I passed my driving test when I was sixteen—barely! Not that I passed it barely, but I was less than three months from my 17th birthday. It was winter in Wisconsin, and I managed to get the car temporarily stuck in a snowbank when I was trying to parallel park. Maybe I did barely pass. Fortunately I got it out, and the examiner didn’t hold it against me.
American car culture never really enticed me. Lots of teenage guys get their driver’s license and then buy their first car. I didn’t own my first car until my junior year in college. It was more practical than romantic—I knew I would need to pay my own way through college, and cars are expensive.
But during my junior year I started looking for a used car, and with the help of some guys in my church, I found it. It was a Mazda GLC 4-door station wagon late 70s or early 80s edition—can’t remember the exact year. I told you I wasn’t a car guy. Google it; it was quite the vehicle. GLC stood for Great Little Car which sounds like what an ad agency would come up with for a car that was little, but not great.
It was my first car, and it was a manual shift. I hadn’t ever driven one before, so my dad took me to the local stadium parking lot and gave me 30 minutes of lessons. Then I dropped him off and started my 90 minute drive back to college. My Dad was not a helicopter parent; it turns out 30 minutes might not have been enough.
I killed the engine a few times, but mainly the drive was a two-lane highway all the way there, and once I got up to speed, I could maintain it. At one point I decided to pass a car that was going too slow. Now my Dad’s instructions didn’t include advice on passing another vehicle while driving a stick shift. So I was in fifth gear going the top speed for a Mazda GLC when I pulled out in opposing traffic to pass this vehicle.
If you’ve googled the picture, you realize that I was not driving a muscle car. It didn’t accelerate very fast, and I didn’t know that downshifting to fourth gear would help me accelerate. I wasn’t making much progress when I noticed an 18 wheeler coming right at me. I willed the car to go faster and still didn’t get anywhere, but now I was too far into passing to pull back into my lane. The semi was getting closer and finally I jerked the wheel to the left shoulder of the road as the semi went between me and the car I was passing. I hit the brakes on the gravel shoulder hearing the semi honk long and loud. My heart was beating fast; I was sweating. I was scared. I immediately prayed, “Oh Lord, thank you for saving this stupid, stupid boy.” I caught my breath for a few minutes, and gently pulled out onto the highway crossing the road to get into my lane and continued my way up to college.
That near-death experience reminds me of my tendency to be self-confident. God’s goodness includes Him reminding me that I am dependent upon Him. His reminders are most often not as dramatic, but they are always necessary. I am prone to look at any little success as saying something about me, so I need reminders that I am dependent upon God.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (ESV)
It’s not that I can do some things, but that I cannot do anything without Jesus. Certainly not anything that bears fruit for God’s glory. But give me a little ministry success, and I will be tempted to believe that it’s because of me. And I’ll be inclined to attempt greater things in my own strength. Just like when I was 21 and thought because I’d been driving a stick shift for an hour, that I was a pretty decent driver. Self-confidence is a dangerous thing for a believer.
It’s good to remember that I cannot bear fruit on my own. I need Jesus.