Every time when you hit the hay, you think about control. How the next day is going to pan out, how you want it to go, how you want events to proceed. Call it what you want, I see it as trying to control the next day as much as possible, trying to make the day go ‘as according to your plan’ as much as possible. And I don’t think that it is that terrible, I mean, God did make us as wanting to make sure that we’re concerned about our future. Thinking about our future can be beneficial in some senses, as it puts our present life into perspective and makes us realise that our everyday worries shouldn’t be that strenuous. God set on our hearts worries about starting up a family, buying a house, paying a deposit for a car or a business, raising your kids, taking care of your spouse, and looking after your parents during retirement so that we know that present day worries such as whether we receive a distinction, a credit or a pass in a certain subject is immaterial and regardless of whether we are successful in the long run, or whether we are going to be successful at all. Think about it, do you think that the people who live in the largest houses in the richest suburbs are well and truly happy? We’d like to think so, that the more money we have or the more control we have, or the more power we have, or the more friends you have, or the more wealth and degrees you have, the happier and more successful you will become.
However, that is probably true when things are looking up, going along very nicely, when the shares you invest in are increasing, when the economy is booming, when your kids are succeeding in school, when you are in the beginning stages of your marriage, when you buy your first dream home, and dream car, I guess at that time you’d wonder why things would get any worse. However, in times of trouble, when you are going through a painstaking divorce, when your kids experiment with alcohol and drugs, when your shares lose you $1 million, when the boss unequivocally fires you for no apparent reason, when the value of the house declines rapidly, when thieves break into your house and steal almost everything, when things are for the worse, I’m sure you’d be fuming and pretty unhappy, and sometimes you may even curse God, for the apparent inconveniences occurring in your life. It’s ironic, that during the tough times society immediately blames their problems and shifts it all onto God, but during the trouble-free and painless times God is more often than not never acknowledged. Why is this the case? Do people think that God just kick started the universe, and isn’t involved in our lives…oh except when he could’ve changed the outcome of a negative experience?
God is constantly communicating to us, showing us the way, even during the troubled times. Let me put it this way. Back then when Jesus walked the earth, and asked his disciples to follow him, did they protest, saying ‘Lord, we need a map so we know where you’re going, and then we’ll judge for ourselves whether we will follow you or not, whether it is safe to do so or not’? No, they just obeyed and said yes and followed him, because they had trust. They understood that they had to surrender completely to God and they gave up complete control, just because Jesus had called them by name. But sometimes during society in the 21st century, worry, anxiety and a sense of ‘me wanting to control my own destiny’ creeps into our thinking as we lay our heads down on the pillow. We try to plan our day, but when we wake up, it’s never how we envisaged it anyway. We’ve all had dreams, we’ve all had plans, we’ve even had our whole life mapped out for us- but then Spain didn’t come and we were transported to Rome instead. We wanted the Bahamas but got Brisbane. We wanted Chicago, but God sent us to Congo. We awed at San Francisco but God led us to St. Petersburg. ‘No this is not where I wanted to go, Lord, but because you’ve led me there I will follow you’ is what I would like to say in response to God’s prompting and direction of where it is that I will go, but sometimes, like Jonah who turned the other way from Ninevah and went to Tarsus, I’m not sure if I can fully 100% declare that I will trust God, with all my plans that I have in my own mind, many of which hasn’t come to fruition even now. In spite of this, even if I cannot say it out loud, I still know in my head that God will take care of His people. It may just take me a little longer to realise this and believe into it myself.
How would you react if you were in placed in that situation? In a scenario filled with desperation, anxiety, worry and restlessness, that you hadn’t even planned it yet? Because that’s what going to Congo is instead of Chicago. That’s what it means when you are uprooted by God and told to travel to St. Petersburg when all you want it just relax in San Francisco. I mean, in an ideal world we’d all be prepared 100% for anything life throws at us, be it natural disasters, death, divorce, disability as well as disagreements and debts. However because God gave us free will, and we can all choose what to do, we will have consequences, either good or bad, for our actions; and life can sometimes have it’s screw-ups and its unpredictability. We will never know what is going to happen around the corner, and even if we did, we may try to change it. So here we are, in this existence called ‘Person X’s life in which he becomes a successful businessman who marries and has 3 children, retires then kicks the bucket’, and we’re either cruising or we’re struggling to make ends meet, depending on what type of person you are, or where you grew up, and from your point of view of life in general. You’re surviving (just!), and generally happy about how life is going so far (or maybe you’re not so happy…). But then something comes from left-field. Something out of the ordinary.
