fields can turn the water into a brackish destroyer rather than a bringer of life.
Flowing water carries with its current a sense of past that can stir memories and longings from deep in a soul that’s far from home. The Hebrew exiles sat on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates and remembered what they had lost with bitter sorrow. But streams flow into the future and they carry hope as well.
What brings me to the luxury hotel behind the canal bank is a healthcare law compliance conference — a 21st century testament to the legal consequences of the sins of greed and dishonesty. Healthcare is the second most regulated industry in the country after nuclear power.
It is a myth of our times that government can mandate healing and fairness by adopting laws and regulations. What happens, in fact, is a loss of choice for patients and a restriction of professional discretion and opportunity for healthcare providers. Perversely, the bureaucratic maze created to enforce those laws and regulations has expanded the role of lawyers and forensic accountants in healthcare delivery.
What happens, in fact, is that the tangled bureaucratic mess causes costs, fear and loathing to increase for patients and providers alike. The unfortunate conflicts that result mean more work for lawyers and forensic accountants.
Jesus had a pithy saying applicable to this situation: “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (Luke 17:37).
I slip out of the meeting room into the afternoon sun. I walk the dirt bank of the canal to watch the water for a moment and listen to its sound. The water flows from the wilderness of the White Mountains to the east. A government agency channels every possible spring, creek and river up there into the Salt River and then into its reservoirs and canals.
It is the fine irony of the desert that it is fertile if it is watered. Water in the desert is a particular metaphor for God’s grace.
He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water,
and there he lets the hungry live,
and they establish a town to live in;
they sow fields, and plant vineyards,
and get a fruitful yield
(Ps. 107:33, 34-37).
I am not a child of the desert. I was born and reared where it rains enough to grow giant redwoods. I am a long way from home, doing dry work in a dry land. But a thirsty child of God is always within the reach of his mercy if he or she still believes in its power. Jesus cried out the invitation of the Holy Spirit to a people confused and parched by their efforts and failures, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’ ” (John 7:38).
But how does the fainting soul, exhausted and exposed, access this limpid, refreshing grace? By inquiring of the Lord where grace may be found in the midst of desolation.
Once, in such a situation resulting from a well-intended human strategy gone very bad leaving the armies of three kings stranded in the desert, the prophet Elisha was called upon for a word of guidance from the Lord. He meditated and then told the desperate kings of Judah, Israel and Edom, this strange instruction. “Dig ditches in the desert. The Lord says you won’t see wind or rain, but the valley will be filled with water. Then you, your cattle, and your other animals can drink. This is easy for the Lord to do… The next morning, during worship, suddenly water flowed in the desert and filled the valley. ” (2 Kings 3:17-18a, 20, par.).
The enemy Moabites saw the sun reflecting on the water and thought it was blood from the treachery of the three kings against each other. The Moabites foolishly charged into the valley and were destroyed in the resulting ambush.
It takes faith to dig ditches in the desert. To do so when there is no water in sight and you are facing attack seems incredible. You wonder if the seeds of hope that you have planted will grow even if they are watered. You may see no clouds in the distance nor smell no rain on the wind, but your choice is to continue to dehydrate and wither away or to prepare the ditches for the blessing of God.
You dig those ditches in your dry soul with prayer. What seems impossible to you is easy for the Lord to do in a heart prepared for grace. He will bring life to you and those who depend on you and He will confound your enemies in the process.
In the unlikely spot of a hotel parking lot beside an irrigation canal in the desert, outside of a discussion of the futile best that humans can do without God, I hear the ancient sound of water flowing and remember the words of an old, but gracious and ever-true hymn. I bow my head and sing it as a prayer in my heart.
Jesus, keep me near the cross–
There a precious fountain,
Free to all, a healing stream
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him (Ps. 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.