Psalm 139, StrengthsQuest, and Creator God

One of my biggest prayers to the Lord post-Hope College has been for God to show me who he has created me to be. In the 139th psalm, David says to God, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; all your works are wonderful”. ALL his works: including you and me. That sounds awfully egotistical. I try my best not to think I’m wonderful. Haven’t I been working toward humility? What’s all this “wonderful” business? I thought I was a broken human being.

Recently, I was sitting in my apartment with a couple of friends and a couple of steak Tacos from the corner store. It was Sunday and, as I unwrapped the first taco, one friend asked me if I believed in original sin.

“One second,” I said, “Let me pray first and then I’ll answer your question.”

So I said grace while my friends chuckled at the response.

We talked about the Lord in the beginning and his affirmation of creation: it is good. God is creator and all that he makes is good. Satan, on the other hand, is a destroyer, and he is not capable of creating. He can only distort what is good. So, yes, I suppose I do believe in original sin. I believe we’ve bought into the enemy’s lies and have exchanged good for something unnatural, broken: sin. The story doesn’t end there, of course. Despite all odds, God is willing and able to restore his creation.  In the light of this invitation, what does it mean to be fearfully and wonderfully made?

Last Thursday I started working for an incredible program called Upward Bound, a government funded program that supports high school students in preparation for college. These past few days have been exciting as I’ve interacted with my new teammates. Together we will accept the role of mentors and tutors for the next six weeks. The program hasn’t even started and I can already see areas of growth. One of the biggest aspects of our training includes the StrengthsQuest, an online questionnaire that identifies each person’s unique talents. Everyone on the team took the test before training. It’s the weirdest thing to talk about what you’re “good at”. The results are incredibly accurate. I read the description of my top five strengths and had goosebumps. This morning we had yet another team meeting. Each of us had a sheet of paper folded over like a name plate with all our strengths. We talked about specific moments in our lives when we’ve seen these strengths come through. Looking around, I noticed how different my teammates are from me. I saw all their talents and their value; I saw my own value. My God, the God of David and the God of Abraham, had made each of us. Fearfully and wonderfully. He made us. He made us for his glory. I talked myself out of crying. We were in a meeting, a positive team-building meeting. How would I explain myself to my new friends? Y’all are just too wonderful. Hahaha. Seriously though, in that moment, I saw how each of us is created in the image of the living God.

I think it’s weird, too, that God is teaching me about the way he created me, teaching me through positive psychology and an online quiz.  But who am I to question him?  I don’t pretend to know exactly what it means to be fearfully and wonderfully made.  But I do know that as a part of His creation, I have a purpose.  I am created to glorify and praise the Living God.  He is good and all that he makes is good, too.  I thank Him for the way he’s uniquely created me and others around me, so that we can work together.  I am so excited for God to refine the talents he’s created in me.  I surrender them all so that they can serve Him.  He is worthy.

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Prison, College, and the Circle of Life: God’s Purposes for the Here and Now

“I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!” It was not the last time that [Bilbo Baggins] wished that!
The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien

For the past three and a half years, I have called Michigan my home. While other college freshmen counted down days until break, I made my nest on the third floor of my dorm and forgot to phone my mother. I stayed in Michigan over the summer and avoided going back to Illinois as much as possible.  As I prepare to graduate, however, I can see how God is preparing a place for me. I know I should temporarily return to my father’s house, and I actually look forward to it.

This Christmas break left me longing for the comforts of home. The food, the family, the freedom to do whatever I wanted, when I wanted. Now, I’m weighed down with assignments. I am like a maple tree, and creativity is being drained out of me like syrup. Things I love like reading and writing have suddenly become mandatory. I woke up the first Friday of my last semester at Hope muttering, Why can’t I just go home?

Paul, two thousand years ago, must have asked himself the same thing. In fact, his letter to the Philippians shows a sort of homesick longing.

For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (Philippians 1:21-4).

I must sound completely absurd to compare my experience in College to Paul’s experience in prison. After all, I await graduation not execution.  I won’t disagree that the accommodations here are much nicer, but I think it is of some value to draw this parallel.  Our desire for home-cooked comfort ultimately points to our desire for God.

Perhaps the biggest comfort of home is to be known. To not have to explain oneself. And who knows us better than our Father? As the psalmist says in the 139, “Your eyes saw me before I was put together, and all the days of my life were written in Your book before any of them came to be.”  As a senior, I find myself fading into a crowd of unfamiliar faces. New students that will soon replace the old ones. This is the cycle that characterizes a four year college. This is a cycle that characterizes life as a whole. I don’t mean to sound morbid. I’m simply observing that this isn’t our permanent home and homesickness is completely understandable.

On the other hand, we must not neglect that God’s purpose for us here on earth.  As my college career winds down,  I must remember, first of all, that this is not a prison cell, and second that God has a plan for me here and now.   There’s a reason why we are not home yet.  We have a church to build.