God has no back burner. He has no plan B. He knows what He is doing all of the time.
He is not predestining our steps, but knowing us so well that He has our next move figured out before we take it. Like in a game of chess, He knows the move we will make. Only instead of a move to counteract us, He moves to work for us. And this is because He will work all for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). He is always providing opportunities for us to move closer to Him. He removes pawns that block us. And he puts pieces in our path, that at first look like struggles; until we realize the goal is to capture those pieces and to overcome them. Thus adding character to us. This in the long run does bring us closer to Him.
Here is the thing. We can look at life as this two-sided game; God on one side moving pieces and us on the other trying to navigate our player. But how much better of a game will be played if we step back from being the primary player and instead we partner with God and let Him take the lead. We come to play on the same side of the table. Like a father coming over the shoulders of his son, helping move his pieces. If instead we look to Him for His will to be done. We look over our shoulder and say “Dad what’s the best move?” And we will not be disappointed when we seek the Lord. Jeremiah 29:12-14 tells us so. Check out the Message translation of these verses:
“When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. “When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. “Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” God’s Decree. “I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you”—God’s Decree—”bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.”
If we are playing on God’s side, then who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
And all the time, we are foolishly thinking that God is not taking care of everything. We go to school and expend our energy on studying for exams, we go to work and concentrate on pleasing our boss, we go home and turn our energy to our spouse or siblings, we go to church and concentrate on the new direction we are going and then we turn to something else. Constantly turning from one aspect of our lives to another. Each way we turn it can seem that there is a new problem- a prodigal sibling, a financial need, a church disagreement, a relationship rift, a failing career. And we are only able to juggle one thing at a time. It can be overwhelming. So much turning can make you dizzy.
These are problems outside of ourselves. There are also problems within ourselves.
I went to a Christian bookstore a few months ago. I was just browsing. And all of a sudden I found myself in a pit of despair. Everywhere I turned there was a new book promoting a solution to a problem I never knew I had. “Redefining the Stubborn Woman,” “Gaining Financial Freedom,” “Single to Single,” “Redeeming Love,” “Flickering Pixels.” All of these books crying out to solve my problems. I felt my heart was a Pandora’s box, there are problems on top of problems. And it is indeed.
But God* has layers of glory. And as He takes care of getting us through each move in the battles outside of ourselves and inside of ourselves we move from glory to glory.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18
Oh and is there a reward for it!
Romans 5:3-5 has become my constant companion:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Every part of this verse brings me joy. Line by line it is so life-giving.
we rejoice in our sufferings– James 1:2-4 tells us the same thing “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” My brother-in-law told me something profound the other day. I was struggling through some things and he told me “You and Jesus have more in common now than you’ve ever had.” I had never thought of it quite that way. Jesus suffered in so many ways on Earth, so much so that the Bible tells us we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). So in my trials, I am able to look to Jesus and see how He reacted and how He loved. And by loving like Him I am brought from glory to glory, more into His likeness. And I know greater the depths of love He has for me.
knowing that suffering produces endurance– Ilike that Paul adds in “knowing that.” This simple little phrase is an added bonus of confidence. That what he says is Truth. Suffering will produce endurance. Suffering can wear us down and break us if we do not turn to God and recognize His character. He says He will never give us more than we can bear. The verse that is often referenced with this is 1 Corinthians 10:13. It says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Could it be that our biggest temptation is to give up hope in God, forgetting that He is on our side? God will never let us be tempted beyond our ability. It is easy to forget that God is part of that we and us. When we remember that God is on our side, suffering will produce endurance.
endurance produces character– Because we partner with God to endure, we begin to pick up His character. We place our hope and trust in Him to get us through the tough times. How rewarding is this! To suffer to endure to gain character. Our rejoicing from suffering in combination with walking with God to endure allows us to pick up His character.
character produces hope– Your hopes change when your character matures. When our character conforms to God’s we begin to hope for the same things He does. We pray like Jesus “may Your kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is on Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We worry less about fulfilling our desired destiny and more about coming into alignment with His will. Struggles strip us of things and leave us realizing that only He can satisfy and that His plans are greater than ours. Since these plans are to prosper us we come to the conclusion that it is better to roll with the punches than to try to work things out ourselves (Jeremiah 29:11).
hope does not put us to shame– This part of the verse hit me hard. In several other translations this line says, hope does not disappoint. When I originally read this I was dumbfounded. How can that be? How can hope not disappoint? I have hoped for many things that haven’t come through. But when I studied through the entire section of verses, it makes perfect sense. You have to go through the process. We like to skip the process. But for hope to not to disappoint, it has to start with sufferings and us doing quite the contrary of our human nature-rejoicing in those struggles. This hope is not “human” it is supernatural since it is produced out of the character of God. And when our hope is for the will of God to be done, of course it will not disappoint! How encouraging- his plans to prosper me and to give me a future will be fulfilled!
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts– Why is God so good to us in this way that our sufferings can lead to a bright future! It is because of His great love that dwells as Christ in our hearts. He poured out His love just because He loves us.
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us– All of this becomes clear and understood through the Holy Spirit who gives us discernment and peace about resting in the Father’s provision. And think this verse started with suffering! But God* ends it with His perfect love.
I encourage you to allow Christ to take His place at the center of your heart. Let Him navigate the playing pieces. And when one comes to block your path do not succumb to despair, but turn to your Father who is always willing and ask “Dad, what’s the best move?”
*Is this not the most beautiful and reassuring phrase? I am falling in love with it more and more.