You Might be the Center of the Universe, Afterall

Some days you just feel like crap.

Sometimes you feel like your life is going nowhere, that you’re stuck in some barren wasteland of a place, no one is paying any attention to you, your future looks bleak and hopeless. You may even feel like your life is cursed, that God has abandoned you, forgotten your name, and moved on to someone else. You feel done, finished, wiped out. And all you wanna do is scream.

Most of us have been there — and probably a lot of us are still there. But hey! Snap out of it. The game isn’t over yet, and the universe is about to stop just for you.

Here’s the Story …
I was reading through a familiar story about a guy who had three strikes against him, but who won in the end despite all his disadvantages. He was blind. He was a beggar. And he was stuck in a dump of a town that had a really bad history. And stranded there, all he could do was call out for help. But life didn’t pass him by; he was not forgotten by history, and in fact, his name is now famous, known around the world — well, at least in the church world, anyway.

One day Jesus and his crew were on a trek from the north country down to the big city of Jerusalem, and they had to pass through the town of Jericho. Everyone knew Jericho. It was on a main highway from the fertile Galilee to Jerusalem, and on the East-West route connecting the Transjordan region with the Judean hill country. Joshua and the refugees from Egypt had marched around it a thousand years before, and (as we all know) its “walls came tumbling down.” A curse was placed on anyone who dared rebuild that city (Josh 6:26), but it was situated at the mouth of one of the largest freshwater springs in the area, so curse or no curse, that little bit of real estate was not going to stay abandoned for very long. And Jesus and his team were passing through it on their way to some important business about to become the first Easter holiday.

This poor guy, sitting in his sweat, caked in dirt, probably stinking to high heaven, heard the commotion of Jesus’ entourage, and started raising a ruckus. He wanted some attention. He wanted some help. He was sick of where he was, and he wanted out. The crowd around him, preoccupied with the celebrity coming through town, did not appreciate the disruption. He was told in less than friendly terms to shut up and stop making a nuisance of himself. But the guy persisted. And Jesus stopped. Jesus turned around and told his crew to get him. Now that he had been recognized, the crowd changed its tune. “Cheer up. On your feet! He’s calling you.” The man threw his cloak aside, jumped to his feet, came to Jesus, and told him what he wanted. And Jesus gave it to him.¬†Immediately, the man was healed of blindness and joined Jesus on the road (Mk 10:46-52).

So what?
Here’s the point to that little drama. We all sometimes feel like we’re stuck in a rut, that life and our destiny has passed us by. And we may even feel like we’ve earned it, like we deserve to be there, that we made God angry at us, and this is our punishment, our curse. And now we’re in such a bad place we can’t even see our way out of it. We’re blind, we don’t even have any idea which way to go or what to do next. We feel like we’re rotting right where we stand. Our life is over. It seems hopeless. But Jesus stopped for that man. Even with all the things pressing on his mind, Jesus stopped to pay some attention to that insignificant, washed up, dirty and stinking, little man. And the future changed in that instant. Not only did that man get his sight, but his life was handed back to him. He got a new purpose, a new journey. And to this day, Bartimaeus’ name is recited by kids in Sunday Schools around the world. All because he called out and Jesus stopped.

It Ain’t Over
It ain’t over till it’s over. And it ain’t over. You may feel stuck in your Jericho. You may feel like you’re done, the game’s over, you’ve used up all your chances and you might as well just sit on the ground and scream. But Jesus stopped in that cursed town. He stopped for a single person. He interrupted his urgent schedule to breathe life back into a seemingly worthless individual. And everything changed. The man threw his coat aside, he dropped the baggage from his past, embraced his future, and a new stage of his life began.

You may have to do the same. You may have to call out — even to the point of becoming a nuisance to those around you who think they have their acts together. But you won’t be ignored — not by the guy who has the power to restore your life, your vision of the future, your purpose. You may have to stop being so passive. You may have to exert the energy to throw off that heavy cloak you’ve been carrying around, that old stuff that weighs you down and ties you to your past. There may be something required of you to help take those first steps into your new life. But “cheer up. He’s calling you.” You’ve caught the eye of the King of Creation — and right now, that makes you the center of the universe. And your story is¬†just beginning.

Throw Out Your Map

man_mapDespite all my efforts, I am not the master of the universe. And, in fact, although I can certainly influence the direction of my life, I’m not even master over my own destiny.

That’s kinda tough news for a guy. I was at a men’s bible study last night, and of the nine of us there, most of us had come to this sad conclusion also. Well, perhaps not so sad. For most of us there, it was actually a liberating revelation. (Although I admit, I’m still working to reach that state of contentment.) For the most part, we all tended to be controllers, decision-makers, problem-solvers, fixers. We wanted to impose our order on the situations around us, and make things “right” (at least “right” as we saw it). And maybe that’s a basic human characteristic, not just a guy-thing.

Speaking solely for myself here, I can tell you that trying to be master of your own destiny is exhausting work. And it’s frustrating when reality refuses to conform to your wishes. Most of us at the meeting had come to the conclusion that, contrary to what we tended to think, our way was not always the best way — and certainly not the only way — of doing things. And we don’t have to be in charge all the time. The liberation occurs when we realize that God is actually the grand orchestrator of our lives, and that the best place to be in life is in surrender and cooperation with his plans. If we could do that, we could (almost) sit back a bit and try to enjoy the ride.

This is not an attitude of complete passivity, of course. That’ll get you nowhere. We all have to put some muscle into it, to throw our efforts and energies toward the direction we feel God would lead us. But ultimately the final destination, the final results, are not up to us. Sometimes, if we spend enough time soul-searching and pressing God, we’ll get a glimmer of what our final destination looks like, but it is almost never reached by the way we anticipate or plan. Like that old saying, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, all we can do it take that next step that is right in front of us, pursue it whole-heartedly, and wait for the next step after that to reveal itself.

I remember one time, a long time ago when I was working for a theological journal in Israel, a woman wrote in asking us to pray that God would show her his will for her life. My first reactive thought was “yeah, you and me both, sister.” But then as I sat quietly for a moment staring at her letter, words in a quiet whisper broke clearly in my mind: “look where you’re at right now. That’s where it begins.”

We can become so lost trying to see through the fog of the future, trying to see the road all the way from where we are to the end the journey. But we’re never shown the entire path. And perhaps that’s an act of mercy on God’s part. If we knew in advance everything we would encounter, we might get overwhelmed, lose heart, and never even want to venture out. And perhaps it’s because that is the nature of our quest: we’re supposed to live in the present, in the here and now, and trust God as we go. Will we trust God — will we have the guts — to take that next step, not knowing exactly what we’re stepping into or what might happen there or where it will lead us to next?

It is a futile effort to try to map out the trip from beginning to end. (And where would the fun be in that?) Our single responsibility is take that next step, whatever it is revealed to be. Our only concern should be to say “yes” and then to dedicate ourselves to that task at hand — not trying to figure it all out. The path will be stretched out before us, but we can only take it — and only see it — one step at a time.

Guys hate asking for directions. We like to know the way and every leg of it. But if we want to finally end up where we’re supposed to be, if we want to have a successful and exciting journey, we have to begin by first throwing out our maps.