I was in elementary school. Maybe first or second grade, I can't quite remember. But what I do remember is a painful experience that forever changed my life. It was the day that I both lost and won a jumbo Hershey's chocolate bar.
Let me explain.
My parents had dropped me off at something called Vacation Bible School (by the way, how is it that Christians could not think of a better, more fun, name for this program?). I don't remember anything about VBS except that they were giving away a jumbo Hershey's chocolate bar and it became the only thing I cared about. The leaders gave away tickets with numbers on them and then drew a random ticket and if your number matched then you would be the lucky winner of the jumbo bar of chocolate that was the size of a human child.
Finally, the time came for them to draw the winning ticket and I clutched my ticket, anxiously awaiting to see if I would lug that big piece of chocolatey goodness home with me. I remember this moment so clearly because it was one of my earliest memories I have of ever praying. Just before the winning ticket would be announced I prayed for God to make me the winner. I told God that I would listen to my parents and be nicer to my sisters if He would grant me this one simple wish.
Now it was time to see if God heard my prayer. The leader took a random ticket and began to read aloud the numbers.
3...Yes, it matched!
And finally, it came down to the last number. The stars seemed to be aligning. God was answering my prayer. He's such a good God! The leader then read out the final number:
No one responded. The leader waited a few moments and then said she was going to draw another since no one claimed their prize. "What a fool," I thought to myself. How could someone not be paying attention and not claim such a glorious prize? The leader then read another number:
What?! It wasn't the number on my ticket! Why, God, why?! Although I didn't even know what an atheist was in the first grade, I'm pretty sure I temporarily became one in this moment. I shoved the ticket in my pocket, crossed my arms, and angrily walked to the car with my sisters. My sisters, doing what sisters do, made sure to remind me how close I was to winning without actually winning.
I sat in the car and I was boiling on the inside. How could God do this to me? He created the world but couldn't give me a winning ticket?
Finally, my sisters asked to look at my ticket and I ripped it out of my pocket and threw it at them in disgust. That ticket was just a symbol of pain and loss for me (I was a bit dramatic as a kid...).
My older sister looked at the ticket and then began to laugh and said, "Travis, you idiot!" This didn't help my anger and I yelled back "What?! Why am I an idiot?!" My sister replied, "Travis, they read your ticket. Remember when they read the number and no one responded? It's because you had the winning ticket and you weren't paying attention!"
Somehow amid my stress about not winning, I had missed that I had actually won. To this day, I don't know how I missed it. And while it took many years to recover from my anguish, I learned something that day that I would later appreciate as a follower of Jesus.
What I learned is that it's entirely possible to be...
So afraid of dying that I never live.
So afraid of failing that I never try.
So afraid of being hurt that I never love.
So afraid of losing that I never win.
And I learned that I will miss out on full life, adventure, love, and victory, and it won't be because it's not available to me, but because I did not put myself in the best position to receive those things. I discovered that I can live my life with eyes wide open and ready to see what God is wanting to show me or I can live my life with eyes closed, expecting to lose, and as a result, get exactly what I expected.
I think one of our greatest dangers is not that we expect too much of God, but that we expect too little and get exactly what we expected.
Paul, the author of 3/4 of the Christian scriptures, talks about this and actually prays that we'd live life with the eyes of our heart wide open ready to see what's been made available to us in Christ. Here's what Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:18-20:
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms...
Paul seemed to believe that there were two ways you could live your life. You could live your life with the eyes of your heart closed and miss what God is trying to give you or you could live your life with eyes wide open, ready to see the "incomparably great power for us who believe." And Paul prays for the latter. He prays that you and I would see that, because of Jesus, we have been given the winning ticket in life and it offers us far more than a chocolate bar.
The question is do you see it?
Will you obsess about possibly losing and miss that, in Christ, you have already won?
Will you obsess about things not working out or that, in Christ, God has already worked out what you are worried about?
I wonder what would change in your life if you assumed you had the winning ticket? Paul seems to believe that this is the better way to live and that Christ has made it possible for us to live this way. He did resurrect from the dead, after all, and if Jesus can defeat death then we have every reason to put our hope in the life that Jesus says he came to offer.
2020 sure feels like we've all been given the losing ticket, hasn't it? Let's be real.
But what if we decided to not let the world around us define our lives? What if we gave that right back to God and allowed what He says to shape us? What if we stopped obsessing about what the eyes in our head tell us and instead rely on what the eyes of our heart sees and says is true? Paul seemed to believe that a key to the full life of Jesus is looking at life through the eyes of your heart because when we do, what we'll discover is that we had the winning ticket the whole time.
You've always had full life of God within your reach.
You've always had the power of God in your grasp.
You've always had the love of God with you.
The question is do you see? And if not, what does it look like to begin to live your life with the eyes of your heart wide open?