Our parents frequently hosted visiting evangelists in our home. I vividly remember these extroverted, often flamboyant, personalities. One was fond of saying he had four great loves: “God, guns, girls, and golf.” The girls were his wife and four daughters. He collected fine rifles. Golf was his rest from the rigors of the road.
I played golf during my junior and senior years of high school. I was the sixth man on a six-man team, until I shanked five-iron shot into the nose of my team-mate who had unwisely gotten in front of me in our rush to finish the last hole. For my sins I was moved up to his fifth man position, while he recovered, and lost more matches than I would have playing sixth.
One day after hitting a disappointing drive, and responding (inwardly) with appropriate verbal dismay, the thought came into my mind: “Mark, God doesn’t care how well you hit the ball.” Then: “He does care how you respond to it.”
I remember a strange mix of emotions followed these musings. How well I performed in an endeavor was secondary to my response. Pressure to perform diminished on one side, while a higher and intriguing standard emerged on the other.
My control over my performance was always somewhat limited by my skills, certainly, and there were always the unexpected variables. But my responses were totally in my hands alone. What’s more I sensed that I could always count on a some degree of grace to enable a godly response, no matter what.
I found consolation knowing that no matter how poorly I performed it was possible to salvage a win–maybe even a better win. At the time I did not realize that I had stumbled on something like the Stoic maxim” “Misfortune nobly borne is good fortune.”
There was more to this than simply not cursing or blaming or indulging in self-pity. Often the right response to poor performance is more practice, which will bring better results. But I was learning to see my performance in light of something much more significant–my relationship with God.
This might be near what Paul meant when He wrote about doing everything — even the most mundane– to the glory of God. One of the greatest freedoms we are offered in Christ is the realization that there are no circumstances in which it is impossible for us to glorify God, or to please Him. Even when we fail completely, or are most painfully and unfairly failed, we can please Him with our response.
When this sinks in it brings a sense of something close to invincibility. It adds a layer of nuance to the assurance that “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Normally (and perhaps correctly) we interpret “the love of God” as God’s love for us. But it is just as true of our love for Him. Nothing but our own choice can prevent us from offering our circumstances, wretched or glorious, to Him in love.
The notion that God is aware of both our performance and our response is actually secondary to the idea that God is aware, period. Aware of me! This is beautifully expressed in the Collect for Guidance:
O heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray thee so to guide and govern us by thy Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget thee, but may remember that we are ever walking in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
My mother taught me a simpler version of this when I was about three years old and developing my capacity to escape her field of vision: “God sees Mark,” she said. She called it a “Bible verse” and had me memorize it. After an incident with a whole package of purloined chewing gum she came out with the Amplified Version: “God sees Mark, in the closet.”
A Sunday school song taught us that “the Father up above is looking down in love.” Perhaps you remember it.
The all-seeing Eye can be a frightening thought, but not if there is indeed an all-loving, all-understanding Heart behind it. He sees, He cares, He understands, and He is there to “assist us with His grace.” Best of all, He can be pleased, and is pleased perhaps more often than we think.
It is a peculiar cruelty that we value — and worry most about — those things over which we have the least control. The approval of others, for example. Or getting other people to do or think what we think they should.
Most of us, I imagine, would be profoundly surprised to know how little–by our standards–God actually asks of us, and how small are the things that make Him smile. Or perhaps I should say, how large. We are the ones who “sweat the small stuff.” And it’s amazing how heavy those small things become.
Jesus said that his yoke was easy and his burden light. I could never say that about mine. If our focus of concern moved into alignment with His would our load get lighter? I think so. What really matters? To me? To Him? Certainly not my golf game. But He is deeply interested in my heart. So interested that He died so I could give it to Him and live in constant communion with Him through thick and thin.