Don’t forget to look up!

Don’t forget to look up!

When I was in college, I always had at least one part-time job in addition to the classes I was taking.  Mostly, these jobs were at churches – part-time choir director, part-time youth leader, etc. – but occasionally I also held jobs in other fields.

Of my non-church jobs, by far my favorite was being a tour guide at the state capitol building in Austin. I had this job for a little over a year, and some of my best friends to this day are people I met while working there 15 years ago.

Just walking into the building was quite a thrill.  I always parked in a garage located east of the building, so I entered through the east doors and walked down the long hallway that runs past Senate offices and the Secretary of State’s office before emerging into the rotunda.

The rotunda is a singularly impressive space.  Located at the very center of the capitol, where the east/west hallway meets the north/south hallway, it is round in shape and very, very tall.  It is 218 feet from the terrazzo floor beneath your feet to the star with the letters T-E-X-A-S above your head.  Balconies from the second, third, and fourth floors hang above you, and the portraits of all of the governors of the State of Texas and presidents of the Republic of Texas line the walls.

My favorite moment on each tour was leading tour groups from the south foyer, where the tours began, into the rotunda.  I have no idea how many tours I led – hundreds, probably – but never in all of those tours did I see someone walk into the rotunda for the first time without stopping, looking up, and saying “wow.”  It was an almost reflexive, involuntary reaction, and it was universal – I led tours for everyone from school kids to celebrities, from all ages and socioeconomic classes, and they all did the same thing when we entered the rotunda.

There were, however, folks who didn’t share that reaction: people who worked in the building.  By far, the easiest way to spot someone who works in the capitol is to stand in the rotunda and watch for people who keep their heads down when they walk through that room.  See, if you work in the capitol, the rotunda becomes just another area you have to walk through to get to wherever you’re going.  Worse, because all the tourists are so enamored with that space, you have to dodge school kids, avoid getting in the way of people taking pictures, and navigate your way through crowds of people who are just standing around looking up.

Now, I guarantee that the first time those people walked through the rotunda they had the same reaction as everyone else.  But, over the months and years that they worked in the building, they got used to it and didn’t find it awe-inspiring anymore.  They had gotten used to it, and it just wasn’t that big of a deal to them.

So, here’s something to think about: Does the fact that people get used to the rotunda and stop being amazed by it make it any less amazing?  Put another way, did something about the rotunda change, or was it something about the people that changed?

If you’re like me, you can probably think of specific instances in your life where God was clearly at work, protecting and caring for you in a difficult time.  Whether it was something small – like orchestrating a series of otherwise improbable encounters that allowed me to obtain the orchestral score to an Easter musical I was working on years ago – or something big – like setting in motion a chain of events that seemed disastrous at the start but actually led to me meeting my wonderful wife – God has been incredibly faithful to me in every situation.

These events can lead to great clarification in our spiritual lives, putting into sharp focus the power of our God and His incredible care and protection over our lives.  In the aftermath of receiving such blessings from God, we may find that we follow Him with a greater sense of boldness and urgency, knowing that He will protect us as we seek His will for our lives.

Sometimes, though, after enough time has passed and the “newness” wears off, we become like those folks who get used to the capitol rotunda – we forget to look up.  We forget to watch for God working and recognize His divine hand of leadership and protection that guides our lives.  We forget just how real and personal His promise in Jeremiah 29:11 is:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

It’s not that God has changed  – His plans for us are just as good, and his power and protection is just as real.  On the contrary, we have changed.  The passage of time has dulled our sense of wonder at God’s provision for us and we have returned to our old ways of thinking and acting.

No longer animated by the recent experience of God’s providence over our lives, we back away from seeking His will quite so intensely and leaning on Him for protection and provision.  We lose our sense of urgency to live our lives each day for Him.  We lose sight of God’s vision for our lives.

Does that cycle sound familiar to you?  If you’re like me – and, I’m convinced, like most Christians – you have seen that cycle in your own life.  I call it the “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” cycle.  Looking back, you may even be able to identify exactly where you are in that cycle right now.

