Open Your Shades
Once upon a time in a living room, in a gathering that included some adult Christians and several children, a nine-year-old asked this question:
“Life seems like a bunch of details. You wake up. You eat breakfast. You work on math. Then you work on something else. Then you play for a little bit, and then it’s time for lunch. In the afternoon, you do some more studying, and then you go to the library and stop by the store. You come home, unpack the groceries, and get ready for dinner. Some other people come over to eat, and then it’s time to go to bed. And then it starts all over again. How do you get to know God in all of that?”
Here is one adult’s answer:
Have you ever heard the verse that says, “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit”? Unless that seed falls apart until it’s unrecognizable, that’s all it will ever be—just a seed.
You can take an apple seed and put it on a shelf. It will just sit there forever and ever, but it will always be alone. It will never make an apple. It’s not really alive. It has the ability to make a living tree, but as long as it stays a seed on a shelf, it’s useless. BUT if you bury that seed in the ground and let moisture, temperature, and rain crack it open, then the life that’s always been inside can begin to come out.
In the Scriptures, God is telling us that life is like that. You’re kind of like a seed. You need to be cracked open! That means dying to your selfishness and giving your life to God. Like a seed falling to the ground, there’s a dying involved before there can be life.
Let’s say that it’s Tuesday and you wake up in the morning. You’re taught at home, so you’re not going off to school. What’s the first thing on your mind? Is your first thought, “What are we going to do today? What’s going to be for breakfast? When will I get to play? I’m supposed to get my math done by noon. I can do that! Let’s see, there’s volleyball tonight…”
Is that what your mind goes to—having fun, doing stuff, and the other details of life? OR does your day start with you deciding, on purpose, to ask God, “Today is another day to know You. Please show Yourself to me through the circumstances of my life. Please show me who I am, too. I want this day to be about You—not just about ‘stuff,’ but about You. Help me see You. Help me learn something new about You. Help me understand what thoughts or attitudes I can get rid of to help me know You better.”
NOW you have started your day right! Coming near to God doesn’t necessarily mean changing your activities during the day. It does mean making sure that you think about God during those activities, rather than just thinking about yourself and what you want.
So let’s say your day has started, and it’s time for breakfast. Is this a meal you are sharing with God, or are you just kind of eating it—”Hey, my favorite cereal!”—and then moving on to the next thing? You can include God even during breakfast by being thankful. “Cocoa Puffs are really cool! Thanks, God!” You can crack your heart open to Him, or you can stay alone, like that seed on the shelf.
The whole day, you are either going to be by yourself, or you will be with Someone else. That’s true not just for one day, but for the rest of your life. Alone or with Someone? Make the right decision, and you can have an awareness of God that keeps on growing, growing, growing.
OK, breakfast is over. Now it’s 9 a.m. and time to work on math. You have a LOT of math problems to get done. What’s your attitude? God cares. Your attitude about math matters to Him. Are you going to be lazy? If you’re lazy in math, then you’re training yourself to be a lazy person. You’ll probably be pretty lazy about coming near to God, too.
So what can you do about this hard math assignment? You talk to God about it! “I was just daydreaming. God, I don’t want to be that way. I want to be diligent in my math. My mom wants me to do this work. Please help me! You see what my heart is like. I don’t want to be that kind of person. Please help me be a hard worker instead. Help me to learn through math what kind of person you want me to be.” Math isn’t just about adding numbers then, is it? And the “seed” of your life will be cracking open to God!
You finish your work, and you get to play for a while. You go outside to join some other children who are throwing a Frisbee. You are caught up in your play. It’s fine to enjoy yourself. But are your eyes open? Are you alone, really by yourself even though there are other people around and even though God is everywhere? Or are you aware of things going on outside yourself? Would you notice if one of your friends seemed a little sad? Somehow they seem troubled. Would you think, “I wonder if they didn’t do very well on their math today. I wonder if their conscience is feeling a little guilty. Or could they be troubled about something else?”
Your eyes can be looking at the people around you, and you can be caring about them. You are not just throwing them a Frisbee so that they can throw it back to you. They are not just like robots who have been programmed to play with you. They are real people to you. You have an opportunity to look into their eyes and to care about them—and care about God as well. That can be your attitude all the way through the day. It’s your choice. Will you be just by yourself, or will you open your heart to God and to the people around you?
The rest of your day is the same way. Add whatever activity comes next. You are either a giver with your eyes open, or you are a taker with your eyes closed. Takers don’t really see the world around them. Do I see Debbie bringing me a plate of food, or do I just see a plate of food coming to me? Am I connecting with a person, or am I just getting or doing stuff? What’s happening inside my mind and heart?
