David was a shepherd boy. Moses was a murderer. Matthew was a tax collector. Paul was a self-righteous persecutor of Christians. The common thread? God had a compelling story in mind for each of them.
Whether you realize it or not, you know people like that wild cast of characters I mentioned above. You know people who were addicts, people who were abusive, people who were liars and thieves. The common thread?
The word “were.”
Once you start paying attention, you come to believe that this is the way God works. Paul believed as much when he wrote: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how I intensely persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). That was how his story began, but he goes on to say in verses 15 and 16 that God “called me by his grace” and “was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” The old path gives way to the new path. A persecutor of the church becomes a prolific missionary. These startling transformations are the hallmarks of God’s authorship.
I think we sometimes have a hard time recognizing or believing all of this because we don’t work that way. We prefer to peg people with tragically flat trajectories. What are your current skills and struggles? I bet you’re pretty much stuck there, friend. Here’s what I mean: Watch an NFL quarterback reach the ripe old age of 27 without winning a playoff game and listen to the pundits start to crow: “He’ll never win the big one!” Watch a teenager disappoint her parents enough and they’ll declare, “You’ll never amount to anything!”
It’s easier for us to extrapolate people’s struggles than to envision their God-given potential realized. Call it a lack of grace, a lack of perspective, heck, call it a lack of imagination. The fact is we often fail to see what God sees in a flawed human being—a great story in the making.
A lyric we all know fairly well sums it up nicely: “I once was lost, but now I’m found/Was blind, but now I see.” Those are the words of John Newton, a man whose life featured a disgraceful tenure in the Royal Navy, a stint as a slave in West Africa, and a turn as an officer on a slave ship. His circumstances are different from yours and mine, but the pattern he articulated is the same—lost then found.
When God rewrites our stories, he makes us into storytellers. Like Paul and John Newton and the rest of the great cloud of witnesses, each of us was this and now we’re that.
I once was lost/legalistic/addicted/angry/fatherless/hopeless. But the story doesn’t end there.
I’m a child of a loving Father. What a story. What a rewrite. What a God.
Originally posted on September 18, 2011