“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” — Romans 8:28 NIV
Life is just plain hard. Things go wrong all the time. There are many and frequent happy moments for most of us, but the truth is that there are a lot of moments mixed in there that are anything but (happy). Work is hard. Ministry is hard. Juggling schedules is hard. Keeping on top of all our various responsibilities – from grocery shopping to helping the kids with homework to fixing things around the house – is hard. Relationships are for sure hard, especially the permanent ones like family and marriage. They’re wonderful, but they take a ton of hard work to maintain and even more work to make them flourish. I’ve heard my pastor (James MacDonald) say it dozens of times: “There are no enduring relationships without forgiveness.” That’s enough evidence for the “relationships are hard” theory all by itself, right?
One of the things that frustrates me quickly is when I set out to do something that feels like it should be easy, and then it turns out to be much harder than I had wanted it to be. I plan to drive home from work in 30 minutes, but there’s an accident and now it’s going to take over an hour. I try to carry some things downstairs, and it turns out I balanced one too many, and they all start sliding off the pile and falling everywhere. I pop into the store to quickly grab just one thing I need in a hurry, and it’s out of stock … or they have it, but the checkout line is really long … even in the express lane. I’m trying to get a project done at work, and the computer crashes and somehow completely devours a key file three days before it’s due.
I don’t know about you, but being inconvenienced with this kind of stuff doesn’t mix very well with my American I-deserve-to-get-my-way heart. In fact, that’s putting it mildly. I’m a little embarrassed to write about it, but in the reality of daily life, these kinds of obstacles can absolutely set me off. And they’re not even real problems.
What about a cancer diagnosis or losing a job, sustaining a serious injury or losing a loved one, having a child get in serious trouble or the losing the big deal and now you can’t make payroll? Forget the minor inconveniences for a second… Life can throw the far-more-serious stuff at you just as easily, and with frightening regularity. And nobody’s immune or exempt. Disaster is no respecter of persons. Your status, your bank account, your network of high-powered contacts, your political affiliation, your good looks, your stuff… None of it can stand between you and the onslaught of problems that come with being human and living in a fallen, broken, sinful world.
Quick aside: We need to stop thinking of “the world is broken” by picturing a small crack in the car’s windshield. When the Bible says the world is broken by sin (Isaiah 24:5) picture an amazingly intricate crystal figurine that it probably took a master craftsman weeks or months to make. Now lift it over your head, and slam it down as hard as you can on a big rock. Then grind what’s left into the dirt with your heel. Look down. That’s what “the world is broken” looks like. That’s on us! Our sin is very serious. With it, we’ve taken what God made so beautiful and utterly trampled it to oblivion under foot. I’m so glad that God is mind-blowingly, amazingly, gloriously brimming with redemptive, resurrection power. This kind of brokenness is overwhelming for us, but by the blood of Christ, God is restoring what we have callously trashed. Another James MacDonald classic: “If that doesn’t get you fired up, then your wood’s wet!” But I digress…
Where were we? Oh yes… money, people, and stuff… None of it can stand between you and real obstacles in your life. But the really good news is… God absolutely can!
That may sound like a cat poster – Did I seriously just use my first Lego Movie reference? *shakes head* — or a bumper sticker, but it’s absolutely true. God’s not dead or distracted or distance or disinterested. God knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). He knew you intimately before you were even born (on second thought, read all of Psalm 139). He counts the hairs on your head (Luke 12:7), knows the number of your days (Job 14:5, and back in Psalm 139), saves your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8), and in general knows ever aspect of your life absolutely perfectly (1 Corinthians 13:12). Doesn’t sound particularly aloof or unconcerned, does it? That’s because God loves you. You know, the kind of love that would sweep broken-to-dust crystal off the dirt floor and with great power and precision, regenerate it into something literally more beautiful than you can imagine. And it’s this amazing love that compels God to rush to your side in the midst of trial, and walk with you through whatever you face. You are never alone … unless you really want to be. And except for the one who loves darkness more than light (John 3:19), who wouldn’t want God to walk with them? Especially when you’re hurting.
But it doesn’t stop there. Two important ways we need to take this to a new level…
First, God is not simply walking through your life with you as a companion (as wonderful and amazing as that is). More than that, God *planned* your life. That thing that is so painful you can barely stand it… Or that trial from which you’re desperately asking God to deliver you… Or that circumstance you absolutely don’t understand and would never ask for… It might be that God has no interest whatsoever in getting you out of it or in ending it quickly. Maybe that’s exactly what God carefully, lovingly planned for your life, for your good, for your growth … to make you more like Jesus. The truth is that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28 NIV).
I know that might be hard to accept, especially if you’re carrying around a view of the universe that – if you’re honest – says that really you should be calling the shots. But it’s still true. I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that the eternal, all-powerful, omniscient God who took so much care in creating you and paid such a high cost to redeem you, would be any less devoted to and involved in the way your life would unfold as His child. God isn’t shocked and shaken by your circumstances. He’s not scrambling for a way out or a backup plan. Neither your sin nor anyone else’s has the power to derail God’s plans for you. The only way out (of God’s plan) is to want out. Summon the totality of your life into telling God to go away, and He will. But otherwise, the current of God’s river is far stronger than even the best swimmer’s sin-stained brokenness. Trust Him. And not just a little or as a last resort. Trust Him … as in … I dare you (as I am actively daring myself) to put your whole weight on His promises. You will find Him more than able to hold you up.
And that brings me to the second point… God is in control. And God is able. And God loves you. What you perceive as a totally insurmountable obstacle is insignificant to the God who spoke the universe into being with a word (Psalm 33:9). Not “I don’t care” insignificant, but “What else you got?” insignificant.
So, stop trying to power up on your problems, or mastermind your way through the maze of life. You can’t earn enough money or make enough connections to avoid real problems or make them go away once they’ve arrived. Either that trial is from the Lord for your own good, or it’s a consequence for your sin or the sin of others. Either way, run to God. If it is a mountain that needs moving, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to ask the God of Angel Armies to move it for you than to throw your own shoulder into it? And if it’s not to be moved, then trust God as you slog your way over it with Him. He is taking you on a course He charted for you before the foundations of the world were laid.
Behind either scenario is a God whose love for you is literally incomprehensible to you in its greatness. If you can’t lean on that in the face of the “hard” of life, exactly which better plan did you have in mind?