Going to college was exciting but also a little frightening. It was all so new; I was far from home and my trip to get there was only my second time on a plane. Even though I enjoyed meeting other students and liked my classes, I was completely out of my comfort zone. I quickly learned I would have to make a lot of adjustments if I were going to survive and thrive. I came up with a little motto to help me whenever I encountered a new and/or stressful situation: adjust, accept, appreciate.
Since then, I’ve been in many settings requiring all three of these. I’ve had to make major adjustments in every area of life; I’ve had to accept things I would rather not; and I’ve learned, or rather, I’m still learning to appreciate the beautiful things, especially God’s grace. His grace is a thick thread running through each day and every experience.
The three words in my motto can be summed up in one: attitude. Early 20th century psychologist William James sheds some light on how important our attitude is: “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.” A good attitude can make a huge difference in everything we do, every second of every day. It’s not always easy, but how much in life is? We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13), even change our attitude. It could be the best thing we ever pray for.
One of my favorite movies is Galaxy Quest. It’s a spoof of the original Star Trek series and is a lot of fun. At the end of the movie, to save the universe (this happens frequently on Star Trek), the captain activates the Omega 13, which is a device that turns back time for 13 seconds. It’s not long, but it’s long enough to redeem a single mistake.
To activate the Omega 13, he opens a compartment, a plunger rises, and he pushes down on the plunger. Then the science fiction magic happens. Sadly, this is how some people think God works. They talk about activating his power and invoking his presence, as if pushing a button or casting a spell of some kind can get God to appear or grant wishes like a genie. (I’ve been reading devotionals again.)
As I’ve said many times here, God is all about relationship. I didn’t understand that for most of my life, but seeing God through this lens, as a being in relationship as Father, Son and Spirit, changes our perspective on everything. He’s not a vending machine, a genie or someone whose power and presence we can invoke. He’s not watching us from a distance, keeping a list of sins and offenses against him. He’s not sitting on a judge’s bench, anxious to send us to the executioner.
God has a father’s heart for us. Jesus loves us like a brother. The Spirit is always on our side. God loves us with an unfailing love and delights in us loving him back. We don’t need to push a button or rub a lamp to enjoy his loving presence.
It’s easy to fall into bad habits when it comes to our thoughts about God. For too many, maybe all of us, we sometimes think of him as a means to an end. We want him to bless us, protect us and keep us from trials and sufferings. This is only normal as we’re human. But as my pastor friend from Florida Steve Schantz said in a sermon, God is not a commodity:
“… faith becomes a magic wand you wave over your life to get the one thing you most want from the Lord. And God now becomes a means to an end…. Can you imagine treating God as a means to something greater? King David couldn’t. But God is perceived to be very useful and very practical in our day and age. This utilitarian thinking is warping the image of the Triune God. The prosperity gospel has come home to roost in churches of all stripes and sizes across our land. Even our secular poets and authors know the power and necessity of experiencing beauty. D.H. Lawrence once wrote, ‘The Human Soul needs beauty even more than it needs bread’ (Nottingham and the Mining Country, 1929).” As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the beauty of God surpasses everything we can begin to imagine and nothing we desire in this life comes close.
Seeing God from a utilitarian viewpoint can lead us to want to use him rather than being in awe of the beauty of his character and personality. But God will not be used – how could we mere humans think we could use the creator of everything? Conversely, God doesn’t use us, though many like to believe he does. People use people, God doesn’t. The life he has given us is participation in Christ’s life. He doesn’t use us for his purposes as if we are minions, rather he loves us as a father.
Nothing is more beautiful than the intimate, loving, sharing relationship we get to share with Father, Son and Spirit. Nothing.
Old sayings stick around because they are usually true, but sometimes old sayings need revision. We’ve all heard the only sure things in life are death and taxes, but we could add pain and suffering to that list, though pain and suffering are implied in both death and taxes. I’ve often wondered how people who don’t or won’t find peace and consolation in the love of God handle the pain that inevitably comes to us all.
Many are hurting now, perhaps more than usual in our broken humanity. Many turn to God but others become angry and/or disconsolate. It really helps when a friend sits with us in our pain, like the little boy in the story that went around a few years ago. He spent time with his grieving friend and when his mom asked what they talked about, he said nothing, they just cried together.
We have a friend who shares our pain. He’s the one who understands it, feels it and cries with us. Because he took all our pain and sorrow onto himself when he went to the cross, he enters it and inhabits it still. When we hurt, he hurts with us; at the same time, we feel his pain, not only the pain he suffered, but the pain of the whole world, which he continues to carry on his shoulders.
When we’re hurting, we can be sure Jesus is hurting with us. What a beautiful friend and what a beautiful savior.