You can travel to far away places to find beauty and to marvel at God’s creation, or you keep an eye out the side window of your car… if you open your eyes, you may be surprised how often you can spot God’s handiwork in your daily routine, and how often you’ll discover glimpses of his creativity just off your usual path. As I did today, on my way home from jury duty. There was barely a place to stop my car and getting across the busy street on foot was a challenge, but it took only five minutes to capture some of this beauty that others were zooming right past. It makes we wonder how much of life we miss because we never stop to look. I know I’ve been one of the hyper-busy ones for years and the cost of not slowing down sooner was high.
(All these images can be viewed much larger by simply clicking on them)
Sometimes, (and preferably) we pull over in life intentionally to take in some rest and be refreshed by God’s creation – but at other times the car of life breaks down and we are forced to stop and take a break. But either way – it is good to “Be still and know that He is God.”
In the middle of this lake are dead trees. They are surrounded by life – but they are dead. Perched within them is life, as birds make their nests, but the trees themselves are still dead. We may find ourselves at times feeling like those trees, seeing life all around us, but feeling dead and used up. Others may be perched upon us, even pecking at us thinking we are no longer of any use other than to be a symbol of something past. But the truth is that God can bring life BACK and He can renew!
Gordon MacDonald, in his book “MID-COURSE CORRECTION” calls it ‘Vital Optimism.’ “A quality of spirit possessed by a person where there is a persuasion that the best is yet to be. Whatever the past, the future will be better. Hope,” he writes, “is the confident expectation that history is going somewhere and that God, our Creator and Redeemer, is powerfully directing it. Without such vital optimism or hope, life is, to say the least, quite troublesome.”
When and how to we lose this ‘Vital Optimism?’ From our youngest age we are taught that “we can do anything, go anywhere, and acheive any goal if we are willing to work hard enough. And this wonderful reasonably true myth keeps us going for some time,” Gordon explains. “But,” he continues, “reality can chip away at this myth and erode our dreams, and by the time we are in our late thirties (gulp! that’s me!), the fight to retain any kind of vital optismism is fierce.” He warns, “from living life built on great expectations, we gravitate toward a life built on little more than obligation.” What do we do when all of our lofty goals are finally attained, and they become instead weekly obligations that wear us out and drain our spirit? What then?
Gordon writes further, “We came to believe that if we pushed ourselves hard enough, we could achieve a certain level of saintliness, a coveted spiritual maturity.” I know for myself, my flurry of spiritual activity and frantic service for God was supposed to bring about a deep and abiding faith, but instead, it was the very thing that threatened my spiritual life and robbed my soul of God’s best for me. I wish I’d seen this destructive pattern sooner! I wanted to be like D.L. Moody who said, “the world has yet to see what God can do through one person totally committed to Him.” My mom used to say to me, “Karl, if you ever get all this energy focused in one direction, watch out world!” Those were great words to me, and I’ve strived to fulfill them and make my mom proud, even though she has gone on ahead of me. But now I know there is another side of the soul, and instead now, I think I would warn, “If you ever get all your energy focused in one direction, even if it be ministry, watch out soul.” You risk losing the very thing you are striving to attain – vitality of soul and a deep walk with Christ.
Like the teenager whose t-shirt says, “Jesus could return any day… look busy!” we run the risk of becoming dead trees in the middle of the beautiful lake. In the end, it is not how busy we are that counts. It is not how much we have accomplished. It won’t be the number of programs we ran or the attendance at the events we organized that Jesus will ask about… he’ll just want to know, “Did you know I loved you all along?” While I’ve longed to hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” I fear he may have said to me instead, “Welcome home, I’ve missed you. Maybe now we can be finally be friends.” God give me that Vital Optimism!