No More Bailouts

No More Bailouts

When I met Jesus early in my junior year of college, my life was dramatically transformed on many levels.

One radically new experience was discovering how I could trust God for his help in everyday life. Trust was the key word, since I quickly learned God was reliable in situations where I would suffer in significant ways if he didn’t come through.

It was three decades before I would learn that I had off-the-charts ADD (attention deficit disorder). But that problem reared its head in myriad ways when I was in college—not the least of which was my total inattention to the gauges on my car’s dashboard. On two occasions when I was driving in rural areas between Houston and my home in Dallas, I ran out of gas. But I was able each time to coast in Neutral down a gentle hill into a gas station, where my car came to rest (no braking on my part) next to a pump. And once when I was in Dallas, I was driving northeast on Garland Road next to White Rock Lake when I decided to make a U-turn in order to get a snack at a store I had just passed, on the other side of the spillway. So I made my U-turn, got up to speed, and the engine began to sputter. I was out of gas—but I coasted into the gas station at the bottom of the hill. That would not have been possible had I continued the way I was going, which was slightly uphill and without any nearby gas stations. Once again, the car coasted to a stop next to a pump. Once again, God had proved his graciousness.

As on the other occasions, it was entirely my fault. I had been careless and inattentive. No excuses. But while bailing me out of very aggravating situations, my Lord was showing me how merciful he is.

God also rescued me on a couple of occasions when I was significantly over the speed limit while driving between Houston and Dallas. On a couple of occasions, when I was zooming along at over eighty mph, the words leapt into my consciousness: “There’s a cop on the other side of this hill.” And so there was—but by then I had slowed to an acceptable speed. There are Christians who will immediately dismiss these anecdotes as spurious (I’ve already had this discussion with one of them) because “God would never help you commit lawlessness,” or something along those lines. My response is simply that (1) I believe God sometimes has higher priorities than insisting that we conform to human-made rules; (2) it’s probably a good idea never to use the word never with God; and (3) I’m just reporting what happened—you may do whatever you want with the data.

I also learned very quickly that the Holy Spirit was not above helping me with my scholastic obligations, especially as they related to my genetically determined sleep patterns (it was decades later before I was diagnosed with Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, or DSPD—feel free to look it up). Early morning classes were major obstacles to my academic success. Because I rarely got to bed before 2:00−3:00 a.m., it was nearly impossible to make myself get up for classes that began before, say, 11:00 a.m. Yet both semesters of that first year after I met Jesus, I had early classes. I decided to seek help from my Lord, my new Friend: Rather than setting my alarm, I simply asked the Holy Spirit to let me sleep if there was no reason that I had to be in class (I could always get the notes from someone else); but to wake me in time for class if there was going to be a pop quiz (yes, such things still existed then, even in some upper-level courses). And my Lord was faithful. More often than not, I slept through early classes. But occasionally I would be awakened rather forcefully—so I would go to class and learn that there was a pop quiz. I typically didn’t do particularly well on the quizzes, but was usually able to get at least a C; but I never missed a quiz.

Fast forward to a week or so into the second semester of my junior year. As I turned out the light to go to bed, around 3:00 in the morning, I asked the Holy Spirit (as usual) to please let me sleep if it wouldn’t hurt me too much to skip class, and to wake me if there was going to be a quiz or any other major reason to be there.

And he said No!

I was gobsmacked.

He said, “I’m not going to bail you out anymore. You have learned the most important lesson, that is, that you can trust me in your daily life. But you need to learn another very important skill—that of being responsible. You need to grow up. I’m not going to be your alarm clock anymore. You need to address your course work like an adult.”

Ouch! I had assumed I would be able to coast through all sorts of thorny situations in life, trusting God to rescue me. And here he was saying that I needed to be responsible!

I can honestly say that my success in this new undertaking—being responsible—was less than stellar. I failed two courses that semester, which forced me to take two make-up summer classes.

I continued to flounder in my attempts to be a good student until I began graduate school. And even then my progress, although sure, was slow.


There was one exception to God’s refusing to indulge me during my remaining undergraduate years.

During the last semester of my senior year, I was taking 21 hours. One of my classes was “World Religions,” taught by a soporific professor in a tiny, overfilled classroom where in order to get everyone into the room we had to squeeze the desks together till they were nearly touching on all sides. The course covered Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism/Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and several other religions. I often skipped class because (1) it was early by my standards (9:00 a.m.), (2) the lectures were supremely boring, and (3) the grade was based completely on exams, and the exams mostly covered material that was in the texts, so I was generally able to do OK without being in class.

At the time of this anecdote, however (a week or two past midsemester), I had done none of the readings for the past several weeks and I hadn’t been to class in several weeks. I didn’t even know which religion we were currently studying.

One of my housemates had been reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I had read nothing by Tolkien up to that time. Around midafternoon, I found the book in our living room and picked it up out of curiosity. I didn’t set it down until I had finished it, around 7:00 a.m., finally collapsing into bed and planning to sleep until well past noon.

A little more than an hour later, the Holy Spirit woke me. “Get up and go to your World Religions class.” This felt eerily similar to my experience a year earlier, as recounted in the story on this website, Just Do It. As in my rather rebellious reaction in that account, I turned over and went back to sleep. Of course, almost immediately I was awakened again: “Get up and go to your World Religions class. Now!

I stumbled into my clothes, managed to stagger downstairs without falling, got on my bike, and rode to campus. I was shocked to find the classroom full—usually only about half the students were present. The only desk left was in the very middle of the crowded classroom, so I practically had to climb over several people in order to reach it. No sooner had I sat down than the professor showed up with a stack of Blue Books. We were having an exam! I froze. There was no way out. Had I been on the end row, close to the door, I might have tried to sneak out when the prof wasn’t looking. But I was stuck in the middle of everything and couldn’t leave the room without being seen. I had no choice except to take the exam—one of only four that semester.

I confess that I was a little pissed off at God. “Why did you make me come?,” I whined. “If I hadn’t come to class, I could have begged for a make-up on the basis of my being ‘sick,’ because after getting virtually no sleep I really do feel sick. But now I’ll have to take this stupid test over whatever the material was that we’ve been studying and for which I’ve done zero reading, and I will flunk it! Gee thanks!”

Things looked a little brighter when I saw that the exam covered Judaism/Christianity, which apparently was the topic the class had been studying for a few weeks (I had no idea). And brighter still when I read over the test questions and realized that I could answer every question on the basis of what I already knew because of my knowledge of the Bible and of Jewish/Christian history!

Even though my Lord had pledged not to “bail me out” of my irresponsible behavior, I observed that morning that he is in no way a legalist. He bailed me out. Again. I had been irresponsible, lazy, etc., but at least for this one occasion, my Savior decided to save me rather than require that I bear the consequences of my actions.

Which, of course, is what Salvation is all about. For God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 RSV).It can’t get any better than that.