My brother-in-law Garrett just got his driver’s permit, which means that he is now legally able to drive in the state of Maryland as long as another licensed adult is in the passenger seat. That licensed adult “privilege” happened to fall on both me and my wife this past weekend: which turned out to be…very interesting.
To his credit, Garrett actually did pretty good (he may have been a little too close to the white line), but this experience resonated with an illustration J.I. Packer uses in his book Knowing God where he compares learning to drive a car to living a life of wisdom:
“What matters in driving is the speed and appropriateness of your reactions to things and the soundness of your judgment as to what scope a situation gives you. You do not ask yourself why the road should narrow or screw itself into a dogleg wiggle just where it does, nor why the van should be parked where it is, nor why the driver in front should hug the crown of the road so lovingly; you simply try to see and do the right thing in the actual situation that presents itself. The effect of divine wisdom is to enable you and me to do just that in the actual situations of everyday life.
“To drive well, you have to keep your eyes skinned to notice exactly what is in front of you. To live wisely, you have to be clear-sighted and realistic—ruthlessly so—in looking at life as it is. Wisdom will not go with comforting illusions, false sentiment, or the use of rose-colored glasses. Most of us live in a dream world, with our heads in the clouds and our feet off the ground; we never see the world, and our lives in it, as they really are. This deep-seated, sin-bred unrealism is one reason why there is so little wisdom among us—even the soundest and most orthodox of us. It takes more than sound doctrine to cure us of unrealism: There is one book in Scripture that is expressly designed to turn us into realists, that is the book of Ecclesiastes.”
Reading this, I realized that Packer was describing me. I am an idealistic man with perfectionistic tendencies, often spending my time in a “dream world” rather disconnected from reality. I frequently find myself “waiting” for some sort of nameless change to come and zap my life into ecstatic, eternal purpose. I often expect God (maybe unconsciously) to do majestic miracles in my life or transform me in some magnificent way to do something truly BIG for him.
So I find myself waiting for God to do something. Maybe He will give me that one opportunity where I can really make a difference. Maybe He will finally give me that crystal clear calling which would describe in detail what He wants me to do with my life. And then—then I will find meaning and everything will make sense.
But here I am. I am still waiting; and waiting at much detriment to the present. I have seen myself become tired with the monotony of reality. Dissatisfied with the boring routine of things. I have grown frustrated with the unspectacular methods God uses in our lives. And I find myself lacking joy, because I am not there yet (wherever there is) or because I feel that I am not yet doing anything of significance. All the while, I am just waiting for magic to fall from heaven.
But this attitude is so debilitating to a Christian life that is to be lived to the fullest in the present. And if we have any desire to be effective Christians who have any retention of joy in our lives, we had best drink the likely bitter cup of reality sooner rather than later.
This means confronting life like Packer describes. Like my brother-in-law Garrett learning to drive a car, we too must be looking at the road immediately ahead and making decisions based on what is in front of us. This means we must not be wasting time asking why things are the way they are, or conjecturing what could have been, or even wishing for what might be just around the corner; only reading what is at hand, and responding accordingly with as much sense and wisdom as God has provided. Not everything is revealed to us. In fact most is not, and our job as Christians remains to trust in the wisdom of God and take one step at a time.
Of course this does not mean we should ever stop desiring supernatural intervention in our lives. Nor does it mean that we sell God short and stop praying God-sized prayers which expect Him to move mountains in our world. Such a desire for God’s divine intrusion is not, I believe, in conflict with living a life of realistic wisdom. We can live with a focus on the present, even a "ruthlessly clear-sighted" mindset, while at the same time seeking and praying for God to work with power in our midst--holding the two in a sort of tension. We can respond with joy when the supernatural is observable in our lives, and we can also respond with joy when there are no "fireworks" because we know that God is working in all things--even those ordinary things.
Only let us not find ourselves wallowing when much of life is found to be commonplace and mundane, or when God's methods are cloaked in normalcy and are not the lightning bolt spectacles we would so prefer. And most importantly: may our desire for the supernatural never paralyze us from acting in the present moment, for it is a gift and we are not guaranteed tomorrow.
Packer, J. I. Knowing God. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, Illinois. 2011. Kindle Edition (Loc 1504-1515)