We Expect Too Little from God
When God comes to us, He brings more than we expect. Our expectations are tiny, His gifts large. We ask for a drop, He pours an ocean; for a morsel, He spreads a feast. Such is the difference between man and God. Despite the fact that our lives are supposedly so global these days, our worlds are minuscule, their circumferences not much bigger than the decorative globes we can spin with one finger. The global financial crisis is no bigger to us than the mortgage we may or may not be able to pay this month. Global communications no bigger than the phone call from a friend that may or may not come when we need it. My world is small, full of the continents of my emotions, the oceans of my fears, the mountains of my hopes and dreams. And nightmares.
I am perhaps not much different from Abraham. God Almighty appears to him, but all Abraham asks about is a baby. His baby, Sarah’s baby, the one still but a gleam in Abraham’s dreary eyes. “Tell me about this baby, God, my baby that You promised would come. And hasn’t. You tell me not to fear, but how is an old man not to fear that he will die childless? You tell me You are my shield, but can a shield arrest all these arrows of doubt? You tell me my reward shall be very great, but the only ‘reward’ I see is me dying and leaving my inheritance not to a son but to a servant. You promise me the world, but all I see is dust falling between my wrinkled fingers back to the earth that soon shall swaddle my bones.”
So God expands Abraham’s world. He takes him by the arm and ushers him outside. He points his eyes star-ward and tells him to do the arithmetic. “Put a number on those faraway suns, Abraham. Go ahead. So shall your descendants be.” Astronomy became theology. “You want a baby? Very well, then I’ll give you a child. And I’ll give him children, and those children more children, until the stars themselves shall blink in astonishment at the number of your offspring.”
You expect too little from God. He wants to give you the world, and you beg for a grain of sand. Perhaps it is cowardice; we shrink away from God’s godness and almightiness, and so shrink down our prayers. Perhaps it is a lack of faith; we don’t trust God to give what He himself has promised to give. Perhaps it is self-sufficiency; we want to take care of ourselves, for we suppose we’re just fine flying solo.
But God doesn’t appear to Abraham, or to you, as a tightfisted miser. He’s anything but that. To Abraham He promises a soon-to-be-born baby, a world of descendants, the Holy Land, and his family’s rescue from Egypt when that day comes. He’s going to give it all and then some, and then some more. And just when you think He’s all out, He’ll show up once again and surprise you with grace.
You may or may not believe this. But your belief or the lack thereof changes nothing. You can believe the earth is flat or that politicians will soon stop lying, but your belief won’t alter reality. Reality is that God is good. His goodness knows no bounds. Your unbelief will not bind Him. Your un-great expectations of Him will not bind him. He will be bound by no man from being good to that man, whether the man desires, expects, or curses the gift of God when it lands in his lap.
Abraham, bless him, was eager for something tangible by which to know the Lord would do what He promised. I can’t blame him. Even though taking God solely at His word is admirable, thankfully for us God makes that word visible. We are creatures of earth, and so in earthly guise our God comes to say, “See, I mean what I say.” To Abraham God appears as a smoking oven and flaming torch that passed through the bloody gauntlet of sacrifices that Abraham had hacked in two. A rather weird sight it must have been, but our God has been known to do some rather strange things. This was His way of making a covenant, a pact, with Abraham. As much as to say, “I’m as good as my word. And if I’m not, then may my fate be as one of these butchered beasts.” But God was to be no butchered beast because He does stick to His word, come hell or high water.
But, ironically, God was to become a baby, much like the baby He promised to Abraham. The Lord became His own promise—the gift-giver became the gift. And that gift is enough for you, for that gift is all there is. Abraham was to get his son, grandchildren, the Holy Land, the whole shebang. All we get is a baby, yet that baby is our world and much more. He made those stars that Abraham could not count. He knitted together in their mother’s wombs all those babies who would call Abraham father. He came to reveal, that God cannot stop giving the very best.
Jesus explodes our small conceptions of a small-giving God. There is no war within you that Jesus cannot end with peace. There is no wound in your soul so deep that He cannot heal it with His love. Your life may be as bloody and sickening as those cutup corpses through which God passed as the oven and torch, but God will still pass through. In fact, He’ll do better. He’ll stop in the midst of the slaughter your life has become and start putting you back together again. Only He can do that. And He does it well, for being good and doing good for you is what He’s all about.
Come outside and stand beside Abraham. Count those stars. So shall your gifts be. Go to the beach and count the grains of sand. So shall be the number of times God blesses you. Travel to Bethlehem and stand before the manger. There you shall see, in a new and living way, the oven and torch of God. That baby become man become sacrifice become victor become almighty king at the Father’s right hand—He shall pass through the bloody mess of your life and bring healing. He cannot do otherwise, for love compels Him to do only what is good for you. Love him, as Abraham did. Befriend him, as Abraham did. Believe in him, as Abraham did. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob shall be your shield, your very great reward.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!