I was sitting in a packed theatre beside a three-year-old boy named Ethan Wilde.
Ethan is my son. We were about to watch The Polar Express. I was a little distracted because we had just moved to North Carolina. We were pretty sure God had asked us to – pretty sure. We had spent our savings and were now digging into our “good credit.” We were beyond strapped, and spending eight bucks for the afternoon matinee caused an anxious voice in my head to suggest, “I might be crazy? A thirty-year-old man with a wife and two kids isn’t usually 100 percent certain of much, but I was about 97 percent sure I was to spend all my time and our resources birthing a ministry, which I would later find out was a lifestyle – I would learn my true ministry was simply believing my Heavenly Father loves me and He is good – always… God had invited me to believe, to trust Him, to stay the course. But as the money flew out of our savings account, I was more than a little worried. I was terrified.
Dave Ramsey’s evaluation would have been . . . uh, financial suicide. Now I know Dave Ramsey has helped many people out of financial ruin. But this was between me and another Savior; it had nothing to do with financial responsibility. This was about irresponsible, unsound, downright foolish obedience. I had been invited into an opportunity to trust and it was stretching my faith. But I’ll return to this a little later. . . .
Back to The Polar Express. If you haven’t seen it, try to; it’s wonderful. It’s about a young boy who, while growing up, loses his ability to believe in Father God—I mean Santa Claus. Fortunately, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father—I mean three variations of Tom Hanks—band together to guide the boy back into believing. I realize that sounds confusing but stick with me.
It’s Christmas Eve and instead of dreaming of the best day of the year, the boy is in his bedroom agonizing over the universal question: Does God . . . sorry, I mean Santa Claus . . . really exist? The boy used to believe, but now in the mind of this blossoming adult, a fat, bearded jolly man delivering presents to the entire world’s population in one night seems impossible. Add in flying reindeer, elves, a North Pole toy factory—it all seems completely foolish. The boy is in danger of becoming an unbelieving grownup, no, worse, a realist.
And then a deep rumbling. It grows louder until it fills his room and even leaps into our theatre seats. Like an earthquake, it shakes and rattles his shelf of sports trophies. The boy creeps over to his window, peers out and what to his wondering eyes should appear? An enormous train decked in his front yard.
Dressed in his pajamas and rubber rain boots, he cautiously walks out to the train and meets Jesus . . . I’m sorry, I mean a train conductor played by Tom Hanks. The conductor says, “Well . . . are you coming?”
That’s a question worth remembering.
The boy is in awe, he really wants to get on the train, but at the same time, the idea terrifies him. Finally, as the locomotive begins to inch forward, and as the opportunity begins to slip away, his young heart wins out and he takes the outstretched hand of the conductor.
And so the journey begins, anything can happen, and it does – a grand adventure filled with mountaintops and frozen lakes and howling wolves and dancing waiters balancing hot chocolate. It’s exciting and dangerous all at the same time. Along the way, the boy meets the Holy Spirit . . . I’m sorry, I mean a ghost who oddly resembles Tom Hanks.
After several breathtaking moments, the train reaches its destination—the North Pole. There are elves everywhere, and music, dancing, and singing. It is truly a magical place. I plan to go there someday.
Everyone is awaiting Santa’s arrival, which signals the official start of Christmas. Most of the elves are singing Christmas songs with rowdy enthusiasm. Some are whispering, “Is he here?” and others are shouting, “Can you see him?” The anticipation is almost unbearable.
The reindeer harnessed to Santa’s sleigh are playfully wild! Their master is coming! They can sense it! The sleigh bells on the reindeer are ringing and all who believe in Santa can hear them, their pristine crystal tones adding to the beautiful, chaotic expectation. All the children that made the journey are there too and no less enthused. The air is electric with the anticipation of something so good.
And then there is the boy, his unbelief and anxiety still very evident and at tension with his surroundings. He had all but decided Santa is not real and yet he wants—with his whole heart—to be wrong. He wants to believe. Surrounded by a sea of believers, the boy dares to hope; in fact, hope is everywhere, and it’s contagious.
Hope is like that, it expects more, it promises good things to come, it encourages surrendered participation. If you let it, hope will lead you into some wild, transforming, and world-changing adventures…
A slow hush falls on the crowd and all eyes became focused on a building at the end of the square. The giant doors burst open. There is a bright light and within the doorframe a silhouette. Suddenly the whole square erupts. “There he is!” shouts an elf. “I see him!” says one of the girls, but the boy, pressed by the crowd, can’t see Santa and still can’t hear the sleigh bells. Why can’t he hear them?
Desperate, he jumps and presses his way through the sea of elves to the front. And then, there He is, gloriously shining, Father God . . .
I’m sorry, I mean Santa Claus, who is also played by Tom Hanks. . . .
Suddenly the boy hears everything: the sleigh bells, the worshiping elves, the celebrating kids, the dancing reindeer. And I’m sitting beside my son, and I’m desperately trying to hide my face from the little girl on the other side of me. Why? ’Cause I’m balling my eyes out and whispering, I believe, I believe, I believe. . . . I love you, Father, and I believe . . .
I’ve been given a promise from God, a promise to know Him and be known, a promise of hopes realized, a promise to be transformed, a promise of dreaming with Him, a promise to create, to live a greater works life, to change the world. But sometimes, along the way, holding on to His promises can prove to be rather difficult. This world is a very busy and noisy place, it’s easy to wake up one day and find we’re just not sure anymore, that believing has become a lost art, deferred hope has made me heartsick and the promises of God have become a mountain that seems unscalable.
But I’m learning how to believe again, how to keep His promises alive in my heart. I am discovering the only way to live the “God-promised life” is to take the untamed journey with the Promise Giver.