Perhaps pain or disappointment has driven you to look upward for answers. A professional athlete once confided to me that tragedy in his life was forcing him to consider things he’d never considered before. He graduated college as an all-American, was drafted in the first round by one of the premier teams in the nation, and awarded a contract for millions of dollars. One afternoon, he joined up with some buddies for some careless fun and ended up on his back with multiple broken bones. The circumstances of his accident nullified his contract. In the space of a few seconds, everything he’d lived for was gone. With tears in his eyes, he said, “I can’t believe I threw it all away for a few seconds of carelessness! Why would God let this happen? Is he punishing me?”
I don’t think so. I think, in fact, God was rescuing him. God was trying to get him to see that he was throwing away eternity for a few seconds of fame in an athletic arena. Perhaps he needed to lose what he thought was valuable so he could gain what is truly valuable. Perhaps God put him flat on his back so he would finally look in the right direction, so that he would lean in to hear the voice calling from the burning bush. C. S. Lewis called pain God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” He said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.”
The emptiness a person sometimes feels on the other side of achieving a lifelong goal can serve as a burning bush. Years ago, I heard a successful CEO say he spent his whole life climbing the ladder of success only to find upon getting to the top that the ladder was leaning against the wrong building! He’s not alone. Many people find that the thing they worked so hard to obtain just didn’t deliver what it had promised. In the words of Bono, many people still haven’t found what they’re looking for.
That’s because false gods—success, sexual pleasure, power, fame, or even family—always disappoint. The disillusionment on the other side of a fulfilled dream is an invitation to turn aside and hear the voice of the living God.
Reading the Bible may be your burning bush. It was for me. During all the years I silently struggled with my faith, I continued to pour over the Bible. The more I read and pondered, the more I became convinced that the Jesus of the Gospels was real. I didn’t understand him. Why he did what he did, or didn’t do what he didn’t do, confused me. But it seemed clear that the God of the Bible was a living, moving being, and that he was calling out—to me. Many who have read the Bible can’t escape the idea that it’s more than a collection of ancient inspirational stories. I once heard someone describe the experience of reading the Bible like “looking through a keyhole and seeing an eye looking back at you.”6
Maybe the extraordinary life of some Christian has caused you to wonder if there is more to Jesus than fairy tales and religious chicanery. You wonder how they possess such inner peace, joy, and grace in the vicissitudes of life. I experienced that wonder through my parents. Seeing how real God was to them, how generously they treated people, how joyful they were in struggle and disappointment, and how quickly they ran to God with their problems gave me a glimpse of something I knew had to be real. Their lives made me turn aside and listen.
One of the most effective “evangelists” I’ve ever known was a young girl with cystic fibrosis, lying in a hospital room, terminally ill. Two years earlier, she had received a double lung transplant but quickly began to experience complications. A few months later, she was diagnosed with a very aggressive kind of cancer. The doctors told her that there was nothing more they could do and that she had less than a year to live. To most, her story seemed devastatingly tragic—a young girl cut down in the prime of her life. But I can’t remember ever being in the presence of another person who exuded such consistent serenity and joy. She told the doctors and nurses on her floor and anyone else who would listen that what she was going through was nothing compared to what God had prepared for her in eternity—that our lives, whether we live to be 20 or 120, are only small drops of water compared to the expansive beauty of eternity’s ocean. During her last few months, I seemed to meet new people in our church every week impacted by her testimony. Her life was a burning bush that beckoned many to turn aside.
Are you encountering one of these burning bushes now? Have you turned aside to listen?
Greear, J. D., and David Jeremiah. 2018. Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
We have just released a new Bible Study based on J.D. Greear’s newest book, Not God Enough. These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.