Coming out of a Reformed view of the world in my early Christian formation, I believe that God has a plan for each of us, set within the context of his overall plan for humanity as a whole, and he is constantly working at the shaping of our lives, an image framed by Paul in Romans 9 as the potter working the clay to his satisfaction.
There are times that we feel that shaping, often between long times of apparent fallowness. That is not to say that God is not working in a constant and dedicated fashion, only that our understanding and experiencing of it as a real event are often few and far between. I think that is because we tend to only notice the moments when the stone moves, the crystal coalesces, or the joint locks in place. The extensive work that goes on in the background leading up to that pivotal moment usually passes inconspicuously, as if it were inconsequential. It is not.
Science speaks of change, even change that appears steady and gradual, as moving in quantum events, a sudden change in state or level. Those quantum changes in low level events, through their cumulative effect, add up to what appears as gradual movement. However, like fractals that exhibit the same construction or processes at different magnifications or levels of observation, there are quantum events, sudden changes at every level of our being. They build up at each level, eventually producing the energy to cause a quantum event at the level above and so one up the scale until something happens at a level we actually feel the event. To put it in another context, there is a lot of foundation building needed for any real observable change.That is why it often takes a long time to turn a life around or just to change something about ourselves we don’t like.
That said, sometimes things happen quickly. The life-changing moments are often filled with great energy, seen as overwhelming joy or breath-crushing pain. Birth and death can be such moments and I am not just talking about people, but also ideas, dreams, and hopes. There are powerful events that happen in our lives and they are moments of great energy and potential, for good and growth, and for evil and our destruction.
For the Christian, for the soul who has learned to hold onto the promises in Romans 8, these transcendent times, as well as the inexorable quantum events distributed throughout every moment along the way, are all working toward our good and nothing can separate us from the absolute agape of God. Every touch of the potter to the clay is purposed toward our becoming, creatively evolving into the vessel He has designed us to be.
Mixed in with my formative Calvinistic understandings is an Orthodox (Eastern Christian) view of our cooperative struggle to be part of that process. I think that synergy is best expressed biblically by Paul in Philippians.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13
Work out your own salvation (your cooperative effort)…God who works in you, both to will and to work (God’s sovereign potter’s hand)…with fear and trembling (keeping our contribution in proper perspective)…for his good pleasure (It is His plan, not ours).
This week I had a noticeable quantum event. I am still feeling the reverberations. However, it was a long time building, with an infinite number of smaller quantum occurrences building up to that singular moment. I can still see myself sitting there, the decision points flying past almost too fast, as I was faced with nexus point after nexus point in rapid sequence, each decision pointing to a more consequential one, and at any point I could have tumbled the whole construction, which had been building for a long time, into a mountain of debris.
God had been willing and working and I was called to work out at that moment of my salvation process, to make crucial decisions that would effect everything going forward for good or ill. Everyone’s life contains moments of decision; they come regularly. However, some of them can be life defining, at least for going forward from that moment.
Because of that, those moments are excruciatingly difficult. They are like our own Gethsemane’s, climatic culminations that determine everything going forward. With so much at stake (whether we realize it at the decisive moment or not), the stress, the difficulty, the shear resistance to make the right choice can be so threatening that the temptation to run away (denial) or prevaricate is almost unbearable.
I do not think it was an accident that when I was confronted with that moment this week, I took a moment to pray and ask God to take control of the situation, to guide my words and actions and to bring about the best possible result. God had been building me to this confrontation and by his loving mercy he gave me the grace to want to pray at that moment, what I now see as the deciding factor in the outcome.
When Peter was faced with his own failure and denial, I believe the thing that carried him through was Jesus’ assurance that he had prayed for him. In the same way, God’s merciful prompting of prayer carried me through that moment and my life is going to be different going forward. It was going to be different no matter what I did, but I believe now it will be as a refined vessel (still being shaped), not a broken effort (losing significant and hard-gained ground).
So dear brothers and sisters, when you face come face to face with those moments, those nexus points in your life, stop and pray; ask God to intervene and help you seek his path for your life. Then you, like Peter and the rest of the saints down through history, will be able to go forward and work through the difficult moments knowing that in praying, Jesus has also prayed for you, and you, like Paul, can do all things through him who gives you strength.
Grace and peace.