Continuing with the problem of why God would "pull us from the game" and, despite our gifts, training and desire, not let us do that for which we have prepared.
I wrote in part one of building character as one possible reason. And I am assuming in all this that there is no willful sin, which, of course, changes everything. Such sin is in fact a demonstration of a lack of character. But there's another reason, one that I think is also very important, and perhaps more common than we realize.
That's to bring us into a deeper relationship with God.
As I think of earlier times in history, I often think how fortunate I am to have been born when and where I was. I have had a relatively easy life - never had to worry about whether I might survive another week - with resources to buy an occasional toy, lots of books and a few other things I like. Oh, and let's not forget a substantial number of years of education, collecting several college degrees along the way, and changing careers several times in my life. These are luxuries unimaginable to most of the people who have lived on this earth.
And yet, there is one thing our culture doesn't give us, which we badly need. In fact, contemporary American culture is oriented to deny us this critical element. We are raised and trained to be busy, to do something. Even our so-called "leisure" is merely another form of being busy. And solitude, closely tied to quiet relaxation, is nearly unheard of. There is much loneliness, more alienation, but little intentionally chosen solitude. The two symbols of our culture might well be the personal stereo and the virtual reality game, both tools to help us shut others out and create our own world. Not good.
We are not made for this sort of life. We are not intended to live in social and intellectual isolation and frenetic activity. And when we do, we suffer for it.
Our culture offers us many good things. But instead of accepting these good things and living with them in a balanced way, we try to cram in as much of hustle and bustle as we can. We don't want to miss anything. We only go around this life one time, after all. And worse, we push our children into every conceivable activity, as we run ourselves and them ragged, in fear that the little darlings might grow up deprived of some opportunity. It's very often a parent's way of easing his or her conscience for giving a child everything but a caring, involved mom or dad.
Much of this frenetic activity comes from our own sense of emptiness and failure. We run, run, run, trying to do something that will make us feel fulfilled and worthwhile. Something that will remove the emptiness inside, that will give us significance. But it doesn't work.
We were made for a life radically different than the contemporary American version. We were indeed designed to work, to be active, but to do so for other reasons than to find significance. We work out of our God-designated significance, not to gain it. And we were designed to live in intimate relationship, not in isolation. Social and intellectual isolation is intensely destructive.
Reading the first couple chapters of Genesis, we can see something of God's intent in creating us. First, we were created in his image. That means we have the capacity - in limited measure - to love, to create, to do a variety of other things unknown to any other being. It also means we were created to be in relationship. We are inherently social, and need each other. The first relationship for us was with our creator, with God himself. Then, after God came others like us. To be healthy, they have to be in that order.
Finally, we were made to work in service of God's creation, caring for it, protecting it, and completing it. Not work for the sake of work, nor to achieve status, but in fulfillment of God's intended and high purpose for us.
Okay, so if all that's true, what does it have to do with our feeling of being sidelined? A lot.
We are a stubborn sort, and while we often say we want a deeper relationship with God - at least, some of us do - we then complain we simply don't have time. We're too busy to pray, to read our Bibles, to spend time at the feet of Jesus.
So, being a gracious sort, God exercises a kind of mercy toward us, forcing us out of our pattern by pulling us out of the game, setting us on the bench and letting us watch the world go on without us. We don't like it, and we cry and complain about it, but that's okay. At least now we're talking with God and willing perhaps to make room for listening to him, too.
These times are not permanent. They are of a relatively short duration - though it may seem excessive by our measure - and for a purpose. And when the purpose has been met, things will change. Unfortunately, we don't always know what the purpose is, and so we don't know when it's been met. It's God's call.
So, my thought on the most beneficial plan of action in times of God's silence is simple: Complain if you like - I do - but whatever you do, press toward God. Spend time sitting at his feet and enjoying the wonder of his grace and beauty. A good tool in beginning this pattern is to daily read a verse such as Psalm 27:4. And talk to Him. Talk with Him.
It's a high honor that God gives us, this coming into his presence, and it's worth more by far than anything else to which we might aspire. And it's only when we have been in his presence that we have something to offer others in our world. It's when we are with Him that we begin to understand our purpose for living and to reflect the character and beauty of our God.