Ed Note: It’s 14 years now since 9/11…but the message—the messages—ring on!
Here is an excerpt from my book “ALIVE…Living in the Power of Grace and Truth”
Lord, I ascribe it to Thy grace,
And not to chance, as others do,
That I was born of Christian race,
And not a Heathen, or a Jew.
Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748)
“Praise for the Gospel”
“I saw something else under the sun. The race isn’t won by fast runners, or the battle by heroes. Wise people don’t necessarily have food. Intelligent people don’t necessarily have riches, and skilled people don’t necessarily receive special treatment. But time and unpredictable events overtake all of them.”
Ecclesiastes 9:11 GWT
On 9/11/2001, 2753 people were killed when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan. As I write this chapter, today makes it a dozen years ago. As I reflect on the news and stories of that day, I couldn’t help but relive the stories through the lens of God’s grace! I don’t just think about those that died, I also ponder on the gracious testimonies of those who survived!
One man survived by a floor. He was on the phone in his 91st floor office when the jet exploded into the 93rd through 98th floors of the north tower. The 63-year-old crawled from the rubble. Nobody survived on the floors above him. But on his floor and below, an amazing story unfolded: Nearly everyone lived! Everyone on the 92nd floor died. Everyone on the 91st floor lived. Saved by just a floor!
A blind man was guided to safety from the 78th floor by his dog. The 51-year-old had been blind since birth. The choking stench of jet fuel wafting down the north tower welcomed him and his dog—Roselle. And miraculously, the dog led his master to safety!
And yes, a man and his pregnant wife made it through the horrible experience alive! The husband works at Tower 1; the wife works at Tower 2. The man was one of the last survivors from Tower 1 and the heavy wife arrived at Tower 2 just moments after the second jet crashed into it—she was never allowed to enter the building. Talk about being at the right place at the right time!
Reliving these 9/11 survival stories, you know what comes to mind?
A 9th Chapter and an 11th verse in the Holy Book.
The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race,
and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle.
The wise sometimes go hungry,
and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy.
And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives.
It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.[i]
You probably think that the fastest runner will win the race. How could the fastest runner not win the race? Certainly, he deserves to win. But how many fast runners had tripped and someone else took their prize!
The strongest army does not always win the battle. Again, you ask, how could the strongest man not be victorious in battle? But even history has in its pages the chronicles of how a lack of food and water had ruined the most powerful armies. How many soldiers had died because their clothes were not suitable! How many armies had lost wars because their captains gave foolish orders!
Clever people are not always wealthy. Wise people do not always get enough food. Often, intelligent people do not get the honour that they deserve. They remain poor and the rulers of their countries make foolish decisions without proper advice. There are many of them in my nation—clever, yes; wealthy, no.
Of course strength and intelligence give some people an advantage over other people, but there is no certainty that they always will. There are two other matters that seem much more important for success in this world—you find the words in the KJV and a few other translations: TIME and CHANCE. Isn’t that the implication when we say success happens when PREPARATION (a function of time) meets with OPPORTUNITY (chance)?
There seems to be a proper time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). A person’s best efforts can fail merely because he acted at the wrong moment.
Time and Chance!
And what is time and chance if not the GRACE of God?
Look at it like this:
What the Preacher is actually saying in Ecclesiastes 9:11 is that we cannot really depend on anything in this world, because nothing is certain.
Nothing, except God!
And that is why the Bible constantly urges us to trust God and His grace. And to see to it that no one misses the GRACE of God (Hebrews 2:15). He will not disappoint us like the things in this world. We can trust Him completely![ii]
The Word of God clearly acknowledges that men, even those seemingly well-deserving, will meet with unforeseen, chance setbacks, including death! Yes! It may be worrisome to contemplate and very painful to experience, but we are admonished through Solomon that such things will occur!
Face it. Christians bury their kids. Christians fail interviews. Even Christians get duped! I’m not saying it is the will of God that bad things should happen to us, but the fallen world in which we live is fallen still. Jesus confirmed it when He said “in this world you will have many troubles…” (John 16:33). Not ‘may’ but ‘will’!
Such possibilities must be part of our thinking if we are going to face the trials of life in a mature manner that will glorify our Father in heaven. Why, having Christ in the boat of our lives doesn’t mean that storms won’t arise! It sure does mean, though, that when the storms arise, we can trust the grip of God’s grace to lead us through them.
This may not seem just and fair. But just as living in a fallen world isn’t fair, living in the grip of God’s grace isn’t fair either!
You deserve death because you are a sinner…But you didn’t become a sinner because you sinned; you sinned because you were born—born with the sin nature. And the wages of sin is death. So you deserve death because you are a sinner. That’s not fair.
But, in like manner, He that knew no sin became sin for you and for me…so that in Him, you and I can become the righteousness of God! (2 Corinthians 5:21). You became righteous not because of what you did or didn’t do…but because of what He did! You became righteous not because you acted righteous…but because you were born…again…with the righteousness nature! Is that fair? That’s not fair either! Halleluyah!
So what are you going through at the moment?
Many of us have had experiences that confirm the truth of John 16:33. We’ve experienced our carefully laid plans falling apart; we’ve seen dreams of life crumble; “accidents can happen to anyone”[iii], in fact, “bad things can happen to anyone!”[iv] We had to learn, as this 9/11 text says,
The race is not always to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
Nor satisfaction to the wise,
Nor riches to the smart,
Nor grace to the learned.[v]
Hear it again:
Races aren’t always won by those who run fast.
Battles aren’t always won by those who are strong.
Wise people don’t always have plenty of food.
Clever people aren’t always wealthy.
Those who have learned a lot aren’t always favored.
God controls the timing of every event.
He also controls how things turn out.[vi]
It is all decided by chance,
by being in the right place at the right time.[vii]
Where is the right place? In Christ alone—In the grip of His Grace!
When is the right time? Anytime—so long as there is still time!
So, one man survived by a floor. Everyone on the 92nd floor died. Everyone on the 91st floor lived. Grace!
A blind man was miraculously led to safety by his dog… It could as well have read “…by his God!” Grace!
And yes, a man and his pregnant wife made it through the horrible experience alive because they were at the right place at the right time—in the grip of grace!
One thing was common to the three cases—they all knew that they didn’t exactly deserve to live, and they all acknowledged a divine intervention in the intricacy of their stories. And when God volunteered His grace, they didn’t reject it.
I pray you won’t either.
Natural gifts of speed, strength, and intellect are never enough to guarantee ultimate triumph. Your personal resolve isn’t strong enough to make you finish strong. Other factors really make the difference.
Time and chance.
Our own efforts will never trump God’s sovereignty.
And our own efforts will never alter our unsaved status—it takes the finished work of Christ and that alone!
Hear God as He whispers “I might not take away the torn in your flesh, but trust Me, MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU!”
Have you rested in that knowledge?