I was recently in New York City, the largest city in the United States. His presence with me was so obvious throughout the anxiety-inducing trip, but there was a particular moment that He spoke to me to remind me of a mind-blowing fact that many of us, myself included, either don’t fully believe and/or take for granted. He also used this reminder to send some much needed conviction to my heart.
There are more than 8 million people living in New York City. Sitting in my hotel room at night and looking down, I could see countless people hurrying along the bustling streets below. From my perspective on the 24th floor, the people looked tiny and I couldn’t see much detail, even though the streets were well lit with flashing billboards and bright lights. As I sat and watched, God reminded me that each of these people, though they are complete strangers to me, has a story that He is the author of.
And of course, the 8 million people in NYC are just a fraction of the 7 billion people on the planet right now. And that is just a fraction of the God only knows how many billions of people who have lived and will live on this planet. The number doesn’t even compute in human minds.
That is a lot of people. A lot of stories. And God knows them all. He doesn’t just have a summary of each person either or see them from a distance like I did from the hotel. He knows every detail of every soul and story. In fact, He knows them better than the people themselves. Matthew 10:30 says that “even the hairs on [our] head are numbered!
How incredible is that? Take a moment to ponder it. Ask God to help you believe it as much as is possible. Know that you are loved so intimately by the Creator of all things that He knows even the number of hairs on your head. You don’t even know how many hairs are on your head! He knows your past, present, and future, and despite all the muck in your life, He loves you still.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
(Psalm 139: 1 – 4)
Since God is the creator of so many stories, and we are made in His image, it’s no surprise that we are people who like stories. Our societies are saturated with them! Throughout history, people have told stories, both real and imagined. We learn through stories and entertain ourselves with stories. It’s really impossible to go through a day without hearing or reading some stories. Sometimes we become engrossed in stories that we just can’t stop reading or watching until the end. We all have certain stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, that we love to hear, watch, and read about.
Some real-life stories, like those that hit the news media and trends on social media, are well known by seemingly everyone around us. Some names, like those of our political leaders and the most popular actors are a part of our vocabulary. This widespread knowing in our technologically advanced society reaches an even higher level when a man-man tragedy, like a shooting, strikes and moral outrage ensues.
What about the stories that don’t make good headlines though? What about the stories of ordinary people? What about the stories of people in your own town or city? What about the stories of the people you try not to look at as you go down the street? What about the stories of people who don’t look or dress like you? What about the stories of the people you don’t like? Do these stories matter less since they aren’t blared on every screen? Do the tragedies and issues that strike these people mean less simply because it’s not in the national spotlight for a few days?
Of course not!
Every person’s story matters. And even more than that, every person matters. That includes the people that we intentionally or unintentionally mentally categorize as “less than” in society. And as cliché as it might be, we cannot judge a book (or person) by its cover (or outward appearance).
The kingdom of God works differently than the world. In our world, those with prestige, power, money, fame, or great talents are the ones who are revered. In the kingdom of God though, “the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). Jesus spoke to, healed, and hung out with the outcasts of society – the leper, the bleeding woman, the Samaritan woman, the tax collector, and so many other people that lived on the outskirts of society, shunned by the majority. Jesus saw them. If we are truly following Jesus, we will see them too, and do what we can to serve them and point them to eternal hope.
For me, that includes the people, especially the kids, living in the city next to my hometown in white suburbia. Growing up, whenever I heard people talk about the people in that city, it was rarely in a positive light. The city deals with the same problems that plague any urban area – poverty, violence, drugs, broken families, failing infrastructure, abuse, trafficking, etc. Many people on the outskirts seem to want to just sweep that whole city, and its problems, under the rug. God sees those people though. He hears the cries of the abused, oppressed, and hurting. He knows their names. He knows their struggles. He knows their pasts and futures. And as uncomfortable as it is for me sometimes, God has put it in me to want to know more of their stories too. He wants me to see them and love them as He does.
So as we begin another week, let us pray that God would help us to see the people around us with His eyes, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. May we also remember that He knows every detail of our own stories too, and loves us the same. May our stories ultimately point to Him, the author of them all. We are all living stories, and our days were known by God Almighty before they had even begun. All of us have dirt in our stories, but the best stories always have some triumph over struggle, some good overcoming bad, some hope in hopeless situations. We all have stories both to tell, and probably more often, to listen to. Let us live telling our stories and listening to the stories of even “the least of these.”