I recall a seminary class on church growth, in which the professor was exploring a rare quality found in very few pastors. It is the ability to effectively shepherd a church as it grows from just a few parishioners to a megachurch of many thousands. And at every stage of development, the pastor is able to grow the staff as well as the church, and maintain a level of intimacy with parishioners.
A Rare Combination
Typically, pastors flourish at the lower end or at the higher end. Their vision is effective at ground-level or at the 40,000-foot view, but rarely both. It’s like the contrast between the small business owner and the corporate executive. One is strong at coaching others and nurturing relationships. The other is a visionary leader who can guide a corporation, but who may tend to be remote toward the employees. Rarely are the strengths of both extremes combined into one person. This is why most churches and businesses can only grow so large under the same leader.
I thought about this the other day when pondering the words of an old hymn, How Great Thou Art. How Great Thou Art is a song of great contrasts in God. Its first verse describes God’s great power displayed in the countless stars, planets, and galaxies spread across a universe that measures 93 billion light years from end to end. Therefore, if we could live a thousand lifetimes and travel at the speed of light, we still wouldn’t live long enough to make a fraction of the journey across it. The size of this universe is mind-blowing, to say the least. Yet one great Creator is behind it all and He holds it neatly in the palm of His hand. Our only response to God’s immensity is to fall before God and cry out, “How great Thou art!”
Birds & A Whisper
Yet God’s ability to hold the universe in His hand, while awe inspiring, can also be troubling. For we find it difficult to reconcile it with a God who is intimate with the smallest details of our lives. This is where the second verse of How Great Thou Art comes in. It describes the author, Carl Boberg, walking through the forest and hearing the tiny voices of songbirds in the trees. It struck him that the same God who stretched out the universe, cares enough for us to fill the air with the pleasant voices of birds.
And there is God’s care for the tiny birds themselves, enabling them to fly as well as to sing. It reminded the author of Jesus’ words, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)
Then, the author speaks of standing on a high mountain and enjoying the vista. Yet, he was both inspired by the peak’s majesty and troubled at how it dwarfed the villages below. But then he was struck by the contrast between by the mountain’s immensity and the gentle breeze that caressed him. Like Elijah on Mount Horeb, Carl Boberg realized that God is not always reflected by the earthquakes, tempests, and fires. He is gentle enough to reach us in the softest breath (1 Kings 19:9-14).
The Great Example
These first two verses of Carl Boberg’s great hymn echo something we find in several Bible passages. In Psalm 139 King David speaks of God’s immensity – that He fills the universe and His presence is inescapable (Psalm 139:7-12). Yet, He also describes God’s intimacy with the smallest details of our lives (Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18). The same is true in John 1. In the prologue we read of Christ the eternal Word and Creator (John 1:1-3). Yet later on we see the intimate Christ, who sees Nathaniel underneath the fig tree and hears his prayer (John 1:45-51).
Yes, Christ is the God of contrasts. He is like the gentle and tender-hearted pastor of the small church – yet also like the mighty mover and shaker – multiplied by infinity. God fills the universe. Yet He never loses sight of the smallest detail. Christ stretches out the universe, yet upholds the existence and order of the smallest atom (Colossians 1:16-20; Hebrews 1:1-3). Nothing can possibly escape His notice.
There are those times when we need God’s immensity and power, especially when we’re facing foes and troubling circumstances. And there are also those times when we need God’s intimacy, particularly when we’re broken and hurting. Christ has been and will always be all in all to us.
Lord Jesus, be all in all to me. Whatever my needs may be, may I find strength, healing, and love in Your divine embrace. Amen.