Peter had lived in his home for over twenty years. One side of his property was lined with an old fence which separated him from a field. In all the years of his residence, he had never discovered who the field belonged to. A man who kept some farm stock in the field told Peter that he rented it through an agent, and thought it possibly was owned by someone several counties away. Tired of looking at the shambolic fence, Peter decided he would replace it with a new one, even though he was unsure if it was his responsibility to replace the fence, or the owner of the field.
Peter went to considerable expense buying timber for a more sturdy replacement fence. He spent a week in soaring temperatures digging holes and cementing in the vertical posts, nailing the horizontal planks and painting the fence. He was very diligent in ensuring the fence went exactly where the old one had been. On fixing the very last horizontal plank, Peter noticed a lady marching across the field towards him. On reaching him, she questioned him in a very high-handed manner, enquiring if he was a contractor or the property owner. Peter informed her that he was the owner. “Well!”, she retorted, “I don’t know how you dare put this fence up. You’re land grabbing. My husband and I bought this field eighteen months ago. You have taken our stock fence down and replaced it with your sturdy one without our permission. The stock fence is not your boundary. Your boundary is two feet inwards.”
Peter was trying hard not to retaliate to her anger. He explained he had put his fence exactly where the old one was. He had no idea she owned the field or that he was doing anything illegal – certainly not attempting to land grab, as she had accused him of. He had always presumed the fence was his boundary.
The neighbour continued in her supercilious manner, informing Peter he should have checked with the Land Registry first. She continued her tirade, taking photographs and a video as she proceeded, adding that she used to work for a solicitor, so she knew all about the legalities of the situation. She stormed off home after informing Peter that her husband would be over shortly to take the matter up with him.
Peter felt very discouraged. He thought he had done everything right, only to discover he had upset his neighbours. Eventually the husband came over to take up the matter with Peter. He was much calmer than his wife but after inspecting the line of the fence, he told Peter he wanted him to move the fence back two feet and then he would be happy. Although his manner was very calm, he gave a veiled threat that he knew a very mean solicitor, and if Peter refused to move the fence then it would cost him thousands of pounds!
Over the next two weeks, Peter’s emotions led him on a roller-coaster of turmoil. He was angry with the neighbours and their high-handed manner demanding he move the fence. Peter even went to see a solicitor to enquire about his rights. He had no intention of taking the matter to court, but everything in him wanted to know his rights! He discovered that in British law there is something called “Adverse Possession”. As Peter had tended that two feet of land inside the stock fence for over 20 years, legally that two feet was now his! If he went to court he would quite likely win the case.
Now….what was Peter to do? This wretched fence was keeping him awake at night, his emotions were in turmoil. He was angry with the neighbours’ attitude and demands. He sought the Lord for direction and the return of God’s peace to his life. He could not live with this turmoil. When we seek the Lord, He answers. We may not like His answer, His thoughts or His ways, but we know they are higher than ours!…..and for our good! The Lord told Peter to “turn the other cheek”, (Matthew 5:39). Verses 40 -42 also spoke to Peter, going the second mile, giving your cloak as well as your coat away when asked for the one. Peter knew the word the Lord had quickened to him was a proceeding, living word, straight from the mouth of God. He dare not refuse His Heavenly Father’s request. There was just one problem…..he was still angry with the neighbours! He felt the Lord instruct him to keep his eyes on Him, not the neighbours. As he obeyed the Lord, he began the work of dismantling the newly erected fence. He dug fresh holes and cemented in the vertical posts once again, but this time, two feet back from the original fence. Finally the work was completed. The peace of God returned to Peter. It was a difficult decision to surrender his rights in the argument, but he knew God required it. The whole episode was not about a fence in God’s eyes, God was after surrender in Peter, not to the neighbours, but to the Lord. It was more important to obey the Lord than to stand up for his rights and justify himself. The Lord was after bringing another measure of the fullness of His Son in Peter. By God’s grace, mercy and enabling strength, Peter passed the test of the trial of his faith, he humbled himself and God got some gold from the episode.
If you ask Peter how he feels about it all now, he says, “The Lord asked me how many feet would I move to be right with my neighbour?” He would ask you the same question: “How many feet will you move to be right with your brother, sister or neighbour? You cannot be right with God and at odds with your fellow men. God sees!”
Peter declares that the Lord brought him through the episode gently directing and encouraging him. The Lord continues to work with him bringing him, in finality, to the position where he can thank God for his neighbours, pray for their salvation and say, like Joseph said of his brothers after their mistreatment of him, “It was not you, it was God!” This is Peter’s goal as the Lord patiently continues to work with him. We are all a work in progress! Christ in me, the hope of glory!