His ways are not my ways— it feels like the theme of my life these days. Maybe I expected to surrender and to be dramatically changed, overnight, into the image of Jesus. Wouldn’t that bring Him the greatest glory?
Everything that seems logical and sensible to my human way of thinking is exactly the opposite of what God does. And so the things I want– even pray for– are often exactly the opposite of God’s best plan, His good ways. Maybe that’s why it takes a lifetime of progress from faith to faith and glory to glory before most of us are ready to stand before Him. He’s not just changing our actions or our appearance. He is changing the very fabric and beliefs of our hearts. He changes our thoughts, our minds, our motivations, our desires, our way of looking at the world. Everything shifts and changes and we realize just how far we have been from the reality of everything.
We are called to a life of topsy-turvy living, opposed to the world’s way of life, opposed to what comes naturally, what sounds right to our logical minds. Sin didn’t just bring death into the world; it separated us from God by throwing everything out of whack, like a fun-house mirror. Imagine if you always saw everything through the wavy distortions of one of those confusing mirrors; if every person you saw, everything that ever happened, was seen with that kind of distortion. And then imagine one day someone came and took that warped lens away and allowed you to see with perfect clarity.
Wouldn’t the reality be confusing and seem wrong? Wouldn’t your mind struggle to grasp what your eyes were seeing? Wouldn’t you long for, at least some of the time, the ability to see the way you used to see, the way everyone around you still was seeing?
I think that sometimes God’s ways just seem plain wrong to us, because we have become so used to looking through a distorted lens. I think of the teachings of Jesus and the way He completely threw the foundational beliefs of the religious leaders into complete disarray, not just with His words, but with His actions.
He didn’t just say Love your enemies; He did it in the most audacious way imaginable– While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
He didn’t just say Do good to those who hate you; He did it– offering His own life in payment for the sin of those who spat upon Him and held Him in highest contempt.
He didn’t just say Bless those who curse you; He blesses us with every spiritual blessing, even though we would have stood in the crowd at the cross and hurled mockery and curses just like the mob did, if we had been given the chance.
He didn’t just say Pray for those who abuse you; He cried out in the agony of His death– Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Whatever our standard of love and justice are without Christ, they are entirely warped and broken. We can only see the reality of love and justice at the cross, and it is seldom what we expect.
A God who loves me enough to sacrifice His own Son on my behalf has the right to ask anything of me, and can be trusted to ask only good. He has the right to take away the things that I love, because He knows what is best for me and has it in His hand, ready to give. I clutch my dreams and my hopes and my plans and my cherished vices and the gifts He has given me and I say These are mine, and because my hands are clenched in fists around what I think is so important I cannot receive what He has that is so much better.
I want God to do things my way; that’s what it comes down to. I want my relationships to go the way I expect. I want my children to behave the way I think they should. I want my service to yield the crop I desire in a time that seems reasonable to me. I want my day to happen according to my plans. All these things seem good to me, like if God allowed them He would be showing real love to me.
But His ways are not my ways. He sees infinitely beyond my comprehension. He sees the goodness of a gift that seems hateful to me. He sees the sweet that comes from the bitter, the fruit that comes after long seasons of seemingly fruitless labor. He sees life that comes from death. He offers a yoke that is easy and a burden is light. He frees us so that we can be bound to Him instead. He offers abundant life in desert places and eternal life at the scene of violent, horrific death. He says we must lay down our lives to gain them and leave all to gain all. He says we are blessed when we are persecuted, given the privilege to suffer as Christ did.
None of this makes sense as long as we insist on being conformed to the world’s way of thinking. But as our minds our renewed by the Spirit of God and the Word of God, our very way of looking at the world is transformed– everything is transformed. Slowly, slowly, sometimes with such painful slowness that we feel like we must be going backwards, we begin to see life and others and the world the way God sees. We begin to understand, in ways we can’t always explain, how a life of spiritual battle is also a life of rest and peace. We begin to see how Paul could rejoice in his chains and how Jesus could offer a burden that is light and how much better it is in the desert with God than it is in a paradise without Him. And we begin to see that there is no paradise without Him anyway, and to long for His presence and His face and His reality more and more.
His ways are not our ways. There is no worse news for our flesh and our comfort zone and our placid apathy. But there is no better news for the life of our souls.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.