As a continuation from last week's reflection, we continue to dive in to the story of how Abraham's servant had been tasked to find a wife for his son Isaac from his relatives in his hometown, but with the constraint that Isaac was not to follow him. With the trust of Abraham, the servant goes and asks God for a sign: the woman who he asks to draw water for himself and replies to water his camels also will be the one God has chosen. We ended the story with Rebekah actually responding with the sign that the servant had asked from God! What happened next?
Genesis 24:19-26 After she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have had enough to drink.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” And she added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.” Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”
Isn't it wonderful that the servant was blessed to find out that Rebekah was from Abraham's relatives (which was Abraham's request and criteria) only after he had asked God for His leading and His sign? Abraham's servant had put God's criteria first, and learned that God lead him to someone who went beyond the camels - he had invited the servant and the men with him shelter for the night!
In my own journey of finding my life partner, I would often draft out a long checklist of non-negotiables and personal preferences to be found in my ideal spouse ranging from being able to cook well (for a hungry chaplain, of course) to being able to sing well, from being someone deeply in love with God and walking faithfully with Him to someone who had loved kids. Although some may disagree with what I've included in the list and the list has changed from the days of my youth (must love Lego has been replaced with respectful with family), I believe God knows all of these and with his leading I will find the right Mrs. Hungry Chaplain.
(Okay, maybe she doesn't need to be a Chef-level cook, but it wouldn't hurt :) )
Whenever I chased after my own desires, I often find frustration and disappointment at some point, or settling for a compromise. Whenever I submitted to God's leading and faithfully followed His will, I am surprised that God has blessed me with the desires of my heart aligned to His choice.
When I finished theological studies in 2016, I had made a promise to myself to venture into writing a book about Food Theology. I had wanted to start with all these reflections about how we can know more about God through the different dimensions of food: preparation, hospitality, presentation, and consummation. But, God's leading first landed me not in a theological forum to present my various reflections, but in running a cooking club for international students in an international boarding school as part of Christian outreach. We cooked various food weekly, from fried shanghai rolls to 'Gordon-Ramsay' beef wellingtons, from cake pops to deviled eggs. In those short weekly cookouts, small and short reflections about God and Christian living were shared.
(Note: Ours didn't look this good, but probably just as delicious!)
Once we had our weekly Cooking Club gathering with around 20 boarders trying an internet recipe to make a Carrot Whoopie Pie. Two groups of boarders started to bake competitively, aiming to do the other group's whoopie pie. One group, thinking it was wise to delegate, decided that each member do 1 step each simultaneously. The batter ended up being a bit different as each member prepared their ingredients without the right sequence and mixing. The student-bakers realized their mistake began started to cry, knowing we didn't have enough ingredients to redo the pies. Some said they were going to give up.
Learning that their mix was more fitting for a cookie, I decided to sneak in a life lesson to encourage the sad bakers. "Many of us are in this same situation right now, sometimes by our own fault and sometimes at no fault of our own. We feel we have the wrong ingredients or wrong mixing, or just have the worst start and we can't reach the finish line. But we must press on, because God has a plan for each of our lives, and we can work with all that He has given to make something good with it."
We amended our recipe to become carrot-cookies with whipped cream with the 'incorrect' batter we had. In the end we ended with lovely-no-cook-book-home-baked-with-love carrot-cookies! To be honest, those cookies tasted a lot better than the original recipe that the other group had followed.
A few weeks later, one of the boarders from that group later shared with me when I shared that I had wanted to write a book about food theology and I'm a few years delayed:
"But, sir, don't you see? You have already been writing the book! God has lead you to write the book with many pages through the cooking club! Each of us is a page! I'm one of them!"
When I look back I realize that this is true: when we pursue God's choice, and keep our eyes on Him and obey fully, God leads us to places where our hearts are filled with complete joy. I will never have heard that wonderful message from that young baker if I had decided to say no to that outreach in exchange of more time with a keyboard and a monitor to fancy ideas about metaphors and representations of lofty things. God was helping me realize that He had lead me to my heart's joy through the path of obedience.
Likewise, I believe if the servant of Abraham had simply gone around town looking for the relatives of Abraham, perhaps he would have ended up with the same outcome after some time: finding Rebekah and her family. But would he have experienced the joy of confirming such above-and-beyond hospitality? Would the servant have experienced God's leading? No, he would have missed out on the two things he praised God for: knowing God has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to Abraham and the joy of God's leading to his choice.
Now some of us may be reading this and saying, well that story is not for me. I've made my choices, and it's often out of my own self-interest. I'm in no need of God or a special narrative to guide me. I'm happy and content. My dear friend, I invite you to go on a journey with God, for He knows your heart more than any of us may ever come to know it, and He is faithful to bring us the perfect plan of His love in our lives if we let Him. It's not too late to let God lead!
Some of us reading this may be saying, well, I've made really bad choices, and I want a fresh start and I want to be in with God. I pray that God will redeem your life and choices as you turn your life around and trust in Him. Nothing is impossible for God! We may learn to truly love our spouse and our children, our jobs, our friends and our enemies, our career and our vocation, our ministry and our calling only when we have let God lead! I invite you to hear the same words Paul in encouraging us to respond well to God's grace today:
2 Corinthians 6:2 For He says: “In the time of favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is the time of favor; now is the day of salvation!
Have you ever put God's choice first before your own preference? What happened then?
Have you ever experienced joy in obeying God completely? If so, where are you now in your journey of obedience to Him? If not, would you like to start today?
What is one area of your life that you can let God's choice and will be first?
Prayer: Dear God, I pray for all of us reading this reflection today to experience the full joy of obeying you and putting Your choice first. Help us to trust in Your faithfulness and your kindness to us even when we find ourselves often in situations where others, including ourselves, may not see it or understand it fully. Grant us faith to trust in You and may we praise Your Name as we one day receive the joyful reward of choosing to say, "God, You First." In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.
Hungry Chaplain Health (and Food) Update:
All the stitches in the front wound have been removed (so I'm around 95% recovered!) Been trying various diabetic-friendly products with varied results. It's been a busy week with lots happening in both ministries I'm helping out in as chaplain. I managed to eat some really good salt-baked chicken from a placed called Lam's Kitchen I found across Kallang Polyclinic (and it didn't spike the blood-sugar! Hooray!) Check them out here: https://www.lamskitchen.com/
(*Not a paid advertisement, it was really just so good!) Really hoping I can eat some Chicken Joy soon! Almost a month since hospital discharge!