Yesterday my mother and I were preparing a demonstration for a geometry class which we were going to be teaching together. We decided it would be interesting to prove the formula for the surface area of a sphere by showing the students that four paper circles could cover a rubber ball with the same diameter. We were very excited about it when we started the project. We had our ball and our compass and our scissors and our tape. We carefully measured and cut the circles then proceeded to affix them to the rubber ball. That is where the fun abruptly ended. Twelve paper circles, two tape-covered balls, and a pile of confetti later, we had pretty much determined that the formula for the surface area of a sphere was one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.
Finally, I tapped into my inner tangram and figured out a way to make our circles cover our sphere closely enough to vindicate the formula.
As I reflected later on our bumbling attempts, it occurred to me that this wasn't the first time my mother and I had struggled to reconcile a theoretical truth with a seemingly contradictory reality. Over the years we have had countless conversations during which we struggled to reconcile God's glorious statements of truth about us with the balls of crumpled paper and tape that made up our daily experiences. For example, God says, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away and all things have become new." But as we sat helplessly looking at the paper circles of bad habits, poor choices, pet sins, and chronic mistakes, it seemed they could never be reconciled with the "sphere" of a being a new creation!
God's statements about our holiness and righteousness in Christ sometimes appear to be as false as that formula did to my mother and me as we tried and failed repeatedly in our attempts to demonstrate it. But eventually, those paper circles did cover that sphere. We had to admit, the problem was never in the formula. It was in our attempts to appropriate it.
God's promises are most certainly true and His statements trustworthy. If they do not appear true in my life right now, it is not because they are false. It is because I am not appropriating them correctly.
But as I grow in grace and in the knowledge of God by walking closely with Him and persevering in faith, I will enjoy periodic moments in which suddenly something falls into place which was previously an impossibility. I will learn and experience growth.
In spite of the fact that my Christian life has often seemed frustrating and hopeless, when I look back over the years I have to admit that I can see the progress. I can see promises realized and the theoretical made fact. I can see times in my life where positional truths became practical realities.
My mom and I triumphed over the surface area formula only to be stumped by the volume formula a few minutes later. In the same way, we may appropriate one of God's promises only to stumble over the next. This dynamic will never end this side of heaven. The important thing is that we continue to learn and make progress.
Oh, one more thing: The thrill of seeing God's Word proved true in our lives is far greater than the thrill of seeing a mathematical formula proved true. That may be very hard to believe (especially for my tenth grade geometry students) but you can take my word for it!