“Mary, I know what I’m going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next year and the year after that. I’m going to leave this little town far behind and I’m going to see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon…the Coliseum. Then I’m coming back here and I’ll go to college and see what they know and then I’m going to build things. I’m going to build air fields. I’m going to build skyscrapers a hundred stories high. I’m going to build bridges a mile long.”
So says George Bailey in the Frank Capra classic It’s a Wonderful Life. As it turns out, George is wrong. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next year and the year after that. As it turns out, what he is supposed to do tomorrow is pretty much what he did today. God’s plan for him is to do the ordinary thing. Which, of course, is the last thing that George wants to do. Because George Bailey wants to lasso the moon.
I thought about George Bailey last night when I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking about God’s will. I haven’t thought about God’s will for some time. Not seriously. Not in that obsessive way that I used to back when I was a college student, wondering about God’s plan for my future. I don’t think much about God’s will because, like George Bailey, I know what I’m going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next year. At least I think I do. Get up and go to work (if I ever fall asleep). Come home and have dinner with my wife. Take a walk. Try to think of something to write about in my blog. Goals that are, for the most part, pretty low on the horizon.
Here is the irony. I am doing everything I dreamed of doing back when I was in college. I am married to someone I love. Teaching, writing and preaching. But not in the way (and frankly not to the extent) that I imagined when I wondered what God’s plan for my life would look like. In those days I was aiming for the moon. God’s will, revealed through the constraints and necessities of ordinary life, have compelled me to lower my expectations. I wanted to expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. His agenda for me seems far more commonplace. This has not always been easy to accept.
In his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson recounts the story of the fourth century church father Gregory of Nyssa whose brother Basil had arranged for him to be made bishop of Cappadocia. “Gregory objected,” Peterson writes, “he didn’t want to be stuck in such an out-of-the-way-place. His brother told him he didn’t want Gregory to obtain distinction from his church but to confer distinction upon it.”
Is this not what Christ wants for us as well? To lower our sights and put away our lasso? To seek the good of the small places in which He has placed us and to confer distinction upon them by serving him with humility there? The path of glory is often an obscure one. It is the way of the cross. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8