That was the nugget of wisdom that fell out of my mouth during a talk with a couple of friends about the $h!t-storms they were experiencing recently.
Drama and trauma with friends. Bosses. Legal issues. Relationship issues. Money issues. Crises that just seem to happen out of nowhere, that blindside you. And you’re stuck there, confused, steaming with anger, wondering where the heck God was, and what he was doing – or if he was doing anything at all. Does God even care?
“Is God cruel?” my friend asked.
This is real life stuff. Stuff happens. Life happens, and it isn’t always pretty. And we shouldn’t expect it to be. Even with God on our side, we should not expect everything to just fall into place easily, readily, smoothly, and think we’re just gonna experience happiness, peace and joy all the time. It’s just not realistic. Nor is it good faith.
And a scene from the life of Moses suddenly took on new relevance. I don’t remember if it was in The Ten Commandments movie or not, but there’s this scene after Moses has his encounter with the Burning Bush, and God commissions him to go tell Pharaoh to “Let my people go!” The Hebrew people had become so populous in Egypt that the Egyptians feared they were becoming a minority in their own country. So the politicians decided to implement a form of immigration control: first, kill all the newborn Hebrew baby boys. Then enslave the people (to keep them under control). And after Moses passes on God’s message to the top dog, Pharaoh, to let the people leave to get on with their purpose, Pharaoh responds by ordering that straw no longer be given to the Hebrews in order to fill their daily quota of brick-making. Now they had to go scrounge for straw themselves – and not miss their quota: “not one brick less!” (Exodus 5-6)
And the Hebrews do what we all do. Gripe. At the slave-drivers, at their foremen, at Pharaoh, and even at Moses. “Why have you done this to us? You have made us a stench in Pharaoh’s nose, and now given them a reason to exterminate us. May God judge you for what you have done” – this from the Israelites to Moses. And you know Moses had to be thinking, “this is what I get for trying to help.”
So Moses gripes to God. “Lord, why have you caused all this trouble for them? Why did you even send me here? Ever since I went to the king to speak in your name, he has treated the people worse than before. And you have done nothing to help them!”
Moses expected great things. He had this moving encounter with God, gotten his marching orders, received a new purpose in life, a new mission. He was gonna be the savior of his people. And it all just got worse. It all went downhill from that point on.
And most of us will experience this in life. We get a moment of inspiration, we discover a new found purpose and meaning to life. We may even have had a fresh encounter with God that has revitalized our spiritual life. We’re on fire with new life, new excitement, new mission, new energy, new purpose. Everything seems to make sense now: “this is what I’m on this planet to do!” And then … everything begins to fall apart. Nothing works out the way we planned. All the scenarios we played out in our heads about how things would happen, how our life would go, how events would transpire … all come crashing down around us. And we’re left traumatized and in shock. Shaking our heads to clear the confusion – what just happened? Did I make all this up? Was this just some fantasy, some delusion? What happened to God? Why is all this crap happening to me?!
And here’s God’s response: “Now you will get to see what I’m about to do. By my mighty hand and my outstretched arm, I will compel Pharaoh to let my people go.”
In other words,
the bigger the problem, the greater the power.
The deeper the crap, the more amazing the outcome.
Little problems don’t require divine intervention. We can handle them ourselves. What bragging-rights does that give God? It’s the big stuff, the stuff too big for us to handle, that requires the supernatural, the miraculous.
People who are content with little require little. Those who are happy to have small lives, to just have a convenient job, to pay their bills and have a comfortable home where they can just relax and watch the football game on Sunday afternoon – what need do they have of mighty displays of the miraculous?
My gut feeling when talking with my friends about the startling amount of difficulties they were experiencing was that they were destined for bigger things. Big trouble means a big life.
That doesn’t mean that every little situation was going to work out wonderfully. That did not mean that suddenly things were gonna start falling into place. Even knowing God was working in the process does not mean it was gonna be easy. In fact (unfortunately!), it often means the opposite. But it’s the big picture where things begin to make sense. It’s in the looking back afterwards that we get to see the divine power at work, doing things beyond our control, even beyond our imagination. And it never is how we expect. God never works in ways that we could have predicted. That’s way too small for him, way to restraining. And way too small for us! We deserve bigger things. For those who want it, for those who feel it deep inside their gut, we have bigger things in store, bigger destinies. Destinies that touch the world around us.
Those who don’t want that kind of big life probably won’t experience these kinds of big difficulties. They’ll have challenges appropriate to the size of their dreams.
And for Moses and the complaining Hebrews, they got to witness the amazing hand of God – to the point that we’re still talking about 3500 years later. And they even made a movie about it. Beyond that, here’s a little nugget: they not only got a new freedom and vision for themselves, they get to see a new side of God they hadn’t seen before. “I appeared to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as El Shaddai, God Almighty. But I did not make myself known to them by my holy name, Yahweh, “I AM”. This name is for you, from now on …” Oh, and by the way, “I have heard their groanings, I have seen their troubles, I remember my promises, and I will deliver them …”
That’s the message to those going through some deep doodoo right now. It never happens like we expect. And we gripe and moan about it. That’s okay. That’s human. It’s the end results that count. The bigger the problem, the greater the solution. The more resistance, the more spectacular the outcome. Or, as the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 8:28, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose…”
To doubt God, to ask where he is in all the stuff that’s going on, that’s human. It’s okay.
Our mistake is putting our “faith” in how we expect God to do things, rather than “trusting” that he’s gonna work it all out in the end.
That’s the real mark of a vital faith, a solid spirituality. “We’re gonna get through this, and God is gonna make it all work out for our good. And in the process, we’re gonna grow, we’re gonna become better and stronger, and we’re gonna see a new face of God we’ve never known before.”
So as hard as it might be to do in real life, our game plan when going through the deep doodoo is pretty simple: Don’t focus on the immediate situation. Don’t lose heart over the immediate circumstances. Don’t get lost in the details of the small picture. The grander scheme, the big picture, is where it all makes sense. The more complicated the situation, and the uglier the mess, … the more clearly it indicates a bigger outcome, a more beautiful and purposeful life.
Small lives don’t require a divine “outstretched arm and mighty hand”. Big lives do. And that’s where you’re headed.
photo credit: B Rosen via photopincc
[box type=”bio”] STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.