We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
-Paul, Romans 5:3-5
I recently re-watched the delightful and bizarre film Evan Almightywith my kids. The short recap is that God (Morgan Freeman) calls a newly elected politician (Steve Carrell) to leave his high status job to build an ark in the middle of a housing subdivision. Like a modern day Noah. I know. It’s a plot leap. You should probably watch it yourself to understand. That’s not my point. This call from God comes after Evan’s wife prays and asks God for their family to come closer together.
But it doesn’t exactly work. After Evan finally caves in and begins making the ark, acting a little bit nuts, everyone deserts him. He becomes a laughing stock at his job. Television networks mock him on the evening news. Even his own wife leaves with the kids because she can’t handle his delusions.
When Evan’s wife is away, God shows up looking like a waiter to chat with her in her distress at a restaurant (Morgan Freeman is fabulous, by the way).
He listens, and then he asks her a few questions…
(watch it here)
If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience?
Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient?
If he prays for courage does He give them courage, or opportunities to be courageous?
If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings?
Or does he give them opportunities to love each other?
Really good point, God—er, Mr. Freeman.
I'm not suggesting that Evan Almighty is a helpful crash course in theology (though you could do worse). But I was reminded that perhaps we sometimes misunderstand the process of being shaped by God. It’s not random magic. It’s a partnership.
Opportunities are all around us. Life is hard. Things can get discouraging. But as we bow our heads and pray for God to change us- giving us more humility, more patience, more strength, more courage… we need to also lift our heads and look around, so that we see the holy moments that give opportunity to practice what we’ve been praying for. God wants to form us, but it will only happen with our movement too.
Of course, we don’t believe that God is the author of the heartache in our lives, or the source behind our struggles. But the beauty of God’s redemptive character is that in God’s economy, nothing is wasted. Even our greatest trials can be transformed by God into opportunities for us to become more like Jesus. In fact, it could be argued that those hard experiences are the most transformative times of all.
After the restaurant scene, Evan’s wife decides to return home, and the family shares quite an adventure building a 300 cubit long ark! Laughter, exhaustion, and bonding ensue. God provided the opportunity. But the response was still up to people. I’ll let you watch the movie on Netflix to see if the flood ever comes.
Today, keep an eye out for holy opportunities for you to become what you’ve been asking for. God’s Spirit will empower you… but you’ll still have to make the move. Thankfully, Jesus will be with you the whole way.
Jesus, help me notice the opportunities you give me today to be formed in your character.