Filled with Glory
Malaysia is a swirl of cultural influences, from the Portuguese and Dutch hundreds of years earlier to the British only decades ago to traders from India and China. The Southeast Asian–Euro fusion shows up in food, languages, and architecture. We lived on a row of terrace houses, houses that all shared a brick wall to the left and the right and yet had iron gates at the entrance of each individual driveway. Our house had no backyard, just a patio of sorts with an outdoor kitchen to prepare fragrant Asian meals and a place to hang up laundry to dry. The patio looked down to an alleyway that few people chose to walk through.
We had a small front garden with a papaya tree, a little red palm tree, and a variety of vibrant tropical flowers. Across the street, beyond our iron gate, there was a half-uprooted tree stump that lay almost parallel to the ground. And there was a large stone nestled near it, which seemed to be a perfect seat. The first time I took my place on the stump by the stone, I knew it was no ordinary spot. I was sitting in a spaceship, the Millennium Falcon actually. Many afternoons in my boyhood were spent flying at warp speed through the galaxy, dodging enemy fighters and rescuing fellow pilots.
The imagination of a child is one of the most powerful forces in the galaxy.
But something happens as we grow up. Tree stumps and stones become just tree stumps and stones. The world is not as magical as it once was. Things become ordinary. And the older we get, the more ordinary life seems. Where we once dreamed of changing the world, we find ourselves occupied with changing diapers and flat tires. Where our conversations used to be about the far distant future, we now plan our weekend around our yard work and errands or kids’ soccer games and dance rehearsals. It’s easy to think the problem is the choices we’ve made—we got the wrong job, the wrong house, or the wrong friends.
But it may just be that we’ve lost our ability to see. We no longer perceive the magic around us. The once-active imagination now sputters and stalls. The problem isn’t the house or the job or the friends or our kids’ activities. The problem is we’ve lost a holy imagination.
This is not how the people of God used to see the world. The Hebrew poets and prophets talked about the relationship between God and His world like this:
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers. (Psalm 24:1–2)
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth! (Psalm 57:5)
And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)
The whole earth is full of God’s glory. God, the holy God, the God who is above and beyond everything and everyone else—His glory is filling not only the heavens but also the earth!
Think about that for a minute. When we speak about God’s holiness, we tend to emphasize His distance from us. To be holy is to be different from and completely other than anything else. That is true—the Hebrew notion of holiness is a kind of separateness from everything else. It is, in one sense, the very opposite of commonness. But this otherness is not all that is true of God. What Isaiah saw was something more radical than we imagine: God is holy and His glory fills the earth. God is not only above and beyond His creation; He is also somehow within it. God is holy, and He is filling the common with glory. The heavens are open above the earth.
Long before the prophet Isaiah penned those words, a herdsman named Jacob had a dream of the heavens opening up. He was on the run, embarrassed about his deception and afraid forhis life. He had just fooled his father into blessing him instead ofhis brother, Esau, with a blessing reserved for firstborn sons. The blessing was a practice that had come to symbolize a life trajectory, a sense of destiny. And so here was Jacob, on the run with a stolen destiny, wondering what lay before him (see Genesis 28).
As Jacob lay his head down that night to what could only have been a troubled sleep, he found a stone to use as a pillow. One would not guess that these would be the conditions suitable to pleasant dreams. Yet even as a man running for his life, he dreamed while he slept.
He saw the heavens open up and angels ascending and descending in that place. And he heard the voice of the Lord say to him, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac” (verse 13). Immediately, God identified Himself as the God of Jacob’s grandfather and father.
With this identification God reminded Jacob that he had not cut himself off from that lineage or that heritage. And then God spoke to him about his destiny and the promise that had been given to his family: “The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (verses 13–14). The promise was still in effect.
Then came a promise just for Jacob: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (verse 15). It was personal. God was not simply honoring a promise to his grandfather; God would be present to Jacob.
Jacob woke up and said what may be the truest words he had ever spoken: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (verse 16).
This is the description of a world beginning to awaken to the nearness of God. We are all Jacob. We scheme to enhance our futures and fortunes because we think no one out there is watching over us. We stretch the truth and manipulate the outcomes because who knows if there’s a God or not? Even if there is one, He’s too far away or too preoccupied to notice. If there is a heaven, it’s way out there somewhere.
But then we glimpse something. It may not be a dream or a heavenly vision. It may simply be a spark, a surge of joy, or a flash of awe. We bump against the mystery and wonder of it all. Our imaginations are awakened. And we see it: God is here. God has been here the whole time. The heavens are open. The whole earth is full of His glory.
That’s not just the sun signaling the start of a new day; it’s the witness of the steadfast love of God that will always break the darkness of night. That’s not just a dinner with friends; it’s the music of laughter reminding us we’re not alone. That’s not just the sound of a baby crying in the night and robbing us of sleep; it’s the evidence that your child is loved, that she believes you will care for her. These are all gifts from God, ordinary yet extraordinary, earthy yet filled with glory.
Sure, things can be reduced to technical descriptions and itemized particles, just as a great symphony can be explained as a mathematical sequence of sonic intervals. But music is more than math, and life is more than a sum of its events. In each moment, in each breath and thought and act, something more is going on. It is not merely ordinary.
Surely the Lord is in this place—the place where we are right now—and we do not know it.
It’s true: the whole earth is full of His glory.
Glenn Packiam is an associate pastor at New Life Church, a multi-congregational church in Colorado Springs. He also serves as the lead pastor of New Life Downtown, a thriving New Life congregation in the heart of the city. An ordained Anglican priest serving in a non-denominational church, Packiam treasures Christian practices that are both ancient and modern. He has a doctorate from Durham University, UK. Glenn, his wife Holly, and their four children live in Colorado Springs.
Excerpted from Blessed Broken Given: How Your Story Becomes Sacred in the Hands of Jesus. Copyright © 2019 by Glenn Packiam. Used by permission of Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.