Mrs Irwin always remembered that moonlit night when she found her son Jimmy standing at his bedroom window staring at the full moon. She asked him what he was doing, and he told her he was looking at the moon. So, she told him to stop it and to get into bed. Reluctantly he did so, but then said to her: ‘You know one day I’m going to walk on the moon.’ Who could have thought that the boy in whom the dream was planted that night would survive a near fatal motorbike crash, which broke almost every bone in his body, and then, thirty-two years later would become the first person to step on the moon’s surface?
James Irwin is just one more example of the power of a dream or vision that God puts in our heart. And, as the Bible says: ‘Though it linger, wait for it. It will surely come.’
I read about a little girl, whose mother saw her holding two apples. She gave the child a big smile, then asked her to give her one of them. Well, the little girl looked at the apples for a while, took a bite from one of them, then took another bite from the other. The mother felt the smile on her face freeze. She tried hard to hide her disappointment. But then, the child handed her one of them and said: ‘Here you are, Mummy, this one is the sweetest.’
It reminds us that no matter who you are, nor how much you think you understand what’s going on, it’s always wise to delay judgment until you given people time to explain themselves. What you initially see, and think may not be the reality. That’s why the Bible says: ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.’
Years ago, a poor boy went begging for a meal. But he lost his nerve when a pretty girl opened the door, so he just asked for a glass of water. However, she thought he looked hungry and she gave him a large glass of milk, which he drank gratefully, then asked how much he owed her. She told him that one should never expect to be paid for an act of kindness.
Years later, that young woman succumbed to a rare disease and was eventually referred to Dr. Howard Kelly, one of the few specialists in that field. She recovered but then faced the prospect of how to pay for her treatment – until she opened the doctor’s account and read the words: ‘paid in full with a glass of milk.’
The man who saved her had once been that boy. As Jesus said: ‘give and it shall be given to you.’ Kindness always reproduces itself.
In the academic art world, it used to be thought that Michelangelo portrayed God as subdued, dark and withdrawn. This was because his paintings were full of beiges, dark browns and ochres. But in more recent times, as the restorers got to work on the Sistine Chapel, cleaning away the impurities that over the centuries had impregnated Michelangelo’s frescos, they found that he had actually used the most brilliant colours in his original paintings. But the dirt and soot from centuries of candles burning in the chapel had darkened the colours and what they depicted.
I sometimes think that’s what organized religion has tended to do to God also – made God, who is the source of all love and light, seem dull and forbidding. That’s why we need to remember that Jesus is for us the true expression of the heart of God.
The first car I bought never seemed to run very well, and I wasn’t mechanically minded enough to recognise there was a problem. I just thought it was the way that old car was and put up with its coughing and spluttering. Then one week I loaned it to my Dad, who got so fed up with its poor performance that he personally paid to get it fixed. And that’s how I came to know the difference between a car that runs on all four cylinders and one that’s only running on three.
It reminds me of many people whose lives run along quite well, physically, mentally and socially – but still sense there’s something missing. And there is, because we are more than just physical, mental and social beings; we are spiritual beings too, created in the image of God to be in touch with God. It’s faith that gets that fourth cylinder working.
The Oprah Magazine recently talked about our need for a sense of awe. ‘Awe,’ it said, ‘Is what we feel when faced with something sublime, exceptional, or altogether beyond comprehension.’ Dacher Keltner of the University of California describes the feeling of awe as pushing people beyond selfishness and giving them a desire to do good. He believes that cultivating awe ‘is part of unlocking the truest sense of life’s purpose.’
But where do we go to find it? The Oprah Magazine recommends seeking it in the beauty of nature and in contemplating the vastness of the night sky. Well, the Bible’s been advocating that for millennia. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’ says Psalm 19, ‘The skies proclaim the work of his hands.’
So, look up and treat yourself to a good dose of awe.
There’s an old Jewish saying that we’ll be judged for all the good things God has given that we failed to appreciate. It reminds me of the traveller who met an old priest high in the mountains, who told him he was finally seeing the beauty of the world. The man said, ‘Haven’t you left it a bit late?’ So the old priest told him how he had been lying on his death bed when an angel came to him and told him he’d come to take him home. He’d asked if it was a beautiful place he was to go to, and the angel said, ‘It’s a beautiful world from which you come.’ But the priest had to confess he knew nothing of it because his life had been so busy. The angel then said, ‘Then I fear you will see little beauty in the world to which you are going.’ So he gave him one more year to learn to appreciate what God had given.
Hopefully, we already know.