by Kevin Carson
I can see you, kind of. As I write, I am flying at 30,000 feet above the Ozarks. I can see Table Rock Lake, Taneycomo, and Bull Shoals. The towns of Branson, Hollister, and Ozark are more difficult to make out. I see farms, open pastures, winding roads, ponds that look like puddles, and matchbox structures. Trucks, cars, and boats, merely dots against the background, are barely discernible. Certainly, the majesty of the Mark Twain Forest is abundantly clear. I experience the Ozarks; it seems strangely quiet and peaceful today.
From this perspective, things are different; helpful, you might say. You see connections, relationships, and patterns. Here you can observe how the Finley, James, and White Rivers connect in a chain of sorts, one feeding another, and feeding another still. You can discern the relationships between the winding roads and the variations of the Ozarks’ geography where hills, water, forest, and plains share the same space. These various elements combine to create a pattern that would make the finest quilt-maker proud. Absolutely gorgeous.
Although the beauty of the Ozarks can be considered, appreciated, and admired from this high, this perspective fails to reveal the depth of the beauty of the Ozarks. From here it is impossible to see the towering oaks, the clumped acorns, the energetic squirrels, and the deep brown bark. Gone are the sounds of waves massaging the shore, the gentle caress of the breeze, the light whiffs of humidified air, and the occasional splash of a fish. Missing are the faint moos of nearby cattle, the bullfrog’s deep croak, the coyotes’ unsettling bark, and the commanding hoot of the owl. Absent are the brilliant array of leaves, the orchestration of the birds, the greenish-tan hue of the fields, and the gigantic hay bales that dot the countryside.
Plus, where are the people? From up here you can’t see the farmer, bus driver, mailman, clerk, fireman, mechanic, or coach. Where are the grandpas, grandmas, dads, moms, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, uncles, aunts, and so many friends? The silence is deafening. There are no laughs, fun-filled screams, chats, cheers, whispers, and conversations. It is impossible to observe the glimpses, the glimmers, the winks, the scowls, the smiles, the squints, the tears, and the hugs. This perspective, as quiet and helpful as it may seem, fails to catch the essence of the Ozarks.
So how is here, right now, this place — up in the clouds per se — how is this perspective helpful? Let me share two ways the big perspective/big picture is helpful for us.
First, we occasionally need the reminder of the big perspective and how everything connects and relates. It is good to take time to notice the themes and patterns in life around us. As you guessed, I’m not talking about geography necessarily. Instead, I’m talking about life — my life, your life, our lives.
In the daily grind, it is easy to lose the Big Picture Perspective. God works in and through these details of life for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). God is up to something good, and you are part of that. If we fail to see the big picture, then it is much easier to either minimize what God is doing or not consider God at all.
Consider my flight today. I know all these rivers are connected, yet today’s flight reminds me of that. I see the connections and can pause to praise God for His wonderful work. It is very good (Genesis 1:31). I see man’s ingenuity in the road system, farms, structures, and hydroelectric dams. However, this is not about man; this is about God’s grace to man. None of these great accomplishments — even me floating up here — would be possible without God. So, this perspective helps keep me grounded in my own time and space of life. God created, works, and plans. We benefit.
When we observe the big themes and patterns in life, we learn where God desires to do His marvelous work of redemption in our lives (Ephesians 2:10; 3:20). Where does God want to change us? What character piece are we missing? Where have we been living without careful consideration of God and His plan?
There is a second way the big perspective is helpful to us. The big picture helps us recognize the in-depth, intense, multifaceted beauty of the daily grind. God has a place He wants to work His plan, purpose, and goals — our lives. The nitty-gritty, the ups and downs, the good and bad, the best and worst of life all fit together in God’s plan to help grow us into His Son’s image. In the midst of football season and practice, school days, work demands, shopping trips, yard work, traffic jams, and so forth, God desires to take us from where we are to where He wants us in our character or inner man. Without the big perspective, we fail to realize the beauty of actually what is around us daily.
In fact, we must work to maintain our focus in daily living with the perspective of God’s purposes and plans. Often in the rush and activity of everyday living, it is easy to be annoyed by the mundane things in life that tend to be frustrating. However, God is using the minutia of the common and ordinary circumstances to help you grow into Christ-likeness (James 1:2-12; 1 Corinthians 10:13). If you fail to see God at work in the mundane, you will fail to see Him at all.
From the quiet, you appreciate the noise. From a distance, you long for the intimate. From the larger context, you gain perspective on the immediate proximity. In the daily struggles of life, people and objects often garner our frustration, attacks, and rage. However, God places those people and objects into our lives for our good and His glory. Instead of individuals becoming our objects of contempt, God wants us to embrace them, live life with them, to essentially welcome them into our lives as the gifts they are. God places us in a context with people where He does His good work — for, to, and in us; for, to, and in them.
This Thanksgiving season, we have so much for which to be grateful. First, only in Christ is all this possible. Prior to a personal relationship with God through Christ, you were unable to honor God. However, now as a child of God, God changes you by the power of the Spirit through the Word of God, in the midst of your circumstances (Ephesians 2:8-10; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Right now, God is up to something good in your life as clearly previously demonstrated through the death of Christ and your salvation (Romans 5:1-11).
Furthermore, we can be grateful for the seasons of life. The Thanksgiving holiday, teeming with family gatherings, church socials, holiday shopping, sports, and food, reminds us of another year quickly coming to a close. In just weeks we say goodbye to this year and begin a new year. This seasonal change is much bigger than the calendar though. Solomon wrote, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). He further penned, “He hath made everything beautiful in his time” (3:11). Essentially, Solomon reminds us that the details that make up life as we know it — the people, places, concerns, and responsibilities — come and go by God’s design and are fitting to this time and place in your life and mine. Solomon challenges us to recognize the season of life in which we live today, right here and now, as part of God’s gift to us according to His good plan and purpose. He writes, “… but for a man to rejoice and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). We give thanks, responding appropriately both to the good and bad in life, the seasons of God’s calendar, as we see the big perspective of God’s character and design.
So, today and during this Thanksgiving season, enjoy the scenery wherever you are — flying high gaining perspective, or walking along slowly through the circumstances of life in a fallen world. God is good and is in the details. Happy Thanksgiving!
Kevin Carson is a pastor of Sonrise Baptist Church in Ozark, MO, and also serves as professor and department chair of Biblical Counseling at Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO.