In the hands of Fate?

Someone whose life has been filled with so much pain and disappointment told me, “I’m losing faith.” I get it. If we believe that real faith in God gets us a pass on the suffering in this world, most likely we will discard our belief in God like we once outgrew our belief in the tooth fairy. Genuine faith engages us in a conversation with God that ask to know Him and to live as He desires.  There is a recurring question in my prayer: “What are You doing, Lord?”  Certainly God does not give an account of Himself to me. My question is less about getting an explanation than it is about trying to understand how I can keep myself aligned with His plans. Even as I pray to grasp the ‘why’ of our times, I also often pray this line from Jesus’ prayer – “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven.”

Christians view ‘God’s will’ in two ways that many believe are mutually exclusive. Some focus on the fact that God is the Creator and Source, concluding that whatever happens is His will, the extreme view of this making us puppets without choice.  One does not have to think very long about that without running into some serious moral issues.  Does God will murder or rape?  On the other side of the question there are those who believe that we are responsible for whatever happens to us. This group believes that God has limited His direct involvement in the world, leaving us to work out the difficulties on our own. In the most radical application of the idea of free will, God becomes little more than a remote Advisor, One on Whom we cannot rely.

The Bible teaches us two things that appear to be in conflict:
One is that God is ‘sovereign,‘ meaning that He does as He pleases above all.
The other is that you and I are a ‘free agents’ who enjoy the privilege of choice and the power to change the world.

Yes, both statement are true. God is ‘in charge,’ and I am free to choose to participate in His purposes or to reject His will! What see as an ‘either/or’ situation, the Bible teaches as a ‘both/and’ situation.

Jeremiah, seeing the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, struggles to understand.  As he prays God tells him, “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will build up and plant a certain nation or kingdom, making it strong and great, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless that nation as I had said I would.” (Jeremiah 18:6-10, NLT) What does Jeremiah learn from the Spirit of God?   He learns that God’s will and human choice are interwoven, that we participate the purposes of the Lord.  

Our choices are important. We are not puppets on a string, helplessly dancing as a God of inscrutable purposes pulls and twists from His throne.  It is important that we respond to Him with the daily choice to align ourselves with His revealed plan, and in that Spirit-empowered choice, we are able to live contentedly, even in the worst of situations.  There is a supernatural serenity (a ‘peace that passes understanding’) found in faithful devotion. If we choose to act as self-willed rebels or angry fools shaking puny fists in His face because of unpleasant circumstances, we cut ourselves off the One who is our life.

Isaiah urges us not to think too highly of ourselves and to submit to the Lord. Using the same imagery as Jeremiah, he writes – “Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”?” (Isaiah 29:15-16, NIV)

The practical implications of the twin truths of God’s rule and our freedom of choice is that we can live peacefully in this world. When difficult situations arise in our lives or in the world around us, we run to the One who is unchanging, ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever.‘ We take solace from His promise that He will never leave us, never forsake us. But we do not stop working with Him to bring His rule to this world. We pray for change. We present ourselves to Him, and discipline ourselves so that His purposes are not hindered by our self-will. The Believer’s focus is always on seeking God, even as the Spirit works to strengthen our faith.

Christian, the question that we should ask when confronted with conflict, sickness, and suffering is not best framed as ‘why is this happening?‘ but rather as, ‘what are You asking of me, Lord?
If He wills that we go through the fire to refine our character, we can walk through it with peace.
If He wants to lead us to repentance, it is imperative that we respond quickly!
If His desire is to make us a living example of His grace, then our momentary sufferings become a thing of glory, the pain we experience inconsequential compared to the privilege of being used in His plans.

In all of this, we have repeated invitations from the Spirit to pray about everything, to make our requests known to God, to come boldly to His Throne: with the trust and humility of a child-like faith!

Here is a word from the Word. May the truth encourage us to love Him more.
“Let me hear of your unfailing love to me in the morning, for I am trusting you.
Show me where to walk, for I have come to you in prayer.

Save me from my enemies, Lord; I run to you to hide me.
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.
May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.”
(Psalm 143:8-10, NLT) Amen


I Surrender All

All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live
I surrender all

I surrender all
All to Thee my blessed Savior
I surrender all

All to Jesus I surrender
Make me Savior wholly Thine
Let me feel the Holy Spirit
Truly know that Thou art mine

All to Jesus I surrender
Lord I give myself to Thee
Fill me with Thy love and power
Let Thy blessing fall on me

Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter | Winfield Scott Weeden © Words: Public Domain

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