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It’s a wonderful life

Discover how wonderful life can be when you invest yourself in others

By Scott Harrup

James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers and dozens of well-known character actors of their era created a dream cast. Devoted viewers still anticipate their 1946 Christmas classic every holiday season. Perhaps you have watched It’s a Wonderful Life recently and found yourself ready to cheer or fighting a lump in your throat.

Frank Capra directed what has become one of the best-loved movies in history. He did so with an optimism he was already known for with films like You Can’t Take It With You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, an optimism sorely needed in the wake of the Second World War.

It’s a Wonderful Life resonates with uplifting truth. Every life is God’s gift. Every life has a purpose. Every life has the potential to encourage and bless others.

But as you navigate the holidays in 2004, would you describe your life as wonderful?

A desperate prayer

“Dear Father, I’m not a praying man, but if You’re up there and You can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, oh God.”

It’s one of the most gripping prayers ever filmed. George Bailey, the main character masterfully played by James Stewart, has come face to face with personal ruin.

The Bailey Building and Loan is under a bank inspector’s scrutiny on Christmas Eve. George’s forgetful Uncle Billy has misplaced an $8,000 bank deposit of the company’s funds. The catastrophe comes as a cruel climax to setbacks that have kept George from realizing his dreams and leaving the small town of Bedford Falls.

It’s tempting to write off George’s “if You’re up there” clause as Hollywood pseudo spirituality. But even believers who have served God faithfully encounter crises where He feels distant, even nonexistent.

Christmas celebrates the birth of the Savior, but it can also be a time of reflection on past heartache and a hectic source of current stress. The holidays often amplify our sense of need. During your introspective moments, what do you see? If you were to offer a desperate prayer today, what would be at the top of your list? How would you want God to make His presence felt right now?

Who are you touching?

The answer to George Bailey’s prayer comes through an angel, Clarence, sent from heaven to keep George from giving in to despair. Clarence devises a radical solution to George’s bottomless depression. When George says it would be better if he had never been born, Clarence grants that wish.

As George wanders through what was once Bedford Falls, he discovers that he has no past. The town is renamed Pottersville, after a greedy banker, and the community seethes with vice. George’s small savings and loan, now nonexistent, had kept Mr. Potter at bay. Friends whose lives George had touched have no memory of George as he moves among them. His beloved wife, Mary, is the town’s lonely librarian. The old house they would have renovated is run-down and deserted.

George’s absence creates wide ripple effects. He was never there with his simple acts of kindness and his sacrificial business practices to help people to better their lives. George’s mother is embittered and childless. He wasn’t around to rescue his brother from a childhood accident. Hundreds of families across the country are bereaved because that same brother never grew up to protect a ship full of men during World War II.

Again and again, George discovers that his life really did count. But he learns that his personal worth and fulfillment are best measured in how his life has contributed to others.

Maybe your dreams have been curtailed by circumstances. Perhaps long-held goals that seemed to give your life meaning were never realized. You watch as another year draws to a close with seemingly nothing to show for it.

But you can inject joy into your life. Just look for someone else who is hurting and do something to alleviate that pain. Give a thoughtful eye to the circle of family and friends God has placed around you. Broaden your gaze to take in the homeless and needy in your community. Don’t ignore the next news story you see about starving refugees on the other side of the world.

Your own problems will not vanish, but they will come into a new perspective. As God uses you to meet other people’s needs, He will also take care of you. When you stretch your faith to find resources to bless others, you will discover that God places more resources at your disposal.

We live, and live again

In the end, God answers another prayer for George: “I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.”

George is restored to his family and the community he now treasures. Friends he helped through the years rally to save him from prosecution. The Bailey home is packed with a joyful throng singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

Idealistic? Perhaps. But Capra’s film reaches this emotional crescendo in an attempt to convey the immeasurable value of God’s gifts of life and love.

“Without preaching,” Stewart later wrote of his director, “his films showed that life’s true riches lie in family, country and God.”

Capra never intended It’s a Wonderful Life to be a celluloid salvation tract. But, intentionally or not, he interwove the concept of salvation into its climax.

George asked God to let him live again. In one sense, George had experienced death. He needed miraculous intervention to come back to life. All of us face the same dilemma. And there is no better time than Christmas to contemplate that truth.

God gives the gift of life. But life choices inevitably distance us from God. The story of Christmas is the story of God coming to earth to live and die and then live again. Jesus’ resurrection is a model of the resurrection our Heavenly Father offers to each of us.

With Christ, life truly is wonderful. Can you say that about yours?

Scott Harrup is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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