A few years ago my then seven-year-old son and I were walking down the tooth paste and shampoo isle of the grocery store. He always loved to shop and comment about all the products. At some point he noticed the boxes containing men’s hair color with each box showing a man with a different shade of hair. He reached out and grabbed the box for blondes, and said “You need this Daddy…so that you can have the same color hair as me.” Laughing, I explained that my hair was once blonde like his, and that his was getting darker and one day would be brown like mine. He put the box back with somewhat of a disappointed look and said…”Yea, but when mines brown yours will be white!”
It’s not uncommon to desire being like someone else, or even to have what others have. Occasionally, we may even feel as if those changes would bring a better quality to our lives, maybe more happiness and contentment. Paul writes, “And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life (1 Corinthians 7:17).” Paul’s words remind us that that always obsessively looking for something more or something better can devalue this moment.
It is so easy to become distracted by those things that we don’t have, those places we can’t be and those things that we can’t do. Living life so distracted causes us to take for granted and miss the blessings and gifts of the moment. Yesterday can only be remembered, tomorrow can only be planned…and life can only be lived today with what we have. Its only when we focus on living today as best we can, being as faithful as we can, that we become aware of the real blessings that God has placed in our lives. It does not matter what change you make in your life, you’ll never find happiness where you’re headed unless you take the ingredients along with you.
I loved baseball when I was a boy. I played every year. When I was ten years old, I had what was probably my best season. I finished the regular season with no errors and had a high batting average. It was the first year that I made the All Star team. During the All Star season accidents began to happen to me. Pitchers kept hitting me, balls would take unusual bounces and leave me bruised and bloody.
Slowly a fear began to creep into me. I began to find excuses to miss practices and games. When I did play, I found myself overwhelmed with anxiety and fear about what may happen. All they joy was gone. One day my mother pulled me aside and simply said, “Everyone is afraid sometimes. But you can’t focus on your fear… or you’ll never enjoy baseball again. Focus on what you enjoy, not what you fear.”
Fears surround us. Often they are the personal fears that stem from the problems that we each face, the challenges, the failures that we worry about. For some of us, they are financial fears that we carry around. We worry about our job performance because that affects our financial future, and many of us have struggled with losing jobs and being in that in-between land where we don’t have a livelihood. There are health issues that we fear. We fear cancer. We fear heart attacks and strokes and the list can go on. All of these are very real dangers.
In Isaiah 43:1, we read “But now, this is what the LORD says… ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’” This passage reminds us that we belong to God, and that God will see us through any trial. When we focus on our fears, we tend to forget our blessings. Eventually the fear and worry began to have a negative impact on how we enjoy those very blessings. There are some things in life that may be out of our control, but there are also things that we can do. It is only when we focus more on the blessing from God that life is truly a joy. You will never find happiness where you are going unless you take the ingredients along with you.
Early in our ministry things were tight for our family. My wife and I had both been working hard and rarely seeing one another. So one night we sent our children to their grandparents, and made reservations to celebrate our anniversary at a nice restaurant. It was something that we both looked forward to doing. Just before we left, a teenager from church walked up our driveway with tears in his eyes. His grandfather had died, and he simply wanted to be in our company. My wife and I spent the next several hours of our anniversary gladly playing monopoly with a grieving teenager.
It was a night of compassion and ministry. Occasionally I would remember it, and wonder how that young man’s life had turned out and if we had been of any influence. Last week, I received an email from that same young man after he had tracked us down. It seems that he had experienced some difficulties in life. He said that at one point when he was near the bottom, he remembered the last time he felt so low. It was the night when he wound up playing monopoly with a preacher and his wife who were all dressed up. He went on to describe an awaking of grace in his life as he remembered that he was loved. Eventually he found his way back to church. His note was not necessarily to reminisce, but to invite us to his ordination. He wanted to spend the rest of his life in ministry making others feel as loved as he felt that night so long ago.
Sometimes you never really know how much of a difference you are making in someone’s life. It can be discouraging to invest your time giving and doing and not see any dividends. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the Sower. In it he describes a farmer scattering seeds on different types of ground, and how the condition of the soil either helps the seed grow or prevents its. In this parable Jesus reminds us that God’s grace is lavishly scattered, but the conditions of a person’s life and heart can become obstacles to that grace. Our role in life is to remove as many obstacles as we can from the lives around us with our love and service. God does the rest. Every act of service and love, no matter how small, becomes an investment in God’s kingdom…whether we see it or not.