On my office wall I have a decades-old photo of a sunrise in Alaska. I took it from the bow of our fishing boat, Northern Light II, as we sailed to Steamboat Bay on Noyes Island. We were passing south of Prince of Wales Island at the time and it was my turn at the wheel.
This morning I was transported back to that time. Three of us leaned on the rail of a deck watching a spectacular sunrise from a Prince of Wales Island home. The scene was captivating with its brilliant yellows and oranges spread across the eastern horizon with painted clouds responding to a still unseen sun.
I had a huge smile. The dramatic view was a reprise of my first visit but this time I was in a different place. Not on a boat circling the island, but on the island itself. Not a deckhand but a guest. Not earning money to pay for my education, but using my education to serve others.
Was God reminding me of his care and creativity? Certainly! But probably not in the narrow sense of his arranging the weather simply to offer sunrise displays to please my friends and me. Instead I took it as a God-sighting because of the ways it stirred my faith reflections. The gracious God who cared for me in 1970 is still caring for me in 2015.
In this case my faith is growing as I get to see God’s heart at work among the Tlingit and Haida nations—the main indigenous people on the Island. Years earlier I was curious about the island as our boat transited between Ketchikan and Noyes Island—on the outlying side of Prince of Wales Island from Ketchikan—in six or seven round trips that season. I was, in effect, circling a place where I eventually landed 45 years later.
As a reminder, God loves to use landmark moments. In reading Genesis this week I’m reminded that he sometimes leads people in circular movements. Abraham and Jacob are two examples. Abraham’s mature life cycled around the town of Hebron. And for Jacob, Bethel—“God’s house”—was the place where he first met with God and later came back to him after a new set of life lessons were in place. The locations mattered: they offer reference points for seeing progress in life.
One “aha” is this: God’s providence engages us in more ways than we know. What feels like a random life is actually always being ordered by God. He shepherds all who love him. He knows us intimately and cares for us in all of life. So we do well to pay attention to his creative involvement—a secret that helps us enjoy life!
But how do we do that? How do we have eyes to see what he’s doing with us?
Here are some starter reflections.
First we should begin with an assurance that God’s loving kindness engages us in every moment of life. Paul drew from Isaiah 64:4 to make this point to the Corinthian believers who were being spiritually distracted by people who measured life by human standards and values: “‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” [1 Cor. 2:9-10]
While this isn’t a proof text for finding a providential connection between sunrises in Alaska, it does tell us that we “who love him” can expect to see things “God has prepared” in ways a non-Spirit-engaged person “is not able to understand” [v. 14]. This morning the Spirit was teaching me a lesson I presume others might have missed.
Second, we can pray that the eyes of our hearts will be opened to see God’s presence in certain contexts, including his immeasurable power to change our hearts and our perceptions of life. Paul prayed this for the believers in Asia Minor in Ephesians 1:18-2:10. Once again this wasn’t a promise Paul made on spotting God’s providence in sunrises, but he did want believers to know that God’s life-giving grace engages us in “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” [in 2:10]. As we follow Jesus, then, our unique gifts will prosper in good works as in this Alaska trip. As a result we can start to see our Christ-focused activities as God’s hand at work in us.
Third, and finally, we can be sure that everything we do will “work together for good” [Romans 8:28] as part of our being captured by God’s love for us in Christ. Which is not to say that my similar-sunrise-reminder of God’s faithfulness is somehow a practical proof of this text. But it does reassure me that God’s good work has been present for many more than 45 years, and that this morning the Spirit was happy for me to reflect on that generous continuity.
What would thrill me most, though, is if my new Christian friends among the Prince of Wales Island Tlingit and Haida clans are able to see more of God’s spreading goodness through my life; and vice versa. God has been arranging this sort of thing throughout all of human history and this morning I was more alert to it than usual.
What a view!