Rather than trying to write God into our stories, we would be wiser to sit patiently with our Father and let him tell us his. We would surely find ourselves in his story and learn that we are not defined by our hurts or our sins, as we may have believed. As he tells us his story, we must be willing to let go of the stories we’ve told to make sense of our lives. We must let his story rewrite ours and sweep us up into something much greater than ourselves.
God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.
The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes and precautions – to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time to be ‘good’. We are all trying to let mind and heart go their own way – centered on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.
The means by which sinners are evangelized, the gospel word and the gospel community, are the means by which sinners are discipled. We continue to “evangelize” as Christians because it continues to be the gospel message with which we exhort and encourage one another. The good news that gives life is the good news that transforms, while the community that incarnates gospel truth for the sinner is the community that incarnates gospel truth for the saint.
If you should ask me to state in one phrase what I regard as the greatest defect in most Christian lives I would say that it is our failure to know God as our Father as we should know Him. That is our trouble, not difficulties about particular blessings. The central trouble still is that we do not know, as we ought to, that God is our Father. Ah yes, we say; we do know that and believe it. But do we know it in our daily life and living? Is it something of which we are always conscious? If only we got hold of this, we could smile in the face of every possibility and eventuality that lies ahead of us.
When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it-the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.
Churches centered on the gospel aggressively go for the heart, not for behavior. Morality, or good behavior, is not the goal of godly parenting nor the goal of sound children’s ministry. A changed heart is. Obedience or morals may be the result, but a changed heart must be the goal. A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable. A church that goes after a child’s behavior and not the child’s heart is shepherding that child in opposition to the gospel. Children can be taught how to behave without hearts impacted by Jesus, but the “good behavior” that results will only last for a season because it lacks the power of inner transformation.
The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him to not be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.