Sometimes, when you step back and look out at all the pain and devastation in the world, it’s easy to wonder if God is really in control. Or if you do believe that God is in control, it’s easy to doubt whether that’s a good thing. Is God just some distant deity who either couldn’t care less what happens to us? Or is he a cosmic bully, trying to angrily pay us back for all of our sin?

If we see God this way, there’s no chance that we’ll ever give him control. We’ll just try to snatch up as much control as we can gather into our arms, and manage as best we can.

If, however, we come to see that God is kind and good and invested in our well being, that changes everything. The Bible is full of stories about God involving himself in the lives of people. But our lives are full of these stories as well! We should tell our stories of God leaning low and investing in the small details of our lives, for these stories help paint a modern picture of a timeless God who loves and cares deeply about each of us.

That’s why–whenever I speak at retreats on the topic of control, I begin with stories of providence. I tell my stories of God leaning low, and then I invite the women to tell theirs. I don’t want to challenge the women to give God control before I get them to remember why this is a good thing!

There’s nothing I love more than hearing the women tell their #OnlyGod stories, and I can’t think of one I’ve enjoyed more than this one–about an incarcerated man and his little girl.

A Bible Bus and a Prison

My new friend Stef is part of a smallish country church in Indiana that is doing big things for God. Stef is deeply involved in two of her church’s ministries, and in this story, those two ministries are intertwined.

First of all, Stef helps with her public school system’s weekly released time. It’s an “opt in” program, where parents allow their kids to be released from normal activities to be taught the Bible. In Stef’s district, they call their program the “Bible Trailer”, and they serve over 700 children in their portable classroom on a weekly basis!

The second ministry Stef (and her church) serve in is called Kairos, which is an intense discipleship program offered to inmates at a local prison.  Many of the inmates who have gone through Kairos (such as this one and this one) originally signed up because they wanted some home-cooked food, but God often uses the food to get to their hearts.

At the end of the training, there is a special opportunity for the men to get up in front and share what God has done. Stef always enjoys attending these sessions, and hearing about how God has captured prisoners’ hearts with the truth and begun to transform them.

Recently, though, Stef was doubly blessed by what an inmate shared.

Lacy’s Request

The man stood up to share and began by saying, “My daughter, “Lacy”, goes to the Bible Bus at school.”

Stef caught her breath. The Bible Bus? Did he mean their Bible Trailer? Stef had a Lacy in one of her classes… Could this man be her Lacy’s father?

The man said that Lacy told him, the week before, that she made a place mat in Bible time at school. And she prayed that he would get her place mat. She told him it had a big smiley face in the middle, with the words “God Bless” across the top, and “Jesus Loves You” written across the bottom.

At this point, Stef began to weep. It had to be her Lacy!

Each year, Stef and the other leaders have each of the kids decorate a paper GFS  (my husband’s employer!) place mat for one of the prisoners. The kids aren’t allowed to put their name or any personal information on the place mats. But they decorate with words of blessing, pictures of the cross, and truths about God.

With over 1200 place mats going to a prison full of men, it was unlikely that this man would receive Lacy’s place mat. Yet that’s exactly what happened!

When he sat down at the table, the place mat before him was exactly as Lacy had described. “God Bless” was written across the top and “Jesus Loves You” was written at the bottom, and there was a smiley face in the middle. He realized right away that God had not brought him to Kairos that weekend just for the food. He said, “I cant believe that God would arrange the place mats just to show me he loved me!”

God was meeting this man in a very personal way–inviting him to give his life to Jesus. And he did! But God was also leaning low into the life of a little girl.

God Loves Little Girls

Stef couldn’t wait to share the place mat story with her kids the next week on the Bible Trailer. But the kids were so rowdy that day that, to her chagrin, she completely forgot. This, however, gave Lacy a chance to connect with her dad.

The following week, when Stef returned and told the kids the story of the man getting his own daughter’s place mat, Lacy—with a puzzled look on her face—slowly raised her hand. She said, “That exact same thing happened to my dad a couple of weeks ago!”

With a big smile, Stef said, “Lacy, that man was your dad!”

In awe, Lacy said, “You got to meet my dad?!”

God wasn’t just leaning low from heaven, to work in a grown man’s life. He was also reaching out to a little girl. A girl whose daddy was in prison, and who needed to know that she has a heavenly Daddy who sees her and hears her prayers. A God who loves both prisoners and little girls!

Providential Shuffling

There’s one more little detail from this story that adds the icing to the cake.

When Kolby, a man from the church, drove that stack of place mats over to the prison, he had to make a sharp turn en route. The stack of place mats tipped over and scattered about Kolby’s truck. After he picked the place mats up and stacked them neatly, then brought them in to pass off, he said to the other servers, “I hope these weren’t in any sort of order… because they aren’t now!”

But Kolby was wrong. They were in exactly the right order! For God had taken the time to shuffle the deck of 1200 place mats so that one little girl’s drawing made it into the hands of her very own daddy. And so that all of us could rejoice over the beautiful heart of our great God, put on display in a prison.

Is God in Control?

Friends, our God is real. He sees us. He loves us! He is providentially weaving together details of our lives that cause us to look up and see Him.

Yes, our God is in control! And that’s a very, very good thing.

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