In just a few hours, we will begin a new year. And, while the calendar will change, and some of us will make resolutions to change habits or behaviors, most things around us will stay pretty much the same. I will look in the mirror and see the same wrinkles, find the same clothes in my closet, the same food in my refrigerator, and the same bills waiting to be paid.
But there will come a day when all things will be new–new heaven, new earth– no more bills or wrinkles or failed resolutions. No more calendars! No more regrets or missed deadlines; no unfinished projects waiting to be done; no more dirty laundry waiting to be washed; no leftovers to be eaten; no apologies to make; no pain or sorrow to “deal with” as we go through another day. So many things will be different, and so many wonderful things will be even better–better understanding; better relationships; better bodies; better nature; better “future”– eternity!
It can be exciting to imagine what that “all thing new” will be like. And it can be frustrating to look around and see all that remains “wrong” with our current situation. But God is ALREADY making things new– He is working in and around and even through us! When we follow Him, we are already becoming who we are meant to be for eternity.
In this “new” year, we can trust in God’s ability to transform us from the inside-out– to begin changing our outlook, our attitude, and our thinking to align with His. May we look forward to this new vision as we watch the days unfold.
I was thinking the other day about the movie, “Forrest Gump.” In it, a bitter, beaten, and angry character begins arguing with God– in the midst of a hurricane!
“Lieutenant Dan” was an able soldier, fighting in Vietnam and in charge of a small unit, which included the simple-minded Forrest Gump. When their unit was ambushed, Dan was badly injured and lost the use of his legs. Meanwhile, Forrest Gump received only a small flesh wound, and managed to save several of his fellow soldiers, receiving a medal for bravery. One of the soldiers rescued by Forrest, Dan resented his situation– disabled and ignored– while Forrest went on to become successful and celebrated.
Worse, in the years after the war, Forrest found Dan, homeless and dejected, and offered him a job and a home– on his shrimping boat. Forrest knew next to nothing about shrimping, and Dan, torn between bitterness and gratitude, gives Forrest a hard time. Dan’s life has gone nowhere, and Forrest seems to dodge every bullet (literally), finding success in spite of his naivete and seemingly stupid choices. When the two men find themselves in the middle of a hurricane, Dan can take it no longer. He lashes out– not at Forrest this time, but at God. How could a loving God allow Dan to go through trial after trial– the loss of his legs and so many of the men under his command, the loss of his dignity and productivity, the loss of his independence, and now, another deadly situation beyond his control. He yells at God–“Come and get me!” He challenges God to just kill him; just finish him off, or leave him alone.
But God is silent– and soon, so is the hurricane. Forrest and Dan have survived. In fact, Forrest’s decision to be out of the harbor means their boat is the only one to survive–suddenly, they can’t catch the shrimp fast enough! Forrest becomes a millionaire and hires a fleet of fishing boats. But what about Dan?
Somewhere in the middle of the storm, Dan’s heart is pierced by a simple and life-changing thought. God has not been the one “ruining” Dan’s life– He is the one who has been preserving it! God brought him through war, disability, injustice, loneliness, frustration, and the raging sea. God was not a cosmic bully. God was not singling out Dan for punishment– after all, thousands of others had been wounded and killed in the war; millions of people knew what it was like to be hungry, homeless, and lonely; and hundreds had been devastated by the hurricane– even while they were safely evacuated or hunkered down on land. Forrest had not dodged every “bullet.” He had lost his best friend in battle; he had been rejected (time after time) by the woman he loved; he had been teased, bullied, and cheated dozens of times, and he had been tossed about by the same waves and winds Dan had survived. Dan ends up leaving Forrest, and setting off on his own, having found a peace that transcends his pain and bitterness. He swims off with a smile, leaving behind the opportunity to remain with Forrest and make millions.
Arguing with the Almighty is very tempting when we face difficult circumstances– and when we focus on our own lot, and not on the bigger picture. God is bigger than any of the troubles we face. And He is not unaware or unconcerned about whatever we are going through. Just as Lieutenant Dan challenged God, the biblical character of Job challenged God to vindicate him as he went through trials and pain. God finally answered, and Job realized that God was far bigger than anything Job had ever known or experienced. And in the end, God restored Job– giving him a new family, and even more material wealth than he had before!
Sometimes, God allows us to go through periods of pain and struggle– not because He is punishing us or because He is a tyrant, but because He is more interested in our ultimate salvation than He is in our immediate comfort. We moan and complain that God “doesn’t want us to be happy,” as if our momentary happiness is more important than our character development, than the happiness of those around us, or than God’s design for the world.
Near the end of the movie, Lieutenant Dan visits Forrest. He is transformed. No longer angry and bitter, he is quiet, self-assured, and standing! He has “new legs” made of titanium, and he has found joy, love, and success of his own.
Of course, many of us, regardless of our situations, have tried arguing with God at certain times of our lives. The loss of a loved one; the breakup of a marriage; a diagnosis of cancer; a miscarriage of justice and the loss of a reputation– it is natural to be angry, hurt, and confused. And God is more than big enough to “take it” when we ask “WHY?!!” But we will never “win” such arguments– not because God is a tyrant who won’t let us have what we want– but because God is GOD, and we are not. He alone knows how our story ends, and what trials– and blessings– await us. He alone knows what is “right” in the scope of eternity– not just for us, but for our loved ones, our neighbors, our nation, and our times. God can see that we get, not just “new legs,” but a new heart, and a new mind!
