A couple weeks ago, Alastair was preaching on Malachi and he used an image of Jesus that was turned sideways. It was confusing to me. I thought, “Oh nuts! The slide got turned on its head! Ack! How can I fix it?” I got so wrapped up in worry about that silly slide that I totally missed a minute or two of the sermon.
Later that day we were chatting about the service and I mentioned to him that one of his slides was messed up. He said, “That was intentional. It was to represent how we misunderstand God and don’t see him rightly.” I told him that was very artistic, maybe too artistic for me, and we chuckled at my instinct to run up and straighten out the image.
It was very funny, but it got me thinking. When I see Jesus lying on his side, do I try and “fix” him and sit him back up straight? Have I been asking God to fit my expectations rather than letting God be who he is? Have I not been seeing God rightly?
My heart sinks even now at the thought. But I know it’s true. I often ask God to be more like a ‘little-g’ god: a god in an image I craft, a god who always works in ways I understand, and a god who gives me what I want.
It is such an incredible reality check that after knowing God for 20 years, I still at times forget who he is.
It is such an incredible reality check that after knowing God for 20 years, I still at times forget who he is. He is mysterious and unchanging and surprising and constant. He is good and disciplines me and says no to me and is caring and compassionate. He is powerful and patient and sovereign and freeing. He is mind-boggling for sure.
But when I look up and see him sideways on the screen, I think, “Oh nuts! God you’re doing it wrong! Here – let me help you.” And I probably proceed to tell God how he should be running things (similar to my reaction to Alastair, eep!).
Looking back in my journals, I can see a pattern of prayer that sounds more like directions and instructions than heartfelt, open-handed supplications. It seems like the details of some prayers are more me telling God how I would like him to handle situations rather than actually letting him handle them how he sees fit.
“God, I would like for us to find a home, preferably by this date, and in this area, and that you will help us find it before the apartment sells, and that we basically will not have to really trust you at all in this process because it will all work out quickly, easily, and conveniently. Amen.”
A pastor once taught me that our prayers should be so much more than asking that things “go smoothly”. It cut me to the quick. So often my prayers tell God how I want everything to run, and I want things to run smoothly according to my wishes. “God please let me catch all green lights, get the best parking spot, find all the deals, not have to wait in line, not have to talk to anyone in line, and definitely not have to stretch myself in any way outside my comfort zone. Amen.”
Now I am exaggerating and being a wee bit silly. But I have prayed prayers like this! I have asked God to not really be God, but to be my magical day planner who waves a wand and clears the path before me to have a convenient and easy and smooth day. I view him as a god made for me and to fix my little inconveniences.
Reading some of these prayers in my journal, it is easy to see why I can be frustrated with God and feel like he isn’t quite listening. He is listening. He just is not a ‘little-g’ god who will do as I command. He does not exist to make my life convenient or go smoothly. I misunderstand who he is. I forget who he is. And I try to set him straight. But you cannot set straight the Creator of the Universe. He is the Great “I AM.”
I am thankful for the times I trust God and that he instills me with patience and perseverance when things do not go smoothly. But I do sincerely hope that the next time it seems like Jesus is standing on his head or twiddling his thumbs when I want him upright and following my orders – that I can take a deep breath and just look at him. I hope that with childlike wonder, I can ponder what he is up to. I hope I can eagerly await his next move, but also simply find pleasure in his presence, even if he seems to be sideways.