There is a story often attributed to Mark Twain about a man fascinated with military history. When the man dies, he goes to heaven and is excited that now he can fulfill his lifelong curiosity. He asks Saint Peter who was the greatest military general of all time and Peter points to a guy. The man looks at Peter confused and remarks that Peter must be mistaken because he knew the person identified on earth and that guy was a blacksmith. Peter answered that it was true but had he been a general, he would have been the greatest.
Many of us can vividly detail our childhood dreams of the life and career we wanted to live when we grew up. For me it was a life in politics. For others, it was a dream of big house in the country with lots of kids, to start a business, to travel the world or to paint. For some, our current lives and career paths have come close to or matched our childhood visions, but for others those dreams have long faded away as life has unfolded.
While we frequently can recall our young dreams, when it comes to identifying what God intended for our lives we draw a blank. Like the blacksmith in Twain’s story, in addition to our own aspirations, we each have an innate, God-given potential that we are to fulfill. Sometimes our God-given potential coincides with our childhood dreams and sometimes not. The blacksmith may have been a perfectly competent smith but had he been in tune to God, he would have been the greatest general in history.
The Scriptures are replete with examples where God saw the dormant potential of leaders, followers and entire nations when those same leaders, followers and nations failed to recognize or believe their true calling. God knew before Moses was even born that he had been provided the capacity to be a great leader. From Moses’s perspective, growing up a prince of Egypt, it might have looked like he had achieved his life potential, but God had bigger ideas. The same can also be said for Peter or the Jewish people for that matter. Peter was a fisherman like his contemporaries but God had other plans. Israel was in bondage for over 400 years, but God had a vision. How different history would be if Moses, Peter or Israel had failed to live up to their God-given potential.
As importantly, Moses, Peter and the tribes of Israel each at times doubted or turned away from God’s vision for their future. Moses hesitated even after the unmistakable signal of God speaking through a burning bush. Peter was both a doubter lacking faith (i.e. walking on the water in Matthew) and the chief denier of Jesus. Yet, Peter overcame each of these divergences from God to be the “rock” upon which Christ’s church was built. The people of Israel turned to false gods and openly rebelled, yet the land was promised and delivered because God had a vision. Likewise, we often turn away from our potential even after we recognize God is moving us in another direction.
There are many reasons why we turn away from God’s vision. Perhaps we fail to recognize the signs or we are afraid of how following God’s path will change our lives. More pointedly, we may have difficulty even comprehending the fact that God has pre-ordained our potential. Yet, the Scriptures are clear on this point. In Psalms 139 speaking of God it is written “your eyes have seen my unformed substance and in your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 states “that which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by.”
In other words, God seeks, accounts for and places value in that which occurs in our lives. In each of us lies a God-given capacity and it’s up to us whether we achieve the ultimate manifestation of that capacity. Like Moses and Peter, like ancient Israel, our potential and glory simultaneously unfold as we put our faith in and turn toward God. Only then, can we unlock God’s vision for our lives and truly be all we can be.
When there is dissonance in our lives, stumbles along our career paths or when our lives are just not living up to our hopes, it may be time to let go of who we thought we would be and grab on to who God knew we could become. After all, you might be a good blacksmith, but God made you the greatest general!