Have you ever wondered why two people can have the same experience but come away from it with two totally different impressions? Have you ever marveled at how one person can lose their job and end up with a degree and a better career, while another person loses their job and just ends up out of work and bitter?
I got a lesson in the difference on Wednesday. Laura and I had such a fantastic night that night! We went to ACU’s President’s Banquet to hear a speech by President Bush, who was funny and engaging and honest. We had a great time, and I think that the ACU community was honored by it.
Even better than that was a big lesson that the President shared with us. His speech was about taking his faith with him into the Oval Office, and in the middle of his speech he told a story about going to Rwanda. (oh man, did my ears perk up when he started talking about Rwanda!!) He got to meet 15 or 16 children there who had lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
Now, put yourself in those children’s shoes. They are in an incredibly poor country and have the additional burden of losing their parents to AIDS. They have, quite literally, nothing. They were orphans, destitute and many would say hopeless.
President Bush said that he wondered what to say as he walked by them, and for some reason decided to say to them, “God is good.” Their response to him was to say in unison, “All the time!” Think about that a moment…these children had more excuse than anyone to be upset at God and to have a terrible attitude, and yet their immediate response to the statement “God is good” is to reply, “All the time!”
Wow. What makes the difference? It’s all in the angle. These kids didn’t see God through the lens of their problems. Instead, they saw their problems through the lens of their God. And that is a major difference between a life of frustration, anger, and loneliness and a life of resilience and success.
Sometimes, we look at God through the “lens” of our problems:
Our problem stands between us and Jesus, so our problem “frames” or provides the “lens” through which we see God. This is what happens when life gets unfair and it makes us question God’s character based on our experience. (I did this some after my car wreck) We say,
“How can God be good if this has happened to me?”
“I feel lonely, which means that God must not be there.”
“This financial disaster must mean that God doesn’t care, because if He cared this wouldn’t happen.”
On the other hand, we can instead see our problem through the lens of God:
In this scenario, we see our problem through the lens of our God and His character affects the way we view our problem. This is what Paul is really talking about in the famous passage in Philippians 4:12-13:
“I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. ” (Philippians 4:12–13, NAS)
He saw his problems through the lens of the God he served, not the other way around! By looking at life through the lens of Jesus Christ, Paul found the stability to weather the storms of life. Through looking at life through Jesus and His character, Paul put his problems in an eternal perspective. This is exactly what the kids in Rwanda said to President Bush, and as I considered this today it seems to me that this was instrumental to me recovering emotionally from my wreck as well.
So how do you build a view of the world that looks at problems through the lens of God and not vice versa?
- Put God’s Word inside of you. You won’t know God’s character if you don’t get your nose in the book! Recognize His goodness, His love, His justice, and His mercy in there. Soak in His character; breathe it in and accept who He says He is.
- Whatever circumstance you come to, ask God how to see it in light of who He is rather than letting it determine who you think He is. I had to do this with my wreck a lot, because it seemed pretty cruddy to me. I had to ask God many times to show me how His goodness was reflected in my wreck.
- Reflect on God’s character and, without getting all churchy and sloganeering, rest in God’s character when life gets tough. Don’t ignore your problems, but put them in perspective in light of who God is. When injustice happens to you, remember that God is just and will make all things just. When someone hurts you, remember that God is love and their unloving actions do not make God unloving.
- Apply God’s character to the problem you’re facing. If you can’t see how it applies, then ask God (repeatedly if necessary!) to show you where and how His character comes to bear on the situation.
This approach won’t make your problems go away automatically; it won’t pay bills, or stop the loneliness, or erase the abuse. However, it will keep those problems from becoming overwhelming and train you to see Him first and your problems second.
Has there been a time when this kind of approach has helped you? How has seeing your problems through God’s character made the experience different for you?