Here’s the problem with that cycle: when we are in a place where we’re no longer looking up, we miss out on the blessings God has for us on and the purpose and vision He has for our lives.  In other words, when we allow ourselves to lose our sense of wonder at God’s faithfulness to us in our past we undermine our ability to see God at work in our present and to trust His plans for our future.

At the beginning of the Old Testament book of Joshua, God is preparing to take His people into the land He has promised them.  This is after the decades of wandering in the wilderness as a result of an entire generation’s lack of faith that God would keep His promises and allow them to be victorious in the battle for the promised land.

God spoke to Joshua, Moses’ successor as the leader of Israel, telling him in verse 2 of chapter 1, “You and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them –  to the Israelites.”

If you had been there, you probably would have balked a little bit at what God was saying.  After all, the Jordan isn’t a small river, and getting the thousands of men, women, and children along with all of their possessions across such a large river would have been a huge challenge.

But God reassured Joshua in verse 9 of chapter 1: “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

And so, Joshua prepared the people for what God was going to do.  He told them to gather their families and possessions and be prepared to cross into the promised land.  In verse 5 of chapter 3, Joshua says to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

The next day, God commanded Joshua to have the priests carry the ark of the covenant into the river ahead of the people, promising that he would stop the flow of the river to allow the people to pass on dry ground.  And that’s exactly what happened (Joshua 3:14-17):

So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.

Then, God commanded them to do something that probably seemed a bit odd in that moment: He had the people create a place of remembrance commemorating what God had done.

He commanded them to go into the river and gather 12 stones – one for each of the tribes of Israel – and set up a monument on the riverbank.

Joshua 4:21-24:

And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”

These 12 stones stood as a permanent reminder to God’s people of His faithfulness and power.  They were a place of remembrance, and also a place of inspiration.  They were a reminder that when God calls His people to move, He provides them with everything they will need.

As you look back over your own life, can you see any metaphorical monuments of instances when God has done mighty things?  Do you remember times when God worked in your life in a supernatural way, as only He can?  Do you believe that He can still work in that same way today, regardless of what obstacle you may face?

God has proved His faithfulness to His people throughout human history.  Again and again, we have experienced His provision and protection in our lives in ways both large and small, and these experiences provide us with inspiration that He will be with us in the future.

So, next time you’re in Austin, take a few minutes to go visit the capitol and admire the rotunda.  You’ll be glad you did.  (By the way, if you stand on the star in the middle of the floor of the rotunda, you will hear a cool echo when you speak that no one else can hear.  Try it!  It’s fun.)

And, next time you’re facing a situation that seems daunting, don’t forget to look up!  Remember, as the passage from Joshua says, that “the hand of the Lord is mighty,” and let that embolden you to follow Him each day.

P.S. – When people find out that I used to work at the capitol, they always ask me what my favorite place in the building is.  In case you’re interested, I’ll go ahead and tell you.

Most people enter the capitol either via the south entrance (this is the “main” entrance, facing down Congress Avenue toward the river) or the east entrance (this is the one closest to the visitor parking garage).  If you come in from the south, walk to the rotunda and take a left.  If you come in from the east, walk all the way to the opposite end of the building from where you came in.

When you get all the way to the end of that long hallway, right before you would walk out the west doors, turn right.  There is a large room on the northwest corner of the first floor that is called the “Texas Agricultural Museum.”

This was an original feature of the building – the Department of Agriculture had a display of various kinds of agricultural products grown in the state.  Over the years, the room was reclaimed for office space and cut up into smaller rooms, but in the big restoration project of the mid-1990’s the room was restored to it’s original appearance.  Everything is authentic: the display cases are originals, and the floor is a reproduction of the original linoleum.  Plus, you can see lots of antique agricultural machinery and learn about agricultural history from the 1880s.

So, go visit the agricultural museum.  It’s not on the tour, so you’ll have to find it for yourself.