Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matt 19:26
To me all-nighters with youth are impossible. They consist of incalculable amounts of food, lists upon lists of activities and rules, energy drinks, leaders’ watchful eyes, a steady stream of activity and many hours of prayer (many of which take place during the night itself). They take a toll on your mind and body. So much of the night’s success depends upon factors outside of the planner’s control – the attitude of attendees, obedience, safety, and willing participation.
Despite all the difficulties they do happen. I’ve helped lead a handful of these, but when the sunrises that morning, marking the end of the moonlit marathon, I still feel a supreme sense of awe. God often reminds me of the Crafter he is, how he enjoys shaping and molding creation for his glory. The way he meets our needs, creatively and extravagantly, always prompts in me a humble worship: a bowed head, a smile, and a simple prayer, “Lord, all of this, all of me, was always in your hands. Thank you.”
The discipline of imminence or the practice of the presence of God should make impossibilities a norm, rather than the exception, in our pursuits. Knowing God and knowing God is near should equip and encourage us in such a way that his glory, God’s limitless worthiness, becomes the passion of our existence. If we were made to enjoy and worship God that means we were created to dive into a floorless depth and reach for an unscalable height.
What glorifies God more – the possible or impossible?
The last section of Matt 19 tells the story of a young rich man. The man comes up to Jesus and asks what must I do to get eternal life? Jesus gives two answers. First, keep the commandments. Second, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor. Notice, though, the statements preceding each of these two commands. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments. If you want to be perfect, go and sell your possessions. What is the difference?
One is greater than the other, but both only reach the doorstep of the greatest. I love the way the rich man’s question is worded in verse 16, “what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus’s answer may seem odd, since the benefit of the young man following his advice would be the ability to “enter life.” Two things. This reveals the young man’s question is flawed. And second it paints eternity on a continuum we rarely see.
Many places in the New Testament record the question, what must I do to get eternal life? The answer is given simply at times such as in John 3:15, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. But the young man’s question is closer to the statement we see in John 5:39, you study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. Studying Scripture is a very good thing. And what they were searching for was likely the “good things” necessary to obtain eternal life. Jesus’ answer in both places echoes the same truth. In John he continues, These are the very Scriptures that testify about me. And back in Matt he says if you want to be perfect do this (sell possessions and give to poor) – Then come, follow me. In both cases the good falls short. Their reading of Scripture misses the purpose of those Scriptures, and the young man’s pursuit of perfect leaves him in need of a Savior – instead of blazing a trail to God he must follow his way there.
The question was flawed because it assumed a prerequisite worthiness of man to receive what was promised. Upon achieving such worth one then entered into ‘eternity.’ However, as the Gospel clearly states it is only the worthiness of Christ which matters for salvation – and once we believe, his worth becomes ours. Second, our eternity does not start after death. From birth we are creatures made for a life beyond this earth, and our meeting Jesus rectifies that truth in us. With Jesus as our guide, we are not grafted into eternity but eternity is grafted into us changing every factor of our decisions from the inside out.
After Jesus’ answer the disciples ask, Who then can be saved? Jesus had made it clear the salvation of man is not reliant upon the good things he tries to do. Jesus answers, With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
Possible vs Impossible
Using the logic of Matt 19 we can define possible and impossible as follows. The possible is what can be done by man using man’s resources, abilities, and knowledge to accomplish good things for man’s purpose.
The impossible, then, is an inversion of this definition. The impossible is what cannot be done by man and therefore necessitates God, his resources, abilities and knowledge to accomplish good things for God’s purpose.
Now one step further. By man’s efforts the things of God are impossible, but with God the things of God are made possible. This is simple but easily forgotten. We fall easily into the trap of the young rich man, looking for good things to do for God. We look at our resources, abilities and knowledge and strive to accomplish good things. Perhaps this is good, but is it best? It is impossible to please God without faith (Heb. 11:6).
God is more glorified in what he can do through you than by what you can do for him.
John 17. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. (v1 and 4)
Jesus did the impossible. He finished God’s work, a work no man could do. When I look to ministry opportunities I am subtlety reminded that my goal is not simply to do well, but to strive for what will glorify God most. What will make God more famous, more precious, more valuable to the people I work with? Sometimes this comes through something I can do, as God would use it. Many times it does not.
With practice, the impossible things of man can become romances with the imminence of God.