As a small boy I was spellbound by the night sky. Late one evening, while staying at a friend’s cabin, tucked in the woods of Massachusetts, my friend and I stumbled through the dark pine trees and made our way to a wooden dock that reached out into the nearby lake. We laid there on our backs for hours, motionless, staring up at the innumerable twinkling lights brilliantly littered across the black canopy above us. As I gazed out into endless space, I didn’t know how, I didn’t know when, but I knew I wanted to go there. I wanted the stars. I wanted adventure.
Whether you had aspirations of becoming an astronaut, a doctor, or a dragon slaying knight, we all grew up believing we could be something great. Parents and teachers encouraged our imagination. “You can be anything you want to be!” And our dreams weren’t limited to just our profession. From Aladdin to The Lord of the Rings, the stories we were told gave us visions of a life filled with starry-eyed love and heroic quests. To this day, don’t we still yearn for thrilling journeys, storybook romances, picture-perfect families, and extraordinary faith?
Shocking as it may be for you to learn, I never made it to the stars. And today the chances are pretty slim that I’d excel in NASA’s astronaut application process. Instead, as I grew up, reality slowly grounded my childhood dreams. My hopes of being a space traveler faded into nothing more than a memory and, as time passed by, I began to learn firsthand that life down here on planet earth is hard. Really hard.
Unmet expectations and nagging dissatisfaction in my circumstances troubled me in high school, persisted during college, and have seemed to only multiply since I graduated and made my way into the “real world”. After years of painful disappointments, I gradually decided, in a sense, to stop looking up at the stars I once loved. Why bother? Like the author of Ecclesiastes, I found myself saying in my heart, “meaningless, everything is meaningless.”
Maybe you too have grown to realize that the life you’re living is far from the life you thought you’d have. Maybe you’ve been let down by your grades, your relationships, your college experience, your career path, your family, or your beliefs. Maybe you’ve seen more than enough failure, loss, depression, anxiety, sin, loneliness, or simply overwhelming monotony. Maybe the dreams you once longed for have drowned in waves of disillusion.
This sense of prevailing disenchantment can be so wounding because it is able to easily rob us of hope and purpose. Soon we start to cynically look at the world as a cold place of defeat and emptiness. It can cast a dark shadow on the way we view our aspirations, the people around us, and our walks with God.
Jesus’s own disciples tasted this same bitterness of disillusionment as they followed him. For hundreds of years Israel had been awaiting a Messiah, a conquering king, to arrive in triumph to defeat their enemies, and put Jerusalem back on top. Instead of this, they got a humble carpenter from Nazareth who was rejected, arrested, mocked, and eventually crucified. Jesus repeatedly told his disciples that the Kingdom had come, but how could they trust him? It didn’t look at all how they expected it to look.
Yet, from this side of the cross, we can see that while the disciples’ own expectations of greatness were being let down, something far greater was happening right before their eyes. Jesus didn’t come to conquer nations, he came to conquer a much more potent adversary. He came to defeat sin. And because of the decisive victory he achieved, he gave to his disciples, and now to us, an adventure to be a part of that is so substantial, it can be an abiding hope to us even when every expectation or dream we’ve held dear is crashing down around us.
If Jesus really is who he said he was, it means that the gospel is the story we’ve been longing to be a part of our whole lives. It means that we really were created to know the God of heaven. It means that in the pain of disillusionment, our Father is there to comfort us. It means that while our lives are broken with selfishness, our Redeemer has come to save. It means that though the world is filled with sorrows, our King will return to set things right. It also means that God sometimes graciously disillusions us with our plans of earthly joy, so that we would learn to find our treasure in Jesus.
So no, I’ll never rocket through space like I’d imagined as a boy. But in light of the gospel, I’m able to marvel at the stars even more profoundly because I now know that their beauty and power are meant to point me to the beauty and power of their Creator. Our Creator. It is in relationship with him that we can believe in real adventure again. We can risk daringly, fight sin openly, love recklessly, and participate boldly in God’s mission to rescue the world.
This adventure of faith, like the first disciples’ view of Jesus, probably won’t look much like our expectations. The Lord still allows us to experience affliction and disillusionment here and now. But like the disciples, we can learn to endure disappointment, failure, longing, and suffering even if they last our entire lives, because it is through the gospel of Jesus Christ that God comes near to us and promises, “The story is far from over.”