It’s a great word, particularly at the start of a New Year, when we long to see what God is doing (or what he might want to do) in our lives.
Because it can be easy to miss – or misunderstand – what he’s up to. It can be hard, sometimes, to realize that he is accomplishing his purposes, right in front of our eyes. For instance, when the woman poured a jar of very expensive perfume on Jesus, his disciples objected. How much better, they thought, it would have been to sell the precious ointment and give the money to the poor.
“Why this waste?” they wanted to know.
U.Va. cornerback Bryce Hall could have asked the same thing. A solid NFL prospect and the team’s defensive star, Hall considered bypassing his senior year in favor of the draft but sensed God calling him to return to Virginia. Midway through the season, though, he suffered a freakish injury that ended his college football career.
Once the shock wore off, it would have been oh-so-easy for Hall to take up a mantle of confusion. He could have grown bitter in the midst of the pain. Angry, even. Nobody would have blamed the All-American had he looked at God and said something like, “I trusted you, God. I did what I thought you wanted me to do. What a waste.”
But…that’s not how Hall saw things.
The Power of Perception
“The word I’ve been (coming back to) in this process is perception,” Hall told a reporter, in a lead-up to this week’s Orange Bowl. “Are you going to get bitter or are you going to see the lessons that are in this and know that everything happens for a reason and that God works all things out for our good?”
Hall was referring to one of the best-known verses in the New Testament, Romans 8:28, which promises that God works in all things – even the confusing, painful, and unwanted stuff – for the good of those who love him.
In Hall’s case, some of that good is already taking shape. He’s forged a closer bond with the team chaplain, grown in his relationship with the U.Va. coaches, and emerged as an even stronger team leader. Plus, thanks to the extra free time in his schedule, Hall started dating a U.Va. field hockey player who shares his Christian faith.
(What’s not to love about that?)
Even more significant, though, is Hall’s deepening relationship with the Lord.
“When I said that about the Lord calling me back,” he said, “we have our own plans and our own ideas of what that might mean, but ultimately he’s the one. He sees everything and he knows what’s best for us.
“I feel like through this injury, it’s brought me a lot closer to him.”
Closer to Christ
Which, in a roundabout way, is the same thing that happened with Jesus and the perfume. Because rather than being “wasted” on him, it was used for the most exquisite of purposes. “Why are you bothering this woman?” Jesus asked the disciples. “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”
She did it to prepare me for burial.
She did it, in other words, so that all of us could one day be brought closer to Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but that’s the cry of my heart for the New Year. I want to be, to borrow Hall’s words, “brought closer” to Christ. And when circumstances or events leave me confused or hurting, I want God – the one who sees everything – to give me eyes to perceive his purpose in the pain.
(And to remind me that I can still trust him when I don’t.)
Which is, I think, the very thing that God wants for us, too. One of my favorite New Year scriptures – a passage I return to, year after year – is Isaiah 43:18-19:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”
In God’s hands, nothing is ever a waste.
I don’t know what pain you might be carrying from last year into this one, or where life has left you confused. But can I encourage you, as we turn the page on the calendar, to consider the fact that, in God’s hands, nothing is ever a waste? He uses it all – the good stuff and the bad – to accomplish good things in our lives.
So let’s ask God to open our eyes.
Let’s ask him to sharpen our perception.
And, most of all, let’s ask him to bring us closer to Christ.
Free us from our tendency to dwell on the past; open our eyes to the new thing that you are doing. You are making a way in the wilderness, pouring your Spirit into the dry places of our lives. Let us perceive it and proclaim your praise! (Isaiah 43:18-21)