Hurricanes happen– so do hurts and hurdles. We can choose to see God’s hand–and believe that it is raised in anger, or reaching out to hold us. That choice is yours. That choice is mine. Every day.
“He rules the world with Truth and Grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His Righteousness And wonders of His Love.”
Christmas is a time of wonder. Even stories that have little to do with the birth of the Christ Child– Frosty the Snowman, or A Christmas Carol, or The Grinch Who Stole Christmas–involve miracles and wondrously unexpected transformations. We thrill to see redemption and hope triumph over gloom and bitterness. We cheer when the Grinch’s small heart grows three sizes, or when Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer makes the team and leads Santa through a snowstorm. We want to believe that there is a special magic about the first snowfall of each year; that the very coming of Christmas Eve holds a special promise of Peace and Goodwill.
But the ultimate Wonder is that of God’s Love for us:
God SO LOVED the world– not because the world was lovable; not because the world’s people were just and kind and honorable; not because God was blinded to the world’s sickness and sorrows, and just wanted to feel “groovy” about the world…
That He GAVE– God didn’t just talk about Love and Joy and Peace– He GAVE–His only begotten Son. He, the creator, became the created– the ruler of the universe became a helpless baby born in a crowded city, banished to a barn because there was no room reserved for his coming. God gave lavishly, sacrificially, completely– He poured out His majesty to take on humanity, and then poured out his human life in service and sacrifice. He kept nothing back– none of his power to avoid injustice, shame, or death; none of his glory or majesty. He suffered the indignity of dusty roads, homelessness, sleepless nights, and crucifixion. He suffered the loneliness of misunderstanding and betrayal by his friends and family.
That WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM– Whosoever! Not the noble, not the rich, not the “eminently qualified,” not the beautiful or strong or intelligent “enough.” God yearns to bring the wonder of redemption to the very ones who are ready to give up; to those who know they don’t deserve God’s love and grace; to those who have not known joy or peace, only darkness and grief– those who cannot earn God’s favor can have it in abundance, if only they believe that God exists, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6)
SHALL NOT PERISH, but have everlasting/eternal life–What a wonderful promise! Wonderful because it is beyond our ability to fathom; wonderful because it is undeserved and unexpected; wonderful because it is the ultimate expression of limitless, eternal LOVE. We think of Death as inevitable and permanent–But Christ came to show us that death is temporary and powerless! Hope and Joy, Love and Peace– they have already WON. They are the reality– the rest is only a vapor.
This cute meme has been making the rounds on Facebook and Pinterest. It suggests that prayer turns meek kittens into mighty lions. And it can. Most times it should. But how often do we experience this level of transformation when we pray?
I began this blog, partly in response to recent comments I’ve heard that belittle the effectiveness, the power, of prayer. I talk a good game when it comes to prayer–I pray daily, I keep a prayer journal, I consider myself a prayer veteran, even a prayer warrior. I believe in the trans-formative power of prayer. So why do I often feel like a kitten both before and after prayer?
I’m afraid that, too often, I don’t want to be transformed when I pray. I want to be heard; I want to be comforted; I want to be refreshed. But I don’t really want transformation. Transformation is not cute or comfortable–it hurts, it stretches. Transformation requires risk and commitment in the face of uncertainty. I want to be a kitten who thinks of herself as a lioness, but I want a cozy lap to rest on, and a bowl of gourmet cat food laid out for me. Kittens may wrestle with yarn or mice; lionesses wrestle with crocodiles and wildebeests. I want to lift up those in pain, those who struggle, those in need– but I want to do it from the comfort of my own quiet corner.
If my prayer life isn’t causing changes in every other aspect of my life, I need to be concerned. Prayer that never calls me into battle; prayer that leaves me feeling comfortable while others suffer..that isn’t really prayer. That is giving lip service without heart-service.
But I also need to be careful to be transformed by the renewing of my mind (See Romans 12: 1-3). Prayer should be transforming my heart and mind, but in Christ’s likeness. Christ, who is not only the Lion of Judah, but the Lamb of God. There are times when I should charge out of the prayer room, energized and ready for battle. But it must come from God’s spirit, and not my own pride or in conformity to the world’s pattern of fighting. Transformation doesn’t come about just because I pray– it comes about as I walk and talk with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t have the power to transform myself, nor do I have the power to decide the nature and speed of my journey.
I think sometimes, I see it as all or nothing– either I am running full speed ahead and making great conquests (Lioness), or I am mewling and helpless (Kitten). But God sees the bigger picture. Sometimes, we should enter the prayer room as kittens and leave like lions; other times we should enter as lions and leave as lambs– recognizing that our own roaring will never win the battle, and also recognizing that sometimes, in quiet obedience and sacrifice, we are doing what is necessary in the larger plan. What should never happen is that we go running into the prayer room eager and ready to serve, and come sauntering or swaggering out, puffed up with our own importance, but unmoved toward others.
So the challenge is to go into the prayer room, expecting to be transformed– by God, for God’s glory, into the people God wants us to be– expecting to be changed, stretched and challenged.