RESPONDING TO LIFE EXPERIENCES
God’s Sovereignty And Grace
Recently I had two experiences that emphasize the sovereignty and grace of God; one is sad and the other joyful. They are examples of the peaks we enjoy and the valleys we endure in life’s journey. These peaks and valleys cause us to wrestle with how the divine interacts with the human, with how God’s purposes come our way. The Bible teaches that Jesus is Lord, that He is over all. The more that we can acknowledge that, the greater our richness of life will be and the simpler our pathway.
About two years ago a friend of mine married after being a bachelor for many years. This year the couple looked forward to the birth of their first child. After 41 weeks of pregnancy, the baby was doing well, but when they arrived at the hospital with labor well underway, they were told the baby had just died while in the womb. The parents were heartbroken; their hopes, built up over the previous nine months, were dashed. But in the midst of this tragedy, they sensed the presence of God with them. The burial and memorial services were moving events. The parents wanted to walk the road of sorrow well; to face the pain and not hide from it. They are no longer the same; their stillborn son altered their history.
Times of human loss remind us of the sovereignty of God. Suffering and tragedy are experiences that none of us choose. At such times we ask, “Why?” But God says, “Don’t expect to know. I am sovereign. I may chose to reveal things to you, to help you see some purpose.” We need to realize that God is with us in the midst of the tragedy–it should remind us of His sovereignty. However, God tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways … As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9 NIV). God is no man’s debtor. He does not owe anyone anything.
God never takes away except to bring something that is better. He has His purposes in everything. The way this couple dealt with their profound loss honored God in an incredible way. Others also came to know Him more deeply as a result of sharing this experience. In the valleys we can learn to know God, ourselves, and each other in a deeper way.
Another result of tough times may be the ability to understand and support others who grieve. Paul, who went through much suffering and hardship, said “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Paul learned to trust God in the most difficult of circumstances: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers” (2 Cor. 1:8-11). God has His purposes and He is ready to bring something better, whatever the situation.
The second situation was a happier one–in some ways trite compared to the loss that my friends experienced–but just as much from the hand of a loving Father. I was literally “given” a trip around the world by an associate of mine, including very pleasant accommodations, as a 50th birthday present! I had thought overseas trips were one of the things I had given up to serve the Lord.
But even in the week before I left, God brought situations to put me to the test by asking the question, “Are you prepared not to go?” I was reminded of Job who said that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away (Job 1:21). If God gives you something and then chooses to take it away, are you prepared to accept that happily from God? I wrestled with that for a number of days, and only after I had accepted that principle did the way open for me to go.
Mother Teresa said, “Make sure that you let God’s grace work in your soul by accepting whatever He gives you and giving Him whatever He takes from you.”
Lessons for us
What lessons can we learn from these two experiences?
1. If you belong to God, expect some trials in life. Paul wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance … so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jas. 1:2-4). God wants to shape our lives, so we should expect trials, challenges, difficulties, and things we don’t understand to come our way. It is all part of being a Christian.
2. Acknowledge God present in your trials and recognize that He is sovereign. Jeremiah said, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him’” (Lam. 3:19-24).
3. Wait for God. Watch to see how He will strengthen you while you wait and wrestle and carry the weight. Look to see how He works in the circumstance, and how His work ultimately brings a blessing.
4. Be ready to learn whatever lesson God has for you – whether it is about yourself, about life or about other people. Jesus said “I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (Jn. 15:1-2). Be ready for His pruning and to learn the lessons which come your way during that time.
5. Acknowledge to God the pain, loss and the frustration. Don’t hold back from crying. Be honest with God as He longs for your honesty and your intimacy. The psalmist was honest with God as he wrestled with his pain: “My soul is in anguish … I am worn out from groaning … Lord, will you forget me forever?” (Ps. 6:3,6; 13:1). Our intimacy with God has far more opportunity to increase if we are honest and open with Him. In Lamentations Jeremiah was honest about his pain.
6. Face your challenge, because most likely it is God’s gift to you. Take it to God and look for His blessing in it. Grief is a grace disguised. So often the circumstance we would not choose is God’s grace to bring us a blessing way beyond what we may have ever anticipated.
7. Pray for those who are going through trials. Samuel said “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” (1 Sam. 12:23).
Whatever our lot, let’s be like Jeremiah and take the situation to God and acknowledge that He will take us through to the end and bring a blessing beyond measure. Our experiences on the journey of life are the evidence of God’s commitment to us. We do not always understand what He allows to come our way, but we should trust Him for the future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Some time ago, Michael Cleary and his wife Wendy sold their business and moved to Tasmania, Australia, where they helped establish a Christian village. Their current ministry supports evangelism and youth work across Australia.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.