Sometimes there’s a fine line between wisdom and cynicism.
In 1985, I was at a Cru gathering called “Explo ’85” where I first got really excited about my Christian faith. The conference was my first serious introduction to all the amazing things God was doing around the globe. The rallying cry was, “Come help change the world!” I was young, unencumbered, idealistic, and wanted to be a “world changer.”
Several friends were also there, and together we began imagining how God might use us to alter the course of human history. Trafficking in dreams seems to be the capital of youth, and while some dreamed of making money and becoming powerful and famous, we dreamed of being radically committed to Christ. Others might live mediocre lives, but we were going to rise above the mundane and shine like stars for Jesus!
Those dreams were dreamt more than thirty years ago now. There have been many storms and trials since. Lots of water has passed beneath life’s bridge. My friends’ lives took many different courses. One (pictured with me above) died suddenly in his mid-twenties, another was married and then divorced, a third joined and then left Cru staff to become a lawyer, and one never finished college and became a security guard.
Reflecting on our lives and walks with God, I was struck by the thin line separating wisdom from cynicism. All of us made choices along the way—thousands and thousands of them, choices that pulled and pushed us down the corridors of time. Most of those youthful dreams quickly fled or slowly died away under reality’s crushing weight. We all squandered opportunities to serve Jesus fully.
Did any of us become world changers? I suppose we each, in our own ways, did help change the world—for better and for worse. We wanted to be great, but in the end, we all turned out to be notoriously normal—broken, struggling, anonymous, unimpressive, and yet, still loved and graciously used by a wonderfully good and patient God.
Our youthful dreams of grandeur were mostly our own. We were not wrong to dream them, but in the face of real life and God’s greater plan, they didn’t mean or amount to all that much. And cynicism comes easy when you merely compare the youthful dream with the stark reality. Most of our dreams are lost and forgotten in time. Most of our goals remain unfulfilled. Few succeed in achieving what was dreamed about in youth.
Wisdom, however, helps us understand that whatever visions and plans we may have once had, ultimately, all of us make daily decisions that bring us step by step to the threshold of today. This is the wisdom of personal responsibility. The wise will not blame others for what might have been but somehow never was. No matter how awful or difficult the path became, we all had choices about the way we would live our lives.
Wisdom also affirms that life is more than choices. This is our Father’s world, and our decisions are always coupled with His sovereign—and sometimes incomprehensible—purposes and plans. True wisdom surrenders to the ways of a God who is wholly worthy of our trust. We may have wanted more for ourselves when God wanted less. The opposite is also true. Many well-known believers never sought fame, fortune, or “scope” in their service of the Lord. God simply chose to elevate and multiply what they were humbly doing for His own purposes and glory. They were faithful, of course, but He was the Master Planner, opening doors for a broader base of impact.
Wisdom understands this and gives God all the glory. Our calling, then, is not to fulfill our wildest dreams or achieve our highest goals, noble though they be. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be more, of course, but just like John the Baptist, sometimes God calls us to be less (John 3:30). The cynic lives in bitterness and regret over all that might have been. The sage knows that sometimes less is more in the long-range economy of an omniscient and omnipotent God. In this we can be content, giving Him our sincerest thanks and most joyous praise.