For those of you who don’t know, my husband is a huge book nerd. It’s ok, don’t cringe! I actually don’t consider that derogatory at all. I love that he always has a book in his hand and 12 on his night stand. His stack never sits still long enough to collect dust while my little pile of books serves as a well-intentioned, all be it dusty pedestal for the TV remote. I get to mine eventually; he devours his constantly.
Our reading habits aren’t really the point, though my husband’s habits do serve as the reason behind the story I’m about to tell. He loves to read but he also loves to collect old books, old Bibles in particular.
He’s a scholar and a theologian and as such he loves the rich theological history found in German linguistics and culture. My dad used to travel to Germany annually for work. His first visit held with it the goal of returning to the States having purchased an old Bible as a gift for my husband. As he set out to look, he found the perfect one almost immediately. It was in some dusty little used book shop no doubt nestled off some quaint cobblestone street.
When he enquired as to how much this Bible cost, the shop owner simply responded that it wasn’t for sale. “Are you sure?” my dad continued. It’s hard to know in a country that doesn’t speak your native language when things are being lost in translation. This was, after all, the perfect Bible. It would be a shame to miss the chance to purchase it due to a misunderstanding. My dad explained to him that his son-in-law was a minster and a collector of old Bibles and that this exact Bible was the one he’d had in mind as a gift. The shop owner confirmed that the Bible was in fact not for purchase as he hustled off to answer his ringing phone.
My dad was very disappointed as he stood and gazed at this unattainable, would be gift. I don’t know how long he remained in the store or even what negotiating tactics ran through his mind as he stood there. (My dad is quite the negotiator!) I know for sure that he remained long enough for the shop owner to finish up his phone call and return to pick up the Bible and hand it to my dad.
Confused my dad asked him again what the cost of the Bible was. He said, “It’s not for sale, it’s a gift. Someone before you prepared the way.”
That was well over a decade ago and I still don’t know exactly what the owner of that shop meant or why he gave such a valuable, beautiful item away to someone he didn’t even know. The story gives me goosebumps every time I think about it.
As we look back on life, there are certain ear marks that stand out. Specific things that set the tone and the pace for life’s rhythm; things specifically born of God’s design for our individual journey. This was one of those earmarks in our life.
Today this Bible sits in our home in a glass case, visible but protected. It is one of our most prized positions because it holds so many reminders and promises.
There have been so many times when we’ve faced things in our lives that seemed exactly as we’d hoped they’d be. So many places that have looked exactly like what we thought they should look. So many ideal thresholds that we’ve begun to step over only to have the door slam in our face.
The beauty of this Bible is so multifaceted! But as I sat in my living room alone and deep in thought I realized one of the most invaluable things about it is that it wasn’t for sale. It couldn’t be bought. Nothing my dad had in his wallet that day was eligible to be traded for that book. It simply wasn’t for sale.
So many times in my life I get ahead of my own journey. As I race down the course I do so as if everything depends on me. As the doors begin to close in my face and the road blocks begin to rise up in front of me I am reminded of what I really set out to obtain and those things are never for sale. They cannot be bought by me or anyone else. There are a great many cheap replicas and golden calves that will always be for sale. But the true prize, the one I’m to keep my eye on, can’t be bought! It is absolutely attainable but not because of anything I have in my position. It’s only attainable because someone before me prepared the way!
I know each one of us has a road block of some kind or another in front of us. We are all facing the words “it’s not for sale.” The temptation is to find the back door, to grab our running shoes and get out. To find another little shop somewhere else with something else in it that’s not quite right but close enough that our own ability can buy it. Don’t! Just stand still. Wait! Be patient while the shop keeper is detained because someone before you prepared the way. The door won’t open like you thought it would, it never does. But it will open in a way you couldn’t imagine or obtain on your own.
Someone told me the other day, “God works in weird ways in your life and I like watching.” The truth is, I think God works in weird ways in all of our lives because I think according to our broken standards, God’s a little bit weird, but entirely wonderful. When things aren’t broken anymore and we see him face to face, we’ll realize we have been the weird ones. But for now, in these moments that dribble by, the oddity of God in our circumstances gives us perfect little glimpses of the one who came before us and prepared the way. Trust his timing. Trust his roadblocks. Trust the doors that slam in your face because when the perfect plan is ready, he’s going to give it to you with a beautiful reminder that you couldn’t attain it on your own. He traveled your path well ahead of you and prepared the way!