Article by: Michael Bolland, March 23rd, 2016
I’m not sure I know anyone who, when it comes to a desired success, puts themselves intentionally in a position where their likelihood decreases.
I was always taught to set myself up well for success.
With education, I was told that in order to get a job and live a sustainable life, I needed to get training and knowledge in the field that I would go into.
With athletics, I was told that I needed to prepare at the highest level and in the smartest way possible leading up to a game or competition to put myself in the best position to win.
With finances, especially as a 23 year-old, I’m told to invest and delegate my money wisely to set myself up well for later in life.
With health, the message is that the better I take care of myself in my youth, the more likely my older years are to be full of good health.
These are good teachings, and I would stand strongly by any of them; however, this concept stands completely in contrast with the means to which God displays His sovereign character.
“Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?”
John Eldredge, in his book Wild at Heart, mentions something profound about the nature of God: “It’s not the nature of God to limit his risks and cover his bases. Far from it. Most of the time, he actually lets the odds stack up against him.” As examples, Eldredge brings up David against Goliath as well as God’s victorious reduction of Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300. Then, Eldredge goes on asking us to consider God’s plan to spread the Gospel: “It’s not just a batlle or two that God takes his chances with either. Have you thought about his handling of the gospel? God needs to get a message out to the human race, without which they will perish forever. What’s the plan? First, he starts with the most unlikely group ever: a couple prostitutes, a few fisherman with no better than a second-grade education, and a tax collector. Then, well, he passes the ball to us!” This is nothing short of incredible, and it touches on my point that I’d like to make about God: God doesn’t display His character on the back-drop of the slightly improbable, but upon the canvas of the seemingly impossible. As we look back and see His mastery, we are left to think nothing else but that God had to be responsible. Consider Jesus’ explanation of the kingdom of God from Mark 4:30-32: “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on the earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Seeing the “largest of all” knowing that it bloomed from the “smallest of all” prompts us to believe that God’s hand had to be over this transformation. God is uniquely capable of taking the smallest, weakest, most frail, and seemingly useless and turning it into the largest, strongest, most sustainable, and most powerful of things. Furthermore, Jesus couldn’t have been more right in his description of the kingdom of God because from what seemed like only handful of pestering Jews, God built an unstoppable worldwide movement called the church of Jesus Christ.
Gamaliel, a Pharisee, in Acts 5:38-39, said: 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. The origin of the gospel being spread is obviously significant to God. He wanted to make sure that there was nothing left in question as to how His message was being moved forth.
Was this message of human origin or was it from God Himself? The nature of men who were God’s messengers—“unschooled and ordinary”—did the opposite of disprove the message’s claimed origin: it actually enhanced the evidence. As I look back and think about the mustard seed of an origin that Christianity had and sift my memory across the face of its history, I’m left in awe of Him who painted and orchestrated it all.
Who among the gods
is like you, Lord?
Who is like you—
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
God has been painting a picture of His glory for a long time in the face of the impossible—quite literally, He always has been. Upon the canvas of dark nothingness, the Creator breathed Creation into existence:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:1-2)
Then, God invited us to do what he always has been doing: displaying His majesty as a God who lives in glory, love, perfection, and complete satisfaction in Himself:
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27)
John Piper put it well when he said: “He made humans in His image to image something, namely Himself. So, our existence is about showing God’s existence, or specifically God’s glory. Which, I think, means God’s manifold perfection: the radiance, the display, the streaming out of his many colored, beautiful perfections.”
However, it wasn’t long before the fabric tore; we chose to give ourselves a different purpose. Instead of being a lighthouse that properly let ships know of the shore, we decided that it was better off that ships kept their attention on us.
Imagine a puzzle strewn about the room—some pieces hidden, some upside down, some bent, some scratched. There’s no way we can tell what the puzzle was supposed to display. We need to be found, turned right side up, bent back, and painted upon what has been scratched off! There’s something missing to this story though, and I want you to feel it.
Forgive me, but I’m asking you to empathize with puzzle pieces:
The pieces hidden are those lost in darkness without a Light to illuminate their purpose.
The pieces upside down are those without an eye to their Conductor to know what to sing.
The pieces bent are those without Aid to walk straight and upright.
The pieces scratched are those marred without a Healing Touch.
Collectively, the puzzle is us—helpless, out of tune, lost, purposeless, and needy. It is in this void that we taste once again our God’s glorious artistry:
“‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
It is the greatest relief to all mankind that God interacts with us in our incapabilities. In the case of salvation, this is a particularly precious intervention. Though we departed from our honorable and privileged purpose of imaging God to live in the feebleness of self-glorification, God graciously grants us an offering of a redemptive return to fulfillment of our purposeful existence. This return, which was impossible for us, was made possible through Jesus Christ. We were dead, so He died that we might rise with Him and be born again into the purpose God had for us since the beginning.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28-29)
Written by Michael Bolland. Michael attends Hope and is involved with the Men of Hope ministry. Michael is an intern with Athletes in Action, a ministry of Cru that focuses on athletes and discipleship. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2015 with a degree in Mathematics. He currently lives in Minneapolis.
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