When I was in Ireland this past summer, my cousin and I took a couple of days in-between adventures to decompress, give our bodies a break, and rest. We’re both writers, so that looked like taking time to get quiet, put on headphones, get our notebooks and favorite pens out and write – poetry and stories for her, journaling and lists for me.
Using a journaling prompt from Rachel Hollis’ book, Girl, Wash Your Face, I took some time to write out a “list of accomplishments” to-date. The purpose of this exercise is to capture those defining moments in our lives – goals achieved and dreams realized – to remind us that even on the most ordinary and mundane of days, we still managed to do “x, y, and z,” and therefore have the capacity for even more great things in the future. It’s empowering. It’s motivating. It’s inspiring. But for me, it was also very humbling.
The process of writing out moments like graduation from a Big Ten University (twice), marrying my college sweetheart, buying our home in the woods, nailing Director position(s), writing/publishing a book, running half-marathons – among other things – caused me to reflect on the fact that I am just one person in a great BIG world. Each one of us has a unique journey with various milestones and accomplishments under our belts. And our individual stories blend into the tapestry of stories from those who lived before us and those who will come after us, with each life contributing something to the larger story God is writing for the world.
While I was focused on writing about the things I have done, I realized: God is on the move. He is at work. Every moment I’ve experienced in my life to-date has His handiwork all over it, with certain things (even challenge, pain and suffering ), preparing me for the next part of my journey. And more importantly – NONE of this is about me. It’s all about Him. It is because of Him and for Him that I have been able to do the things I have done, see the things I’ve seen, and go where I’ve been able to go (Ireland included).
Two of my favorite words in all of Scripture are “but God.” We see this in the stories where life for “so and so” was going one way, but God intervenes and the entire trajectory of their life changes far beyond anything they thought possible, “for nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).” Read the story of Saul’s Conversion in Acts 9:1-31, my personal favorite, and see how God changed this infamous persecutor of Christians into one of the most beloved disciples of Christ. Only God could do that.
We also hear testimonies about God’s intervention in the lives of people from those we know at school, in the workplace, and in our churches, and I’m sure most of us love books and movies with epic drama, where the main character is on a particular path, but then something happens that causes everything to change and be different and shift in ways the main character NEVER anticipated. This gets us excited. This pumps us up. This makes us want to believe that the same can be true for us and those we care about. And it can be because of those “but God” moments, where He intervenes (either by us inviting Him in or Him breaking through the walls we’ve built up) and sets us on the course He planned for us all along.
I can honestly say that I feel my life has been a series of “but God” moments. For example: I didn’t grow up in a Christian, church-going home, but God revealed Himself to me at a young age, provided me with spiritual mentors, and I’ve been following Him ever since. I didn’t want to go to MSU initially because it was “too close to home” and I felt it was “expected” of me, but God planted me there for my undergraduate and graduate studies, which led to an excellent education and meeting the man of my dreams. I didn’t think I’d ever get out of the pit of depression and panic disorder, but God put specific people in my life and gave me the tools and resources to overcome it, now allowing me to share my story openly and encourage others on their journey. I didn’t expect to move up the ladder professionally so quickly, but God orchestrated certain things to bring me to the place I am now, with the heart I have for others because of these things that I experienced (including a stint of unemployment). Only God.
I bet the same is true for you. If you look back at your story in depth enough, you will see how He’s been there for you at every turn, directing your steps and doing the unimaginable. It’s His way, friends.
The evidence of God’s work in the world can be seen all around us. Everything from the beauty of the natural world, the seasons changing, the birth of a child, a person being healed of a terrible disease, someone extending kindness and generosity to the least of these, relationships being restored, and other incredible things (including accomplishments and dreams fulfilled) – speak to who God is and what He is capable of. If I choose to be intentional and look hard enough, I can see God’s miracles in the smallest, simplest things that creation and human beings are doing on a daily basis. I love those moments when I recognize what He’s doing. It gives me hope and fills my cup. (I dare you to ask Him for the eyes to see more Him in your life and see what happens. It’s amazing what He’ll reveal and how He’ll draw your heart closer to Him.)
Of course the BEST “but God” story is that of His Perfect Son, Jesus Christ, who died an excruciating death via crucifixion, and three days later, ROSE TO LIFE from the grave, overcoming death, sin, and separation from God on our behalf FOREVER. He now sits in Heaven at the right hand of God and continues to live and move in, around, and with us through the gift of His Holy Spirit.
This story – this truth – is what we celebrate this weekend. This is the ultimate story of redemption and hope and salvation that our souls crave. And we get to have it. For those of us who declare Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, this is the reality we live in. Change and transformation – letting go of our shame, sin, and those things that entangle us and grabbing onto Him and what He has for us – is a FREE gift that requires nothing from us but belief and faith in Him. We don’t have to do anything to earn this. Striving ceases in His name and we live instead under a banner of GRACE. And out of that grace, amazing things happen in our lives and in the atmosphere around us.
I encourage you, friends, to turn your gaze to Him in the days ahead and let Him remind you of how far you’ve come and what only He could do in your life. What are your “but God” moments? What is your “but God” story? How has He made you who you are today and where has He brought you that you wouldn’t be in your own strength and power? Praise Him for this. And ask for Him to keep it up, to do it again. He is good. He is faithful. He longs to be in relationship with us and for our lives to glorify Him.
Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for His miraculous power constantly energizes you.
Now we offer up to God all the glorious praise that rises from every church in every generation through Jesus Christ – and all that will yet be manifest through time and eternity. Amen!”Ephesians 3:20-21, The Passion Translation