Among the stories of the Arabian Nights, there is the tale of Aladdin and his Magic Lamp. A young man named Aladdin finds himself in possession of a lamp which contains a powerful Genie (Djinn), a magical spirit who can grant fantastic wishes. Aladdin makes use of this magic to rise to power and win the hand of a beautiful sultan’s daughter, and defeat an evil sorcerer.
In the Walt Disney movie version, Aladdin expresses his desire to be as powerful as the Genie. But the Genie sums up his situation in bleaker terms. “Phenomenal, cosmic powers–itty, bitty living space!” The Genie has great power, but no freedom. He can act only on behalf of whoever is “master” of the lamp; he has no power to act on his own or for his own benefit.
There is a perception among some people in our culture that God is a myth; that He is merely a figment of the imagination, and that those who pray to Him are like those who would seek to command a Genie in a bottle. Just pray to God for the things you want, and “Hey, Presto!” God will provide. There are even some who preach such a gospel– that God wants whatever you want– God wants His followers to be happy, healthy, wealthy, and popular, and belief in Him will magically transform our circumstances.
But God is no Genie in a bottle. Yes, He has phenomenal cosmic powers–of course, He does! He created the cosmos! But He also inhabits the cosmos, and He acts in His own sovereignty, according to His will. He does not respond to our command, nor is He confined by any limitations. The only “itty bitty living space” for God is when He takes up residence in the heart of a believer.
20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.Ephesians 3:20-21 (KJV)
God’s power isn’t limited to what we ask or think or imagine. It’s not even limited to something a little more than all that. God is able to do “exceeding abundantly above ALL that we ask or think” (emphasis added). And that power isn’t working “for” us or at our whim…it is working IN us! God does not primarily want to change our circumstances, remove our obstacles, or improve our situation. God wants to transform us from the inside!
In the story of Aladdin, there is no spiritual growth, no personal transformation. Aladdin defeats the evil sorcerer, and lives (we assume) happily ever after with great wealth and power. In the movie version, he experiences some personal growth, learning to “be himself.” And he uses his “last wish” selflessly to grant the Genie his “freedom.” The lamp becomes just an ordinary lamp, the genie just an ordinary spirit, and Aladdin just an ordinary guy. (except for being married to the sultan’s daughter). But God wants so much more for His children! He is not content with having us defeat a single enemy, and retire into the world of history, mythology or children’s fairy tales. He is not content with us learning a simple life lesson and making a few good decisions in this life.
God is sovereign over the entire Universe! He has eternal power and glory! And He lavishes His love on you and me– using that awesome power in and through us to transform and reconcile a broken world back to Him. He reveals His glory to us, through us, and for us throughout this life, and the life to come.
Today, let’s ask God, not to give us what we can ask or think for ourselves, but to work His will in and around and through us. The results will be beyond our imagination! Exceeding abundantly above our imagination! We don’t possess a genie in a bottle. Instead we belong to the Lord of all creation. Phenomenal cosmic power– infinite and eternal living space!