“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
-1 Timothy 1:12-17 (ESV)
God’s grace and plans are astounding. Mind-boggling. Who would’ve seen potential in a man like Saul to become a lover and believer of Jesus Christ, unashamedly bold to share the Gospel of Christ, risking his own life time and time again to do so? Who would’ve seen that potential except the Lord?
I’ve looked at people I’ve known in my life – dear friends, simple acquaintances and virtual strangers – and I’ve thought to myself about the amazing potential in each of these individuals. Potential as children of God.
Many of them were great people of influence. Many of them possessed beautiful gifts to love and care for others that reflected Christ’s mercy and tenderness, even though many of them didn’t know Him whom they modeled. And seeing their potential, I prayed for their salvation and/or growth in the Lord – their sanctification in the One who gave them these gifts and potential. I prayed for their increased effectiveness as a child of God and in seeing the Gospel go forth among the nations, even among those in their own community. And I still pray.
My prayers have not gone unheard. I know that. Throughout Scripture we read testimonies of God hearing and answering prayer, including when David was saved from a pit after calling out to the Lord (Psalm 40:1-2). I know that the Lord hears my prayers and that He is at work despite what my eyes see or don’t see. But as I’ve looked upon these people and seen the potential I thought was there, I’ve come to rethink about what God sees. What potential does He see? How does He see potential? Does He look to these strong, loving individuals and see their potential for the Kingdom of God? Or does he look upon the migrant worker, the outcast, the unemployed, those overcome with addictions, the loveless, the weak and see greater potential there?
Saul, before he was Paul, was both a person of great influence and power (Phil. 3:4-6). He was a stickler to the Law. He was merciless and caused unwarranted suffering in the lives of those who followed the Way of Jesus (Acts 8:1, 3; 9:1-2). He was both a somebody and a nobody at the same time. What qualified Him to receive God’s grace? Nothing. That’s the point. “…the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:14).
So whether a gift-potential, or a position-in-life-potential are obvious, it doesn’t matter to God. He has different qualifications than the world does. Thank the Lord for that!
But I am still curious about what it’s like to gaze at the world through His eyes. When He looks at my Thai-yai neighbour’s child, does He see a future evangelist? A church leader? A godly father and husband? I don’t know. Maybe He sees those things, but He must see beyond those things – He is God after all. He created us and knows us completely (Psalm 139:13, 16) – the parts that are obvious to the world and the parts unseen, even sometimes unseen by our own selves. He is not only the Creator but the Sovereign One (Acts 4:24), who knows who will come to believe and those who will never have the veil, that Satan’s placed over their eyes, removed (2 Corinthians 4:4).
So how then shall we pray? Is the potential I think I see in people worth praying for?
A year or so ago, a friend of mine was recounting a time when he’d awoken from a dream weeping. He had seen himself in his dream – saw the potential that God saw in Him – and was overcome with the reality of where he currently was at in his life. His point, as he shared about the dream, was that this dream, this picture of possibilities for himself that God had shown him was something worth aiming for. It wasn’t a dream of condemnation but of hope. Realised hope through Christ Jesus.
I long to see change, growth and increased holiness in my own life and in the lives of those around me, especially for those close to my heart. I long for these things for the Thai-yai. I long to see us reach the potential that we have in Christ Jesus – “to throw off everything that hinders and the sin which so easily entangles and to run with perseverance the race that’s marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1) (NIV).
The race is lifelong, as is the journey to reaching our full potential in Christ. It’s not going to happen tonight or tomorrow or two months down the road from now. Sanctification is a process. And a process takes time.
The potential I see, through these human eyes of mine, is a good place to start – a good place to begin in praying for those around me. But my prayers must be a starting point or springboard, if you will – my prayers must go beyond my ideas, my thoughts, my eyes to His. I cannot eliminate the one with latent gifts from my prayers, just as I cannot assume God’s will for one with potential.
The author of Hebrews reminds us to look to “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb. 12:2a), as we run the race, called life, that He’s called us to. Jesus endured the cross because of the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2b). That joy was/is us. Us, just as we are. Us, with the God-given potential or latent gifts which HE fully sees.
So I press on in prayer.