First, my kids and I have been studying the universe in science, and this has “coincidentally” coincided with the devotional I’ve been reading to them at night. The devotional is Indescribable: 100 Devotions for Kids About God & Science.
This devotional has been great, taking a truth about God and tying it to some aspect of God’s creation in a very understandable way. I’ve been personally blessed by the repeated reminders of how great God is and what a speck in the universe our earth is.
This speck-in-the-universe thought was backed up by a second completely unrelated bit of reading I did. My husband told me about an article he read by Carl Trueman, and it really struck both of us and has altered our thinking in significant ways. Although the article is addressed to pastors and sounds a bit confusing (an unmessianic sense of non-destiny???), I found it helpful—and funny—myself. Perhaps turning 40 this year for both my husband and I made this more apropos, but it holds some ideas helpful for all believers.
Trueman maintains that the key to entering middle age without a “crisis” is “to match diminishing abilities and opportunities with diminishing ambition.” He says that this type of thinking is quite the opposite of what our world pushes, with everyone being special and everyone contributing to the world in great ways. But he says that Christians would do well to think unlike the world in this regard. He says,
Put bluntly, when I read the Bible it seems to me that the church is the meaning of human history. But it is the church, a corporate body, not the distinct individuals who go to make up her membership. Of course, all of us individuals have our gifts and our roles to play: the Lord calls us each by name and numbers the very hairs of our heads. But to borrow Paul’s analogy of the body, we have no special destiny in ourselves taken as isolated units, anymore than bits of our own bodies do in isolation from each other. When I act, I act as a whole person; my hand has no special role of its own; it acts only in the context of being part of my overall body. With the church, the destiny of the whole is greater than the sum of the destinies of individual Christians.
This is an important insight which should profoundly shape our thinking and, indeed, our praying. My special destiny as a believer is to be part of the church; and it is the church that is the big player in God’s wider plan, not me. That puts me, my uniqueness, my importance, my role, in definite perspective. The problem today is that too many have the idea that God’s primary plan is for them, and the church is secondary, the instrument to the realization of their individual significance. They may not even realize they think that way, but like those involuntary “tells” during a poker game, so certain unconscious spiritual behaviors give the game away.
Take, for example, prayer. Compare the “O Lord, please use me for doing X” variety with the priorities of the Lord’s Prayer, where the petitions are much more modest: “Lead me not into temptation, deliver me from evil, for the kingdom is yours, etc.” One could paraphrase that prayer perhaps as follows: “Lord, keep me out of trouble and don’t let me get in the way of the growth of your kingdom.” The Lord’s Prayer, by contrast with many prayers we cook up for ourselves, is a great example of words designed for the lips of believers who really understand the gospel, of those with, to coin a phrase, an unmessianic sense of non-destiny.
These above paragraphs have greatly impacted my thinking. I know I’ve been guilty of praying something like the example he gave: “Lord, please allow me to […..] in [this capacity] so that I can be greatly used of you.” The hidden truth this prayer reveals is that we think we have something to offer God. And then, if that opportunity doesn’t come to be, it is easy to get frustrated and feel useless, instead of focusing on what opportunities God has given where he has placed us with the people he has placed us with.
So now, I’ve found myself praying the Lord’s prayer: “Lord, may your kingdom come and your will be done, here in Rockford, IL and in all the earth as it is in heaven. Help me not to hinder that work. Help us to be faithful.”
And this leads to my third train of thought. I’m currently working on a Bible study of 1 Samuel. I was impressed (again) by how real the characters are—Samuel and Saul most notably at the moment. They struggle with frustration, anger, pride, presumption, parenting issues, etc. And their being chosen to be part of God’s plan seems really random or confusing at times.
I thought back to my studies in Genesis through Ruth and even listed out a bunch of the characters mentioned by name: Adam, Eve, Abel, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Judah, Tamar, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Eleazar, Phinehas, Joshua, Caleb, Othniel, Ehud, Barak, Deborah, Jephthah, Gideon, Sampson, Naomi, Ruth, Boaz, Eli, Hannah, Samuel, Saul, Jonathan, and David.
They are (were) all just regular “Joes.” None of them were really that impressive in and of themselves. God used each of them—along with the many nameless characters in Scripture—to work his plans out for the world and for Israel. I even told my husband that I was convinced that the Apostle Paul himself was not really a spiritual “giant.” I think he was a faithful and exemplary tool of God (after he stopped killing Christians, that is), but I think part of what made him want to be in heaven (besides seeing a glimpse of it) was the frustrations of this earth and the draining work of being with and helping other sinful people in the midst of a wicked world—something we can all feel. I think we see the worked out bit of Paul’s sanctification in his letters (similarly to how we see pictures on Facebook, with all the beautiful end results and none of the blood, sweat, and tears that went before it). But I’m convinced that the Christian life was a struggle for him too (but that’s just my opinion).
My point here is that all of these “heroes of the faith” were just regular people that God chose to use, because that is how he wanted to accomplish his will. Beyond that, they are all dead. The reason we know about them is because their names are written in a book (an inspired book, but a book nonetheless). They did their thing, and then they died. And life went on, and God then used someone else. Just like we will do our thing, and then we will die. And God will continue to use others to work out his plans for the church.
In the past, people believed in the geocentric theory, that the sun revolved around the earth. We now know that the heliocentric theory is correct, that the earth revolves around the sun. Being earth-bound it is easy to feel that the universe still revolves around us. But studying the universe will quickly help us realize that the earth is just a speck in space. Even within just our solar system, Jupiter is huge compared to Earth; 1300 Earths could fit inside it–that’s mind boggling.
In like manner, God’s plans for his Church do not revolve around me or even my local church. Studying God’s work in history and in the Old Testament and meeting believers from around the world have helped me see this. I am a speck in God’s cosmic plan for the church.
Of course, the earth is the only planet with life, so it is an important little speck in God’s cosmos. And Christ died for me and I am “his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand” (Ephesians 2:10), so I had better walk worthy of my calling. But I will do so within the framework of being a mere speck in God’s plan for the Church and his glory.