Four old men went into the pro shop after playing 18 holes of golf. The pro asked, “Did you guys have a good game today?”
The first old guy said, “Yes, I had three riders today.”
The second old guy said, “I had the most riders ever. I had five.”
The third old guy said, “I had seven riders, the same as last time.”
The last old man said, “I beat my old record. I had 12 riders today.”
After they went into the locker room another golfer who had heard the old guys talking about their game went to the pro and said, “I have been playing golf for a long time and thought I knew all the terminology of the game, but what’s a rider?”
The pro said, “A rider is when you hit the ball far enough to get in the golf cart and ride to it.”
Those four old guys had hit their golf balls farther than what they expected. They had exceeded their own abilities. They had stroked their balls “outside the box,” so to speak. And the result was a positive ride. They were able to ride to their ball positions instead of simply walking. And what’s more, they were positive and joyful and happy about it.
Now, I am sure there will be golf courses in heaven (with no sand traps or water hazards). After all, God says He wants to make our joy complete. That means there will be plenty of pars, birdies and eagles. Since hearing this story, now I can add “riders” to that list.
This is a great illustration of what I would call creative thinking or thinking “outside the box.” It is so very typical of God. In his creative energy, He never wants us to box Him in or treat Him as, well, predictable. About the only way we can even come close to predicting how God will operate is in seeing Him as faithful to His promises.
One of the best illustrations of that is found in the Old Testament in 1 Samuel 4 and following, where the Israelites were facing their arch-enemies, the Philistines. The first time they faced them, the Philistines defeated them so badly that the children of Israel wondered why. They decided that the reason for their defeat was that God was not with them.
So as quickly as possible, the Israelites brought God (in the form of the Ark of the Covenant) to the battlefront — or at least they thought they did. When the ark arrived in the camp, the army let out a great shout, so loud that the Philistine army heard their rejoicing. The Philistine army then entered into the battle with fear and trembling. But wonder of wonders — they actually won the battle over the children of Israel. What’s more, they also captured the Ark of the Covenant. But with their victory they now had a problem — they had God on their hands.
When they took the ark to their temple, the temple of Dagon, the next morning they found the statue of their god Dagon on the floor and bowing down to the ark. They stood the statue back up on its feet, and left the ark there in the same place. The next morning, they went to the temple and discovered the statue of Dagon again toppled to the ground toward the Ark of the Covenant. But this time, the statue of Dagon had broken into pieces in the fall. It was almost as if the God of Israel was saying, “Don’t do that again!” And the Philistines didn’t. In fact, the Bible tells us they did not even worship Dagon any more after that (1 Samuel 5:5).
Now, the reason this story is so significant is that Israel had put God in a box, not only literally (in the Ark of the Covenant), but also spiritually. But the truth of the matter is God will not be contained. One cannot put Him in a box or a building or any other container, and then treat Him as though He were a good luck charm. Such thinking is sheer foolishness. Both the Israelites and the Philistines made this same mistake. God is bigger and better and much more of a “rider” for us. We cannot limit Him in any way.
What this means is that when we are faced with situations that are confusing to us, we should be consulting Him first, seeking His desires for us. We also should be expecting that He will ask us to step outside the box, doing things and feeling feelings that we have never done nor felt before. He is doing His best to get us to stretch our comfort zones. God wants us to be “riders” for Him, extending ourselves down the fairways of life and trusting Him to provide for us and minister to us in ways we never would have predicted.
Someone once said that the only difference between a grave and a rut is the depth. God wants us to get out of our ruts, to be creative and imaginative in thinking about how He wants us to step outside our comfort zones today. All he is really asking us to do is to trust Him with everything and for everything. In a time and culture when independence is the key word, it is so hard to depend upon Him for the details of our lives. He wants to be our golf cart. The question is: Will you be a rider or a walker?
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected]