In the movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal plays a man in the midst of a midlife crisis. He wakes up on his 40th birthday, depressed and despondent. When his wife asks him the cause of his despair he says, “Do you ever look in the mirror and realize, this is as good as I’m ever gonna look, as good as I’m ever gonna feel, as good as I’m ever gonna do, and it ain’t that great?”
This week in my devotional time with the Lord, I was faced with a similar question. First I was led to read 2 Corinthians 12:7–10, a familiar passage where Paul says something about a thorn in his flesh that torments him and God’s all-sufficient grace. I am sure you have read it. I have read it a thousand times. I have quoted it in sermons. I claimed to understand it. I thought I did.
After reading that well-known passage, I found myself confronted with this question: What if God appeared to you today and told you, “This is as good as it is going to get.”?
There are two sides to that question. One side deals with my external circumstances, and it includes the sub-questions:
“What if I never write a book?”
“What if I never lose those last 10 pounds?”
“What if I never plant a church?”
“What if I never own a house?”
“What if I never see a revival in France?”
“What if I never run a marathon?”
In essence, “What if I never realize my dreams?”
The other side of that question deals with my internal circumstances: my desires for those things. If I truly understand the premise of the question, then it means that I must consider the possibility that I will never achieve more in life, and yet I will continue to live with the constant longing to achieve more. What if I must wrestle for the rest of my life with the reality of never succeeding to realize certain dreams, while never losing my desire for those dreams to come true?
THAT is what it would look like if this (my life and circumstances today) is as good as it is going to get.
I guess I always imagined that God either fulfilled desires or freed us from them. That was not Paul’s experience. We know that he desired for the thorn in his flesh to be removed—and God did not satisfy that desire. In response, Paul did NOT write, “So eventually, that thorn in my flesh stopped bothering me. I learned to like it. I totally lost my desire for it to be removed.” He just tells us what God told him: My grace is sufficient.
In the past, I took these words to mean, “God will help me endure for a while,” or “God will make this better one way or another.” Now I realize the shallowness of such an understanding. “What if this is as good as it is going to get?” means “What if you must live the rest of your life longing for something, never getting it, and never losing your desire for it?”
“What if you write 754 manuscripts and not one gets published?”
“What if you see hundreds of ways and places to plant churches and you never get to plant one?”
“What if the ideas, the visions, and the potential, haunt you every single day of your life, but you never see the fruit of those dreams?”
Is God’s grace sufficient?
Is God’s grace truly sufficient to fill in the wide, gaping gulch between the deepest desires of my heart and the possibility that those desires will never, ever be granted? Would I welcome such a grace? A grace that quiets the screaming, thrashing child—not by giving in to her desires, but by offering itself in their place?
I have often heard it said that if a desire goes unfulfilled then it was not God’s will. While it may be true that it was not God’s will for that thing to happen, it does not necessarily mean that it was not God’s will for me to desire it. God desires for all to come to faith, but we know that not everyone comes to faith. Even God has unfulfilled desires.
This idea, the idea that God would will for us to live (suffer!) with unfulfilled desire, flies in the face of the “gospel” that is so prevalent today. We want to believe that we can have God, and all our wishes will come true. At the very least, we want to believe that God’s mercy would compel Him to relieve us of those desires that He does not intend to satisfy. God could (and should!) help us to not want the stuff that He does not plan to give us.
Today I finally understand that it does not work that way. When God told Paul, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness, God was telling him, “This is as good as it is going to get. I am more concerned with perfecting my power in you, and you need this weakness to know my power.” Now this is the thing I never saw before: grace—that all-sufficient grace—is the Source of the perfect power. The wider and more desperate the gap between my deepest desires and their possible fulfillment, the more space that grace has to fill. That is why Paul can respond, Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Suddenly, I am feeling tender toward my unfulfilled desires. I am no longer seeing them as problems to be solved or regrets to be nursed. I am seeing them as repositories for grace. This does not mean I stop striving in faith. It means that whether my desires are fulfilled or unfulfilled, I will recognize God’s grace in the outcome.
If this is “as good as I’m ever gonna look, as good as I’m ever gonna feel, as good as I’m ever gonna do,” I trust that God will fill the cavern of my longings with the abundance of His grace.
His grace is sufficient.
Originally published here on January 17th, 2015. Adapted for Thrive.
Question to consider: Is God’s grace truly sufficient to fill in the wide, gaping gulch between the deepest desires of my heart and the possibility that those desires will never, ever be granted? And would I welcome such a grace? A grace that quiets the screaming, thrashing child not by giving in to her desires, but by offering itself in their place?