Sometimes our lives can be radically transformed by a monumental or traumatic event. Sometimes the death of a loved one wakes a person up to realities previously unconsidered. Sometimes a divorce causes a person to begin asking questions they weren’t before. Sometimes a positive life experience like marriage or becoming a parent radically shifts the trajectory of one’s life.
However, it’s been my observation that it’s not the monumental or traumatic events that influence us most. Rather, our daily decisions and reactions over a long period of time possess far more power to shape our lives. This is why the ordinary matters.
The decision to use that 10 minute gap in your day to pray or read Scripture instead of surf social media over a long period of time will prove to be deeply formative. The repeated reactions over the course of a year not to flip out over the unexpected hurdles you encounter impact the condition of your soul. The ordinary, more than the extraordinary, shapes your life.
This is illustrated in countless ways throughout God’s creation. Think of a jagged pebble placed in a gently flowing stream. What will that pebble look like in a week? Probably the same. However, what will that pebble look like in 10 years? It will probably be smooth; the sharp edges worn away by the persistent, but ordinary movements of water. Our lives are shaped much the same way.
So pay attention to the ordinary. Our daily decisions and reactions over a long period of time are powerfully influential.
Not every encounter with God is pleasurable. Sometimes we have a romanticized view of fellowship with God. But the famous story of Jacob wrestling with God offers us a more nuanced perspective. Sometimes God doesn’t come to us in order to encourage us, but to pick a fight with us.
Jacob has been a conman. He’s deceived his father and brother which has led to his alienation from his family. God has commanded Jacob to return home. But before he arrives, Jacob spends the night in an hours long duel with some “thug.”
I don’t know how long it took before Jacob realized he had been ambushed by God, but once he does, the “man” lightly touches Jacob’s hip and the match is over. It’s within this context Jacob’s name is changed to ‘Israel.’ Why?
A name change signifies more than a change in title. It signifies a change of identity. Something happened in Jacob’s heart. He goes from conman to reconciler. God ambushed Jacob and made him endure a stressful and painful fight in order to reform him.
God wants to transform your life too. Where you are now isn’t where God wants you to stay. But in order to bring about the kind of transformation God wants, sometimes he’ll ambush you. Sometimes God comes to you not to comfort you, but to disturb you, ruffle your feathers, bring pain into your life. He’s not doing it to destroy you. He’s doing it to change you. So where’s the encouragement?
There was someone else who fought with God, but instead of walking away with a sprained hip, was completely destroyed. On the cross, Jesus endured the wrath of God against sin. Why? So we wouldn’t have to. Jesus endured the fight of all fights so all we have to contend with are the ‘sprains’ of God’s transformational discipline. The next time God picks a fight with you remember, he’s not out to get you. Jesus took care of that for us. He’s out to change you.
I love being a part of Alliance Bible Church! One of the reasons I’m so encouraged by our church is the gospel-centered focus that is intensifying. This is reason to celebrate!
Having grown up in the church and having spent a lot of time with other pastors, I can testify that many people will be studying their Bibles this Sunday, but completely missing the gospel. Just because the church teaches from the Bible doesn’t mean it is clearly presenting the gospel of grace in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This shouldn’t surprise us. It happened in Jesus’ time as well.
Turning to the Jewish leaders of his day, Jesus said, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). These leaders were studiously studying the Scriptures, but missing Jesus and the gospel. What a tragedy!
So if you will be in a church this weekend that clearly communicates the gospel of grace in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, give thanks to God for it! No church is perfect. Each has its own warts and flaws. But if Jesus and the gospel are preached, be willing to overlook those other things. Rejoice that what matters most is elevated in your church!