In the Middle of the Mess

Sometimes, God miraculously pulls all of the threads of our storylines together into one beautiful conclusion. When this happens, it feels like that moment at the end of a movie when all of the plot points that felt so out-of-place suddenly come together and you realize that the screenwriter knew what she was doing all along. I like to call these “God things”: the unmistakable, loud work of our wonderful God crying out, “I AM.” 

But God doesn’t only work through these big-ticket items. He works through sadness, grief, pain, and the boring slog of the day-to-day. It’s easy to see God’s work at the end of the story and hard to see his work in our character development, but we do not have to wait for the end to see His hand at work. He is always working, even in the middle of our mess.

Last spring, I was looking for an apartment to sublet during my summer internship. In what I thought was a display of faith, I told my dad, “I just can’t believe God would give me this internship but not give me a place to live.”

“Well,” my dad said, “He anointed David king and then made him live in caves for years.”

Tough-love as his delivery was, my dad was right. David went from being a shepherd and the baby of his family to a giant-slayer, king of Israel, and ancestor of the Messiah – what a God thing! But before David became king, he spent years fleeing from Saul, living in caves and even in the land of the Philistines. He was constantly on the run and always at war.

Joseph’s story is a God thing, too. By the end of Genesis, Joseph was Pharaoh’s second-in-command, a position which not only allowed his brothers to feed their families during the famine but also made it possible for the nation of Israel to settle in Egypt. But before this happy ending, Joseph’s brothers beat up him and sold him into slavery, where he was unjustly accused of rape and thrown in prison. There, Joseph interpreted a vision for the chief cupbearer who was also in prison with him. The overjoyed cupbearer promised to tell Pharaoh – and then forgot for two years.

The rebuilding of the temple as the exiles returned from Babylon was a God thing. God’s people, who had been militarily humiliated only decades earlier, returned to their city to rebuild the temple, praising the name of the Lord. Among these returned exiles, though, there were those who “despised the day of small things” in the building of the temple (Zechariah 4:10). They could not see God’s hand at work.

As Christians in the 21st century, we are waiting for the biggest God thing of all: the final defeat of Satan and the coming of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 20-22). In the “already, but not yet” where we find ourselves – the time between the first and second comings of Christ – God has not yet fully accomplished his eternal plan. God’s people face tremendous persecution. Many people have not yet heard the Word, and many more do not believe. Even when we don’t face persecution, we daily struggle with sin.

God sustained and sustains His people in the midst of their trials. He was with Joseph in prison (Genesis 39:21). The Spirit of the Lord was with David from the day he was anointed (1 Samuel 16:13). And to His people standing in the wreckage of their city, God says, “I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:3). Joseph, David, and the exiles had not seen their “God thing” yet, but God was still working. Just as He worked in their lives, so He is also working in ours as we wait for eternity.

Right now, my mess looks like an entirely too-full semester, impatience with others, no grace for myself, and uncertainty about where I’ll live and what I’ll do after I graduate. To some, it might not look like a mess, but to me, it feels like I’m sitting in the middle of a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle without the puzzle lid.

At the moment, my life is not full of big, miraculous, everything-falling-into-place events, but it is certainly full of God. When our lives are everyday messes of loving people who are hurting, wrestling with our own hurts, changing our schedules, pulling all-nighters to get our work done, and not knowing what comes next, they are still full of God’s mercy and grace. And even when our lives are not-so-everyday messes of broken friendships and sick family members and financial anxiety and a constant sense of being adrift, they are still full of God’s mercy and grace.

Maybe our messes are full of people who are hard to love – but when we love the unlovely, we reflect the love of Christ for us (1 John 4:9-12). Maybe our messes are full of weariness and counting down until a simpler season – but when we wake up and carry out simple daily tasks as if for the Lord and not for men, we have an inheritance waiting for us (Colossians 3:23-24). Maybe our messes involve feeling alienated from God – but when we come to His Word and spend time with Him anyway, we increase our faith and draw near to Him (Romans 10:17; James 4:8). Our messes are not an accident. They are part of His plan just as much as our happy endings.

So let’s not be like the returning exiles who despised the day of small things – of baby steps, of Mondays, of day after day of patient work. In our hunger for big things – landing the perfect job, meeting our future spouse, seeing a family member finally healed or a best friend coming to Christ – let’s not turn up our noses at the day-to-day, even when we can’t see its fruit. God doesn’t come out of nowhere, do something wonderful, and then leave until the next big finale. Instead, He shapes us, working through every mundane circumstance. He is present in the middle of our mess.

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