We live on a small, blue planet. It is home to 7,298,178,354 people as of about 30 seconds ago. Of course, the number was growing faster than I could write it, so by the time I'm finished with this sentence it will probably go up another several hundred or thousand. If you'd like to see what it is by the time you read this, click here. There is a running total.
Did you ever try to coordinate something for a group of people? Were you able to make things perfect for everyone in the group, or did some people have to deal with something other than what they really wanted? If you were able to please everyone at once, leave a comment to enlighten us all on how you did it! I for one would love to know! Now, try to please 7 billion people. All at once. Hmm. Not so easy, is it?
Okay, so maybe the Lord is talking about Christians only (not completely true, as this passage is in the old testament, when Christ hadn't yet come, but we won't worry about that right now.) I can't find an up-to-the-millisecond Christian counter, but most statistics I found estimated that Christians made up about 1/3 of the world. So, 1/3 of 7 is about 2.3 billion people. Hmm. Still more than I've ever had to deal with.
Of course, you say, but this is God we're talking about. The Almighty! He can do things that we little measly humans can't even imagine.
True. I would never want to slight the power of God. But think. In order for everyone - even 1/3 of everyone - to get everything they want, people would have to live in their own little individual bubbles! Otherwise, what happens when I want what someone else has? What if we're both Christians? Who wins out, and who goes away unhappy?
There has to be more to this. We know that God does not lie. So let's look at things a little closer.
Another favorite verse is Romans 8:28 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Aha! This is a little different. This is not saying that we are going to be prosperous, but that God works for our good. Did your kid ever ask you for something that you knew would hurt him? Did you give it to him? What if he really, really wanted it? You wouldn't do that, would you. You would let him be disappointed in order to keep him safe. You, as his parent, have more experience than he does, so sometimes you need to step in and give him what is good for him, rather than what he wants.
Do you have more than one kid? What if there's only a little ice cream left, and both of your kids want all of it for themselves? You can't give both of them all of the ice cream, so you split it between them. Maybe they don't get as much, but they both get some. Or you manage to bargain with one of them, so that one kid gets the ice cream and the other one gets the cookies. The purpose here is that everyone gets dessert.
Romans 8:28 ends with "who have been called according to his purpose." I'm assuming that means God's purpose. Isaiah 55:8 reads “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. Aha! God is not called to fulfill our purposes. We were called according to his. And, surprise, God's purposes are not ours!
Psalm 37:4 states Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. This is another verse we use to convince ourselves that we should be getting whatever we want. But the first phrase says "Take delight in the Lord."
Here's what I think. God is not promising us riches, health, or happiness. What he is offering us is the opportunity to be part of the solution. We are not called to "take care of number one." We are called to take up our cross. To die to self, and live for Christ. When we do that, our priorities change. It is no longer about what makes us happy, but what makes Jesus happy. If you want to know what that is, read the Sermon on the Mount, found in the book of Matthew, chapters 5-7. Or Matthew 25:35-36 - For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ This is the description Jesus gave of those who would receive eternal life. Notice that the people described are always giving, not getting. They are living their lives for others, not themselves.
When you spend your life worrying about what you want, you are destined to be disappointed. No one gets everything they want. There is always something better out there, or too great a price to pay. But when you spend your life for others, you get joy. It is pure joy to see someone else benefit because of something you did. Did you ever give someone a gift that turned out to be just perfect? Didn't the look on that person's face more than make up for any hardship you might have experienced in getting it for them?
God wants that for us. He wants each of us to get what is perfect. Not what we think we want, but what is perfect for us to have. He really wants that for everyone on this small blue planet. But he's relying on those of us who have been called according to his purpose, and who take delight in the Lord. Because if we are really living out our faith, we will be doing his will, and not our own. Our wants will cease to matter in light of the greater good that we have through Christ Jesus.
God sees so much more than we ever will. He sees each of his 7 billion children, and wants what's best for all. We are all connected. We are all in this together. And together, we can make a difference. We can all be part of God's plan.