We may not be able to accept or deal with change that happens in our lives, especially if it is personal, political or just plain puzzling. If it is out of our control, then if we do not like it or cannot get used to it, we take the path of least resistance and become like an ostrich. Put our heads in the sand and pretend it never happened. However, in this fragile world that we live in, everything does change and things cannot forever stay the same, and the only comfort we have is the fact that everyone else is in the same boat, will eventually experience the same ordeals and events in the tumultuous setting called ‘Life’. If I were stuck in a jungle, with no food, water, mobile phone or a sense or direction, I’d go bonkers, out of my mind, feeling a sense of hopelessness, and I’d be crying out to God, probably in that situation he’d be my last resort…but not intentionally. When things go out of whack, and you do feel quite hopeless, you could often miss the fact that God is still with you through the storms of this life, and that God will never leave you. Some people forget that fact when they are caught up in their busyness and their chaotic life- maybe when you remember about Him, you shift the blame of your problem onto Him, as well, a kind of ‘not my problem now, it’s God’s problem now!’ attitude. I’m sure when natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 occurred, quite a bulk of the population vented their anger and frustration at God for not doing anything about the problem. While I may not have the answer people may want to hear about this issue, what I will say is this- that something good always comes out of something not so good. Through the tough times, people generally become stronger and better as a person, and become more spiritually attentive.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that God is never there during times of trouble. He is always there, it’s just that for us during the tough times, His presence and omnipotence is highlighted and brought to the fore- by experiencing the dark, you can appreciate the light on a whole new different level. Always out of a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina, people’s lives are changed. I know that it’s probably stating the blatantly obvious, that of course, people get emotional, mental, physical and psychological problems from losing loved ones and from the devastating power that swept through their house, and now it’s damaged, and a few million dollars in assets are now down the drain, quite literally…but I’m talking about the change that can arise from such a traumatic event, and it builds people up and makes then better off in their character, behaviour and general qualities, as they’ve gained a bit more perspective from their tragic or unbearable ordeal.
Let me just say that encouraging someone else after they have gone through a tragedy of sorts is always tough. To even finding the right words can be tough just on its own. Imagine telling someone who’s in a rough time ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get over it, grieving is a process, time will heal you, and oh, I forgot, but you’ll become a better person overall from this situation, and by the way, God is with you…’ How would that sound? Not really good. Chances are you’ll make the person feel worse. In a situation like a hurricane, a tsunami, a death, a terminal illness, even a sudden retrenchment or a hacker who stole you life savings out of your account, you just want everyone that you know to be there for you, not to make any smart remarks, and just not say anything and just listen. Many people turn away from Christianity, in my opinion, from a scathing remark someone said to them, genuinely out of good intentions, to make the person feel better or whatever, but it just came out wrong, and the person who wanted to comfort them mentioned something about Jesus or Christianity, or religion or something along those lines, but not in the way that the person wanted them to- maybe it went something like ‘God will get you through so now grow up and don’t be a wuss’, and things started going downhill from there. Often, it isn’t what we say or how well we spiritualise certain circumstances and events that will bring people closer to God’s love. In fact, the harder we try, the more of an opposite effect it’ll have. All we need to do is just be with our friend, comforting, maybe not even saying anything. It is what we don’t say, I reckon, that will have a greater effect than if we try to find the right words to say.
We won’t know all the story. Bad things will happen. The control that we had when we were younger as children will eventually be relinquished when we realise that we were never meant to control it all in the first place. And let me tell you, dropping our control as we move from being a part of our story to being a part of God’s story is not something out of a fairytale, that once you’re in, you’re bullet-proof kind of thing…rather the opposite. I have often found that since after being a Christian, the bombs and missiles come at you harder, and Satan targets us all at our own weakness- our own temptations, struggles and issues at life. There are times as a Christian where it has been harder to go the opposite way, to see potential friends laughing at your expense because you are a Christian. Times in your life where you’ve felt as if giving up was the right option, as if God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit deserted, abandoned and forsook you. Believe me, the Christian life wasn’t supposed to be easy. Sometimes we do not know what to do, and we need revelations of direction of what to do in our lives, to try to make our story as best possible so that God can use us, shape us and mould us into the people he wants us to be.
