What is your favourite movie?
Do you love a tear-jerker or a romantic comedy, a thriller or some classic sci-fi?
Whatever our individual preferences are, we probably all share one thing – the love of a good story. The best movies always come from great stories. That’s why sequels are so often lacking; because the really great narrative has already been told.
A good plot has highs and lows, surprises and twists, intriguing characters and interesting settings. And every good story, without exception, always has a problem.
Without conflict or struggle, a narrative is only an observation, an article, a commentary. Without a problem, there is no tense cliffhanger or satisfying resolution, no hero or heroics. There is no story.
We live in a time in history with unprecedented freedom and choice. Coffee shops cater to our sophisticated needs with endless options. We can order almost anything we want online and have it delivered the same day. We can have a different flavour of crisp every Friday night this year if we want. We can find our dream new job or plan an exotic holiday in the warmth of our living room, eating Vietnamese takeaway. Choice is wonderful; it makes life pleasant and interesting and colourful and fun. But it doesn’t necessarily make for a riveting read.
From cover to cover, God’s Word reminds us that it is often in the circumstances that we don’t choose that our destinies are revealed.
One of my favourite movies is Apollo 13. It is based on the true story of the ill-fated mission to the moon in 1970. As the movie opens, we see the preparations being made for another mission by NASA. The overwhelming excitement of 1969 had come and gone and public interest is waning.
Until something goes terribly wrong.
And then, suddenly, what had seemed mundane becomes unmissable viewing as NASA engineers attempt the miraculous.
My favourite character is Ken Mattingly. Ken was chosen to be the Command Module Pilot for this mission. However, he was accidentally exposed to German Measles and so three days before the launch he was removed from the mission and replaced with the backup pilot, Jack Swigert.
The film dramatically portrays how the expertise of Ken Mattingly became an invaluable part of a successful rescue. His personal disappointment set the stage for a much bigger, more heroic story.
It is the apparently insurmountable obstacles that make the story of Apollo 13 so compelling. Without the problem, all you have is a third trip to the moon. That’s not exactly a script directors would be fighting over.
And it is the same with us.
It is when the chips are down that our stories get interesting.
Just think about the heroes of the Bible. Think about Abraham and Ruth, Joseph, Esther, Daniel and David. Think of the difficulties they faced and the lack of control they had over their own lives. Think of what they lost and what they were forced to give up. Think of the disappointments and setbacks. Think of the pain caused by their own mistakes and the suffering caused by the choices of others.
And then remember the destinies they lived out, the beautiful and redemptive purposes they fulfilled.
It is when we face struggles and difficulty that our lives seem to widen out and open up. Life without challenge is two-dimensional; it is thin and small.
But we belong to a big God and He desires for us to live big lives.
So, by all means, enjoy choices when you have them. Order the coconut milk latte and the gluten-free organic muffin and enjoy every bite. If you don’t like your job and you have another option, take it. If you want to run a marathon or learn Mandarin, do it. If you want to study something new or try a creative hobby, thank God you live in a place where you can choose these things and go for it.
But know that there will be things you can’t control. There will be things you don’t like that you didn’t choose. There will be pages of your story you didn’t plan and plot twists you didn’t see coming.
And these things will be the making of you.
They will be the moments that you see God move in supernatural, miraculous ways on your behalf. They will be opportunities for you to become stronger and more resilient than you ever thought possible. They will be a catalyst for great growth and Jesus-like character that will equip you for all God has planned for your life.
These difficult chapters in your life will be the times you seek God like never before and you will find Him.
And your story will be epic and beautiful and big enough to point to God, the hero of all our stories.