I took James by himself out to lunch for the first time recently. James is our 5-year-old foster son who just moved in with us at the start of the year. We had a nice time, but I was surprised by his answer to the question, “What’s your favorite thing about your former foster home.”
“I saw a ghost,” he told me matter-of-factly. “He just stood there looking at me and then disappeared.” (With favorite things like that, who needs a LEAST favorite thing?!?!)
“Well,” I told him, “we don’t have any ghosts at our home.”
“Why not?” came the obvious response.
“Well, we don’t believe in ghosts at our home and if you don’t believe in ghosts you’ll never see them.”
So what did James really see in his bedroom that night? Who knows, but I know from personal experience that if I try hard enough to see something in the dark my mind can mystically mold the shapeless darkness into the most frightening forms. It really doesn’t take much imagination to turn a coat hanging on the back of a door into a headless monster wearing that coat… and drooling… blood.
That said, the week of my conversation with James, we were fasting with our church in an effort to oppose the spirit of fear, so over the course of the week we took time for each family member to share one thing they were afraid of.
When it was my turn I said I was afraid of failure. When it was James’ turn, you already know what he said. And since I had advanced warning from our previous lunch conversation you’ll be glad to know I had a blithe dismissive response prepared for him.
“Well, that’s great, James, because since ghosts aren’t real then you don’t have anything to be afraid of anymore.”
But then it occurred to me. I’m afraid of something that’s no more real than ghosts.
James might as well have told me, “Well, Dad, since failure isn’t really a possibility for a follower of Christ, then you don’t have anything to be afraid of anymore.”
You see, if you believe in an all-loving God that wants nothing, but the very best for you; if you believe in an omniscient God that knows what that best is; and if you believe in a omnipotent God that can and will bring that very best about notwithstanding any person or circumstance, but your own free-will to oppose Him, failure really doesn’t fit into that reality… does it?
Read that sentence again.
So if the only thing that can spell failure in my life is my own choice to disobey God’s will then I’m really afraid of disobedience… not failure.
If I insist on disobedience – trusting in my own way – failure is assured. If I walk in faith and obedience, success is guaranteed.
Of course, all of this is a matter of perspective, but who gets to decide what’s a failure and what’s a success? Us?
Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross. Don’t you know Christ hanging on the cross clearly looked like failure in the eyes of the world… it even looked it in the eyes of the disciples at the time!
It wasn’t to God. It was success to Him. Christ trusted and obeyed. God brought the success. And we’re called to “consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” – ie… be afraid.
What’s your perspective?
Let’s talk about ghosts again. If James screws up his eyes in the dark long enough he can turn the dirty clothes he left on the floor into a multi-tentacled creature that crawls under his bed. If he does, where is the ghost really? In his clothes or in his mind?
And if I allow my mind to imagine the worse case scenarios that lie around the bend, as if I served a God that was disinterested or disabled where is the failure I’m fearing? It’s in my mind.
So where’s your ghost?