Look at Moses- a murderer at age 40, only at 80 he was called by God, in the form of a burning bush, to go back to Pharaoh and demand him to let God’s people go. I’ll bet he was shaking all over, trying to talk his way out of it, or if it was in today’s time, he’d be going to his therapist or doctor just in case he ate some magic mushrooms or something like that. Or how about Job; his life was not smooth at all and in complete and utter disarray. His livestock and family left him for dead, literally, and Satan gave him boils on his body, yet he still praised God. Jonah was swallowed by a whale after he took his ‘story’ and wanted to trade his small role for a starring lead; and Abraham, slept with his mistress, trying to control his sperm and have a kid at age 100 as he didn’t want to face up to the fact that his wife was barren. How about Peter, faithful disciple to Jesus who denied him 3 times just before Jesus’ death, or Samson, who wanted to please God as well as his mistress Delilah? Paul, former Christian hater prior to his conversion, became blind as God showed His presence in the form of the brightest light in history. Paul too didn’t receive a smooth transition into Christian life either- he and his friend Barnabas agreed to disagree at times, and they parted ways soon after Paul started his ministry- he joined Silas soon afterwards and I guess everyone may know the story of Paul and Silas in jail. David wrote most of the Psalms when he was in the pits of despair and he succumbed and submitted to his temptation of adultery when he slept with Bathsheba, a married woman, and gave the orders, for her husband, who died in battle shortly after, to be placed in the front line of attack. Solomon, while very wise, still doubted God’s promises, so much so modern day scholars assumed he wrote a whole book about it called Ecclesiastes.
Now when we have a look at all of these bible characters, these men and women who lived and breathed in history, having all of these fears, doubts and temptations long after they chose to follow God, what hope does that leave us all? Just because God is our Father doesn’t mean that once we have accepted Christ, we are immune to any form of deceit from the enemy. Quite the opposite, as being part of the flock is vulnerable, and scary. But here’s the upside- we know we are in safe hands and we have a Shepherd who will go to the ends of the earth if one of us is lost, and will never leave us or abandon us. And yet still, sometimes in this grandiose story of God, we do feel terrible and some days are worse than others. Just part of the Christian walk, what I have learnt to do is to call upon God, as His ways are all more powerful and make more sense than our ways. Just because we may not understand what He is doing in our lives at a particular time doesn’t mean our ‘story’ in God’s never ending one is in jeopardy, nor does it mean that we should give up and accept that God wants no part of our lives in His.
We all need a revelation once in a while. We all need a heads-up. There will be times during everybody’s lives where we feel as if we cannot go on, and it is during those times when our faith gets tested. There will be trials, but God has promised to be there all the way. We just have to trust that God knows what he is doing (and he does!), and that is all we can do. Sometimes our lives can lead us down uncertain roads, roads that do not seem to end, but we should know that there is hope for everyone, that everyone can play a role in the ‘story’ of all stories- God’s never-ending story that travels on for eternity, where each subsequent moment is much more fulfilling and encouraging than the one preceding.
As we think more about control and the notion of abandoning our own me-centred stories to be enveloped into such a big and rewarding one, let me remind you of a few things. God’s Story is unlike any other story we have ever encountered or ever will. God’s story is bizarre- just look at that of Jesus. Jesus turned this world upside down. He started to proclaim ‘Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the unrighteous…’ But I guess in a way, we were meant for the wacky and the weird to challenge us, so that we can sit down and think, ‘Gee, if this was true, no matter how far-fetched or just plain mind-boggling it is, just imagine the complexity of everything that I’ve come across. Surely then how much more power, authority and love that God has for his creation, for me’. For it has only been in the latter part of the 2000s where I’ve comprehended what it means to leave my ‘story’ and to be placed in a far bigger story. I’ve learnt that many times, we are afraid to be in God’s Story because we have a wrong idea of the Father himself. When someone mentions ‘Jesus’, society immediately thinks of the World Youth Day’s staged by the Pope every 3 years, or of St. Mary’s cathedral, not to mention ‘radical’ Hillsong who are always controversial in how they conduct their services. Nevertheless, the public’s perception of Christianity is one of disdain.
Even though in the grand scheme of things, God’s Story and being a part of the bigger picture He is planning is much more fulfilling than what I can ever conjure up in my mind about what I would be doing if I didn’t surrender myself to Him; that’s not to say that there have been times during my life where I have been just utterly confused about whether I stay in God’s Story, or I jump back on the paddy-wagon and ride into the self-fulfilling glory of the sun-set. And that’s ok for a while. But herein lies the crux of it all- when the knots are untied, uncoiled, when everything in hanging bare, I realise that my glory is temporary.
If I want to sing a song about my greatness and how my story is the one that matters and will continue to matter, the only person that will be fulfilled is me, for a while, because everyone else, if they just follow my example, would be focused on their own ‘me’ stories. The story’s main goal is to make me famous, and to make me count, but when all is said and done; what would I have to show for it? A clap; an applause? Those things are temporary, and will not go with me when I die. If I just live for me, I may end up with 3 ex-wives, 5 children who don’t talk to me, and a fractured family. Our lives were made so much more than to be worshipping and living a story about nothing greater than what I’m going to eat for breakfast, and what I’m going to do tonight, and how I’m going to manoeuvre the next guy out of the way so that I can get the glory. I guess everyone has heard of the phrase that we should all look out for other people, but if there was no over-arching story that engulfs all of mankind, if there was no truth in our lives that didn’t change even if the polls did, if there was no God, if there was no purpose, if there was hatred, malice, sin, and destruction, then why do we look out for our fellow mankind?
