Burning Coals

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Proverbs 25: 21-22…”If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

When God began to in earnest put me in, “God Boot Camp,” as I often describe it to myself, the first place my eyes were taken was the book of Proverbs. They’ve been in Proverbs ever since. Day after day, one each day, a repeating cycle of 31 Proverbs teaching me how to get along with the world as a child of God that doesn’t belong in it. A few things maybe I was doing right before boot camp, but for the most part, I’ve had it all wrong my entire life. None more so than Proverbs 25.

In my worldly mind, my enemy was my enemy, and while be it I’ve never been a particularly vindictive man, I certainly wasn’t going out of my way to help or feel sorry for said enemy. I saw them or it with strictly worldly eyes…only seeing the surface my physical capabilities could take in. Solomon’s wisdom is teaching us here that our enemy is but one thing, and it’s never what we can actually see with our human eyes. It’s the roaring lion, the serpent, it’s…Satan. That’s it.

Recently I was traveling from Florida to North Carolina by car while the ridiculously named, Winter Storm Jonas, was in progress on the entire east coast of the United States. The forecasters got this one right and it was a monster winter storm. With cold air and even snow flurries pushing all the way down to Florida, it was a highly unusual cold and miserable morning in Central Florida. I had stopped to pump gas in a tiny town between Gainesville and Jacksonville, and those of us doing so were not prepared for having to stand out in that while filling our cars. As strangers bonding in a winter-war-like fashion, we were laughing and talking to each other about how crazy it was to be freezing like that in Florida. It took about 3 minutes to fill a nearly empty tank. Then we got back in our warm cars. “Oh, how they suffered,” maybe Jesus said with sarcastic humor. I kept moving up the road until I came to Baldwin, Florida, which is where this journey would connect with I-10 East. I’ve traveled this road so many times I could do it blindfolded, and I know full well that the interstate entrance ramp at this particular junction is one of the busiest in the state. There are several truck stops off the exit, so getting on I-10 here is usually a lengthy wait. Because of this, the homeless and poor use that fact to make this a prime panhandling spot.

Due to the terrible weather and it being a Saturday morning, traffic was unusually light. Yet, as I approached the traffic light and entrance ramp, per usual there stood a panhandler. By his side was pit bull mix dog just sitting there in the cold by his friend, with a somewhat determined look on his dog face. As I got closer I noticed this guy was not your standard issue appearing panhandler. He was young, his face didn’t look like a baseball glove, and he at least didn’t appear to be to mentally unstable. What he did appear to be was very cold, as well he should have been. He had a smile and a cardboard sign promoting whatever the reason was he wanted a handout. I didn’t even read it. But I did notice he had his teeth still. Pretty rare in this situation.

The typical worldly reaction in that scenario is to think or say, “Look at this clown, out here begging for other people’s hard earned money, instead of working for it himself.” I’ve said that same thing many times in my life. But I didn’t say that this time, nor did I think it. God was bee lining me right to him. What I was thinking was Proverbs 25. There is my enemy. There stands Satan. Not the young man, not his dog friend, but the things I couldn’t see with my physical eyes. The reasons that put him standing there in the cold that morning for me to come upon. The things that were separating him from God. What am I to do? Heap burning coals on the head of my enemy.

Because there was nobody else there in that moment, I was able to stop in the turn lane, roll my window down, and engage him more than to just toss a dollar at him. He was surprisingly upbeat and friendly. We laughed about the cold and I encouraged him to quickly get out of it. I handed him more money than he would ever expect to get from me, and it lit him up with God’s glory. “Thank you! We (the dog) can go back to our tent and we’re staying in there the rest of the day.” He blessed ME first…both verbally and by his reaction. “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.” Proverbs 25:25. He embodied that verse entirely. God allowed me to be the good news that morning. But both of us rejoiced. We then told each other that God loves the other. Then off I went to continue my journey up the road.

Our enemy we are fighting is not the living thing God has sent us to engage…to be his light for. It’s the things Satan has used to put them there and to keep them held down in his dominion of bleak hopelessness. This is why we are not to judge less we be judged. It’s a very difficult lesson to learn. The world will never teach you that. Ever.

Who do you view as your enemies in life? What do you see in them? How do you react and engage? Chances are, it’s all wrong, and that’s why nothing is changing or getting better. Blessings are not flowing. I’m learning this lesson each day by God’s grace. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is my leader, my teacher, and my friend…nothing else will do. Jesus Christ is my salvation and hope. God is my father and I call him such.

Go to your knees in prayer and ask for the Spirit to teach you how to live for his glory. Your worldview will never again be the same.

Gary Abernathy

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