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Beyond the eight ball

The Life Less Traveled

January 09, 2013
One of my favorite toys as a kid was the mysterious Magic 8 Ball. Have you ever seen one of these? It's basically a super-sized black billiard ball with a tiny, plastic window to the future. Inside the window is a 20-sided die immersed in liquid with various answers to yes-or-no questions printed on its sides. Ask the Magic 8 Ball a question, flip it over, and the answer will materialize in the murky depths of the blue future juice.

My conversations with the eight ball always went something like this. I'd say, "Oh, Magic 8 Ball, will I someday be rich?" I'd turn it over, and the eight ball would say, "It is decidedly so." Woo-hoo! Score.

The Magic 8 Ball had 10 positive answers, five vague answers (like "reply hazy, try again later") and five negative answers. So, I learned that you always wanted to ask questions that had a positive outcome like, "Will I become a NASA pilot?" and not questions like, "Will I die in a grisly shark attack?"

The best part about the eight ball, though, is that, if it didn't give me the answer I wanted, I could just turn it upside down and try it again. With half of the answers being affirmative, it was just a matter of time before the future predictor came around to my way of thinking.

Honestly, sometimes I wish God were like a Magic 8 Ball. I'd like to be able to pick Him up, ask Him a question about my future, flip Him over and get the answer. If He didn't tell me what I wanted to hear, I'd just turn Him back over and ask again. Eventually, He'd give me a happy answer and make it so.

Truth be told, sometimes I've treated the Bible like that. I've opened it randomly and, if there was a positive verse on the page, I assumed it must be God talking to me. If I opened it up to something gloomy, I turned the page. Time to shake up the Magic 8 Ball and try again.

One time before a big test in college, I tried this trick and prayed, "God, just give me some encouragement today, just something to calm my nerves before this test." Then, I opened my Bible to a random spot. It was Psalm 22 which begins, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Really funny, God. Really funny.

The fact of the matter is, God's not a Magic 8 Ball. I cannot pick Him up and demand clarity for my future. Sometimes when God speaks, it is reassuring. Other times it's challenging, and He tells me hard truth that I don't want to hear. Still, other times I feel like my prayers are answered with a "reply is hazy, try again later."

This can be frustrating until I remember that God's not worried about my future because He already has it well in hand. I don't need to know my future. I just need to know my God.

Instead of a Magic 8 Ball, I have a Shepherd who leads me into my future one step at a time. I don't need to know or manipulate the days ahead of me. I just simply need to trust and follow Him. That's where my faith becomes real.

Can I count on God's character? Can I trust Him to work out the details of my life? In the words of the Magic 8 Ball, "Yes, it is decidedly so."

Jason Byerly, a 1990 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, is the children's pastor at Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Ky. He and his wife have two daughters. For more, visit www.jasonbyerly.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/jasondbyerly.

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