This Chain that I Must Break
By Tom Vander Well
After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.
He came up to me out of the blue. I was just sitting with Wendy when he tapped my shoulder and asked me to pray for him. “I’m drunk,” he said to me as I stood and put my arm around him. I didn’t really need him to tell me this. He reeked of it. It was a rather unconventional state to be in at a mid-morning worship service.
One of my favorite songs of all time is Bob Dylan’s Every Grain of Sand. It’s a song about those waypoints on life’s journey when I find myself utterly broken; that moment when I’ve hit rock bottom and I know that something has to change. And, it’s about the life-changing grace that is found in those moments. One of my favorite lines from the song says, “Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.”
That line popped into my mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. The author of Judges continues his introduction to the book and introduces me to a chain of events, a systemic pattern, a repeated behavioral sequence that I will find recycled over and over again in the stories of the book of Judges.
Along this life journey, I have repeatedly found myself in negative cycles of both thought and behavior. I’ve faced trials along life’s journey that stemmed from difficult circumstances that were not of my own making. The truth, however, is that many of my rock bottom moments occurred because I put myself there.
That’s the overarching theme of these stories of the ancient Hebrew tribes and the period of their history known as the time of the Judges. They may be ancient stories, but they resonate with very immediate and personal lessons for me today. Civilization and culture may have changed in 3,000 years, but human nature has not. Bob Dylan sees himself in the story of Cain. I see myself in the stories of the Judges.
This brings me back to my new, intoxicated friend. I honestly wasn’t shocked by his drunken state. I immediately recognized that a man has to be at a rock bottom moment to show up for a worship service intoxicated and ask a complete stranger to pray for him. I was so glad he was there. I prayed for him and over him right there. Then I hugged him. With my arm still around him, I told him to look out over the group of people gathering in that room. I explained that we’re all broken people no different than himself, including me. I’ve had my own rock bottom moments when something needed to change. I welcomed him, and I encouraged him to keep joining us.
In the quiet this morning, I hear the lyric poetry of Bob Dylan in my head and heart:
I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand
Tom Vander Well believes the universe is a work of God’s artistry— embellished by Van Gough’s brush, Miles Davis’ trumpet, and Bob Dylan’s lyrics, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. Tolkien’s imagination, and Michael Jordan’s jump shot. He believes in hot coffee, Gregorian chants and quiet conversations with God before dawn. Michael believes that life is a journey with an eternal destination, and in having good companions for the sojourn. He also believes grace is costly and salvation is free.
Michael and his wife Wendy live in Iowa. He is an amateur actor and playwright, and regular teacher among his local Jesus followers. He serves as president and CEO of Intelligentics (formerly C. Wenger Group), a QA firm helping companies measure and improve customer service, satisfaction, and loyalty.
You may find out more about Tom at his website