Everyone knows that we should not and will not live this way; that our lives were meant for the extra-ordinary. I guess that is why everyone wants a ‘Superman’, everyone wants a ‘Batman’, because everyone fantasises about their lives counting for that cause, the cause that when you look back at your life and you count your blessings and your failures, you can look back and think, ‘Gee, life was worth it!’ But I have learnt that you don’t need a Batman or a Superman for your story to be great. Batman isn’t God, nor is Superman. In my life, when I acknowledged that when Jesus came and died for every soul of humanity; that is what he did, died for every soul of humanity. Hard to imagine, Jesus dying for Adolph Hitler, Jack the Ripper, Joseph Stalin, even all the great people like Alfred Nobel, Benjamin Franklin, William Shakespeare, Walt Disney…but it’s true, when Jesus hung on that cross, he died- so that everyone might live. No one is perfect. And because of that, because of us longing for the perfect life in the imperfect world, our stories fail. Our stories, the ones we carve, the ones we try to make great, will eventually crumble because of the sinful nature of us humans. Because we sinful men cannot be and shouldn’t be trying to mould the ‘perfect life’ because we will never get there. One verse in the Bible is comforting yet disturbing at the same time. John, one of Jesus’ disciples, in his book 1 John, talks about how God is love; and that perfect love casts out all fear. But in the same breath, he makes a burning statement:
“…so do not be surprised, my friends, if the people of the world hate you. We know that we have left death and come over into life; we know it because we love others. Those who do not love are still under the power of death. Those who hate others are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life in them. This is how we know what love is.: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for others! If we are rich and see others in need, yet close our hearts against them, how can we claim that we love God? My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action…” (1 John 3: 13-18)
The part of 1 John 3:13-18 that spoke to me was the part that said, ‘those who hate others are murderers’. Now I don’t have to be Einstein to know that even that boggles my mind. So John was saying that even if you hate your brother, even if you hate people, yet haven’t laid a knife or a gun on them, then you might as well have murdered them? Radical? Yes! True? I guess that is what God means when he says ‘perfection’. He wants every aspect of us to be perfect. He wants every one of us to have the courage to die to our own little stories in order for the wonder and the beauty of the never ending story to take hold of us, from the bottom up, so that we can be consumed from the inside out and understand that God himself is enough, that worship of anyone other than God will not fulfil us.
In my life, I have realised that in every single movie, every single book, every single story ever written, has some moral at the end of it. That is why we’re so fanatical about the stories and the notion of ‘story’ in general. Because we know that stories are a window into a person’s soul. We know that stories reveal to us aspects of ourselves that we need to change. As much as we’re humans that love to stick to the ‘devil you know than the devil you don’t’; we want a life that counts. We want a life that is more than ‘get a good education, get a good career, raise the family, retire and die’. We know that stories are a way of revaluating our lives, even if it is for a split second before we go back into this mundane existence again. And why do we go back, eventually to our mundane existence after we chew on the stick of a story? We want something that lasts for more than a story has to offer. Always, after the movie, after the song, after the book, as much as it presents ideals that should be, it’s ‘back to reality’, as we cannot possibly make stuff happen in society that is apparent in such novels, films and songs, either because they are too far-fetched, or I’m just not ready. We judge ourselves, all the time, and no better place to do it than to do it whilst reading a story.
I guess it all comes down to what you’re passionate about. It may be music, it may be writing, just like me. Or it may be drawing, learning about science, accountancy, taxation, not to mention being a culinary chef, an actor or a sportsman. Whatever you do, I believe that you should do it all, with all your might, and do it knowing that it will fade away in the end. Knowing that we don’t have control of anything and that’s ok. Knowing that God will ultimately weave His own story into ours if He chooses our lives to be a vessel of His glory and love, even during the times where we may not see Him working. Whatever our stories are, and whatever control we seemingly have over our stories at the moment, we ought to be reminded, that what Christ has in store is far better than what we can hope for and imagine.
Before I close off, here’s a few things to think about. What story are you currently living now? Are you finding it hard or easy to relinquish control? If God has called you to go to the Congo instead of settling in Chicago, how’d you react? Are you willing enough to go wherever God leads? Which stories appeal to you more- the ones that have happy endings or sad? Let us know in the comments. Till next time, and remember- that we should be proud of the stories we are living, that ‘…if I should speak, then let it be of the grace that is greater than all our sin, of when justice was served, and where mercy wins, of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in, oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him…’ (“My Story” from Big Daddy Weave’s album Beautiful Offerings).