We all know the adage: You can’t see the forest for the trees. (If you don’t know it, it basically means that you’re getting so bogged down in details that you’re missing the big picture.) Lately, though, I’ve noticed myself struggling with the reverse; missing the trees because of the forest.
I sometimes start to wax grandiose. I have epic visions and dreams of going to distant lands and building large communities of Christians and seeing cities and nations and the world turn to Jesus. It’s all a bit vague and idealistic. It’s not very nitty gritty or detailed. And I’ve begun to realize that while I’m in my room dreaming dreams and praying prayers there are a lot of people out there doing things and getting the dreams done. One person, one act at a time. I’m trying to sort out how I’m supposed to plant my forest while some people are planting trees. I bet their forests will be bigger in the end.
Everything kind of came to a head yesterday. I have been struggling to decide between two job opportunities. I had an interview with an engineering company – your standard 9 to 5 – lined up, and I had an offer for a temp job with the university in town. Also 9 to 5, but short term and maybe more flexible in the long run. In my head, the temp job represented the road less travelled and all sorts of nameless possibilities. It could allow time for the perfect job to come along in the next few months! I could make connections at the university, get my foot in the door for…something…there! It could give me time to figure out a part-time option or two so that I’d have a bit more flexibility with my life and could minister (doing…something…) more! The engineering job…meh. Been there, done that. I have to arrange my schedule around my job! I can’t just spend my time however I choose! My shapeless dreams would be indefinitely on hold! I felt pretty sure I knew what God wanted me to choose: the road less travelled. Obviously!
Then an unexpected thing happened, and my university job was taken off the table. And very suddenly I had to reassess. It’s just possible that my eagerness for the road less travelled is actually just my millennial tendencies. And my idea that my job should enable me to live my most fulfilling life saving the world while sipping small batch coffee and having a perfectly flexible schedule might be society talking. (I don’t even really drink coffee and the fact that it showed up in my image maybe should have been a clue.) Maybe, just maybe, I can actually make a difference and be right smack dab in the middle of God’s plan wherever I end up. Whether at a university or an engineering firm. Working full time or part time. Maybe I’m not sure about my ministry or dream job or anything right now because it’s not ready right now, and it’s fully ok for me to have a regular job in the meantime. Or maybe the big plan is whatever job I get “in the meantime.” Of course, I should be ready to move when God says, “Go!” But I don’t think He’s saying anything like that right now, so maybe I don’t have to be lined up at the starting line three years in advance. In fact, I think He might be saying “stay,” so I could end up wasting a lot of time sitting on that starting line while I could be doing other things. And I don’t know; I may get a regular engineering job or I may get a university job, or I may get something else. What kind of job I get isn’t really the point.
Back to our trees. I’ve been spinning my wheels pretty much all my life trying to figure out what meaningful plan God has for my life. But I think I’ve gotten meaningful confused with visible. How many souls did you save? How many lives did you noticeably transform? How many moves did you make, wells did you dig, destitute countries did you visit? But I think unless I can get the trees right, all my forests will be phantoms. In other words, if I can’t love the person in front of me at an engineering firm in Seattle, what makes me think I’ll be any better at loving the person in front of me in a tiny town in Zimbabwe? Need to learn to plant one tree, love one person, at a time.
At a prayer group last night we read the end of Acts 2.
Acts 2: 42 – 47 (ESV)
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
What struck me was the simplicity of this Christian life. This is following the day of Pentecost when, POOF! overnight they had a church. What did they do? Listened to the apostles, devoted themselves to the Word, spent time together, ate together, prayed together, shared generously with each other, invested in each other. In short, they loved each other. It looked a lot like friendship, a lot like family. I think we all want to be Pauls. I personally would like to be a Peter, he’s more my speed I think. But either way, we get carried away with the apostles, forgetting that they were about a dozen out of THOUSANDS. The daily life of most believers may look a lot more like real life than our idealistic dreams tell us. It may look like building friendships with our coworkers or the people we dance or climb or hike with. Like telling our friends about the gospel. Like giving generously to those around us; giving our time, our money, “our very souls.” Like looking around, seeing a need, and meeting it. It may look like meals and laughter together. Like prayers for a community member in need. Like waking up early to help a friend who calls in desperation. Like a good discussion about the Good Book.
What it probably doesn’t look like is missing out on all of those things right in front of me because I’m too busy chasing the elusive “more” that probably doesn’t exist. Or, more accurately, doesn’t exist as a thing you step into all at once, but is slowly grown from an accumulation of small acts of love. You have to plant trees to get a forest.