The description of somebody who is on the wrong road, really, or not yet started in the right direction, is that they are remaining alone. You can be alone, right now, in the middle of a room full of people. You can be withdrawn and keep the window-shades of your heart closed—like pulling shut the shades in your house. You can be all closed up, just like a house. You are not really open towards God or towards the people around you.
Does that last paragraph describe you? Then your job is to open those shades. Rip them open! OPEN your heart towards God. OPEN your heart towards other people. Take responsibility for the things in your character that are unlike God. Apologize. Repent. Make efforts to do better. Ask for help from God. Ask for help from those working with you. “I’m kind of sloppy in this thing. Can you help me? I know God is not sloppy like me. See my handwriting? See how I am doing my work? How can this be better? I know that God is a God of order. I know that I am a child of chaos. Heaven and earth are not in agreement here! What’s wrong?”
You can ask for help because you want to be like God. You don’t just want to turn in a neat paper so you can get smiley faces or stars on it. Who cares about the smiley faces and stars? What matters is what’s happening inside of you. Are you becoming like God in your ways and attitudes and responses, or are you not?
Two children can look just the same. Both may play kickball for two hours. But one child played kickball with God and other people, while the other child played kickball by himself with “robots” in a dead, blank world. The difference is inside the heart—not in the activities going on outside.
Of course sometimes it’s right to pull away completely from all the busyness and just be alone with God. There is time for that. But coming near to God isn’t like a light switch you can turn off or on. “I was praying, but now I’m playing kickball.” No, we stick with God through the whole day with our eyes wide open. We want to see what He’s doing and know what He’s thinking.
Do you remember the time when King David was traveling with his army and a man started yelling bad things about him and throwing rocks and dirt down on him? The soldiers asked, “Do you want us to go kill that guy? We’ll go take care of him right now.” But David said, “No! I just wonder if God might be trying to let me know that He’s displeased with me. I just have this feeling.” David’s eyes were open! He didn’t just see a man who was throwing rocks at him. David was listening for God at every opportunity. “I have an idea, a hint, that this might be God wanting to get my attention.” That’s how he viewed it.
That same event could have turned out much differently. “A mean guy threw rocks at me today, so I had my army kill him.” That’s what king Saul would have done. He would have never even wondered if God were involved somehow. You never would have heard Saul say, “I wonder if that’s God trying to get my attention.” It would have never entered Saul’s mind. He wasn’t like David. He wasn’t a spiritual man. He was remaining alone.
You can have fun. That is part of God’s heart—to run, skip, play, and laugh. But not in a selfish, self-centered way, with your eyes shut and with your whole world revolving around you. I don’t know how to explain that part any better. Some people live like the shades are drawn completely around them. They are all by themselves in a room full of people. Their hearts are not open towards God or other people. The path to knowing God has to do with ripping your heart open and letting go of your worries and distractions and fears so you can come near to Him.
You will see bad things about yourself if your eyes are open. But those things are what you can talk about when you turn towards Him and ask for His forgiveness. You can ask Him for help with them. At the same time, you will also see things about Him that will touch your heart and put a spring in your step!
If your eyes are wide open, then you can come near to God while you’re studying birds in your science book! Maybe all that most students learn is what cardinals eat and how far geese fly. They only notice the facts on the page because of who they are on the inside. Their shades are down. They may learn the facts and get “A’s” on their papers. They might even learn to write neatly. But none of it is really about God for them. They aren’t reaching out towards God at all. Their hearts are closed.
You can start coming near to God now, even at age nine. Things will get easier later, when you’ve truly been born again. But even now, God “rewards those who diligently seek Him.” That’s what He says in Hebrews 11. He blesses those who are passionate about coming near to Him. I suspect that most of you don’t live your days that way. You may not wake up in the morning thinking about “Abba, Father” and wanting to know Him. You may not be focused on wanting to be changed. That’s probably not what’s usually on your mind. But it needs to be if you are going to become who God really wants you to be.
God has a BIG dream for you. Don’t just settle for a small piece of the dream. He has BIG plans for your life. But He is only going to give His dream to people who want it. Like Jesus said, the people who receive are the ones who “knock and keep on knocking, and ask and keep on asking.” Don’t be satisfied with just a little taste. “Yeah, I felt guilty one time in my conscience about something, so I made it right.” No, coming near to God is either HOW YOU LIVE, or it’s just a little thing you do every now and then.
God will notice what’s important to you. If God’s dream, God’s Kingdom, and God Himself are what matter to you, you will be rewarded. If not, He will let you sit all by yourself in your own little world with your shutters closed. God won’t open those shutters for you. He will INVITE you to open them. God wants you to see the world that He has made out there—so that you may KNOW Him.