Trust in God’s Loving Plans

My church studied the First Epistle of John in a sermon series on “Living Deep.” My pastor handed out a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith walk. For each step, he listed several scriptures for further study. Step one is Trust in God’s Loving Plans.

Trust in God’s Loving Plans

After the election, my pastor said he thought that people (like me) who were worried about the election of Donald Trump lacked trust in God. The truth is, I don’t trust dishonest, self-centered people. I do trust in the One who knows every corner of  my heart. Why do I trust in God? What does it mean to say that God is in control? Does God really have a plan? Is God sovereign over man’s free will?

Why do I trust in God?
1. I know him and he knows me.

I know my Father, the One who is from the beginning. I trust in him because I know that he is good. God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5). God is love. He is merciful and forgiving. He is just. He is honest. He is faithful. He will never leave me nor forsake me. Because God is good, I can trust him to do what is good.

God knows my heart. He knows my every thought, the good and the bad. I can’t hide from him because there is nothing about me that he does not already know. When I call out to him, he hears me. Even when I sin, he still loves me more than I can fathom. What love the Father has lavished, that I should be called a child of God!

Psalm 139:1-4 

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
2. He leads me on the right path.

I trust him because he shows me how to live right. The Lord is my shepherd. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. I hear his voice and I follow him. He is my teacher. He teaches me what it means to love others as I love myself. He teaches me to be meek. He teaches me to be humble. He teaches me to be merciful. He teaches me about anger and forgiveness. He shows me how to care for the “least of these.”

He steers me away from the wrong path. He warns me to watch out for false teachers. He tells me to be on guard against wolves in sheep’s clothing. Enter through the narrow gate. The road that leads to life is narrow and few find it.

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. – Matthew 7:16-18

3. He restores me.

I trust him because he changes me for the better. He restores my soul. He comforts me and quiets my anxious thoughts. He gives me hope. Even when I face trials, I am grateful because I know that it is for my own good. He searches me, he tests me, he reveals my sins. When my faith is tested, I persevere. When I face challenges, my faith grows. I am strong because his word lives in me.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Is God in control?

The first scripture on my reading list was Job 42:10-12, the epilogue to the story of Job that says he lived happily ever after. But you can’t understand Job’s restoration without knowing what he lost. He was a wealthy, righteous man with a healthy fear of God. Yet God allowed Satan to put him through some really awful tests of his faith. He lost everything he had: his children, his servants, his home, the respect of his community. His body was afflicted with painful sores.

Job’s friends were sure that Job had done something to deserve God’s punishment. They lectured him. Job knew that he hadn’t done anything wrong. He cried out to God, but God did not answer. He felt like God had turned on him ruthlessly. Oh, that I had someone to hear me! What have I done to deserve this? So he asked his accuser to answer.

God responded by saying “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” He asked Job, where were you when I created the earth? Do you know the laws of the heavens? God made the case that he has dominion over all we see, that he is the supreme, intelligent mind behind creation. Who are we to question his plans?

Job was humbled. He despised himself for questioning God. He realized that he spoke of things he did not understand.

I believe that God is sovereign, the supreme power of this world. He was here from the beginning. He sees and knows everything, including the future. God is working behind the scenes in ways that we can’t see, in ways that we can’t comprehend.

What are God’s loving plans?

The reading list my pastor gave us did not directly address God’s plans. God revealed many of his plans in scripture – his plans for creation, his plans for individual people and for nations. God’s specific plans for most of us remain a mystery so we are left to speculate about what they might be.

Here’s what I do know: God’s loving plan for mankind is summed up in John 3:16 –  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. He has a grand, loving plan for redeeming and restoring this broken world.

God promises that everything will work out for the good of those who love him. There was a time when I got hung up on what God’s plan was for my life. What was my purpose? Was I missing out on a calling? But now I believe that as long as I follow him and seek him, his plans for me will fall into place.

God’s sovereignty or man’s free will?

This issue of free will was not addressed in the scriptures my pastor provided on trusting God’s plans but it has been weighing on my mind. In these troubled times, some evangelicals use “trust in God” as a euphemism for “don’t resist” their chosen, worldly leader. They cite Romans 13 as proof that Christians should submit to all civil authorities. But if God is sovereign over us, we should ask, who are the higher powers of Romans 13? Why would God demand that I submit myself to the authority of a wicked man whose ways and plans are contrary to his?

When I wrote about how upset I am about this administration, my sister pointed out that God uses imperfect people. This is true. She quoted the prophet Daniel who said (Daniel 2:21), “He changes times and seasons; he set up kings and deposes them.” In other words, God set up King Trump so trust that his presidency is God’s will?

I studied the book of Daniel myself and even memorized the verse about God setting up kings. But I have a real problem with selectively using scriptures like this to justify the choices that people make. If I believed that Daniel’s prophecy applied to all leaders, I would have to believe that God set up Hitler and every evil leader who ever lived. I would then conclude that God is not good because a good God would not choose a leader that he knows is going to commit atrocities. God does not need to use wicked people to carry out his plan. No, not every leader is ordained of God.

Is God like a puppeteer pulling all the strings or do our choices matter? Are we blaming God for bad outcomes that we brought about on our own? From the beginning, we have had the free will to do things that do not fulfill God’s intentions. Human beings are selfish and greedy and we tend to pursue our own self-interests. We have plans that are not consistent with God’s. Woe to those who carry out plans that are not his.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart , but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21

“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin.” – Isaiah 30:1

I trust that God intends what is good: feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed, caring for immigrants and refugees, putting an end to war and strife. These are loving plans. I trust that in time God’s intentions will come to fruition despite the circumstances that human beings create when we exercise free will.

I trust in God’s loving plans. My spiritual challenge is not a lack of trust in God’s loving plans but a lack of patience. I am impatient for God to fix the wrongs. My challenge is not a lack of trust but a lack of understanding of how this all fits into God’s grand plan to redeem mankind. It’s hard for me to understand why anyone has to suffer and why evil people seem to get away with doing wrong. So I must take heart and wait for the Lord.

Reading List:

Job 42:10-12
Psalm 23: 1-6
Psalm 139:23-24
John 10:27-29
James 1:3-4
2 Corinthians 4:8-9
1 John 2:12-24, 3:19, 5:13-14

I Would Walk 500 Miles

This month, I ran a 6.5 mile leg of a marathon relay. After three or four miles, I noticed that the refrain of 500 Miles (I’m Gonna Be) was playing in my head – the only words I knew. Later, I looked up the lyrics. At all times, no matter what the singer is doing, he is so devoted to the one he loves that he’ll go twice the distance.

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

Before this song got stuck in my head, I had been thinking about writing a retrospective post about the past 500 days – about the spiritual angst I feel as a follower of Christ living under the Trump presidency. But the song made me think that I should be looking forward and not backward.

When I am drowning, I know I’m gonna be,
I’m gonna be the sinner saved by you.
When I’m hurting, I know I’m gonna be,
I’m gonna be the one healed by you.
When I’m lost, yeah I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be a disciple following you.
When this world falls apart, dear Lord, I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one trusting you.
But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the one who walks a thousand miles
To stand outside your door.

Before I ran my relay, I went through several weeks of training to improve my speed and endurance. When we all finished, everyone of us got a medal, just like those who ran the whole distance.

I am not running to get a medal that will not last. My reward is eternal life with Jesus.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 (NIV)

via Daily Prompt: Retrospective

Finding the courage to let go

I confess that I feel a bit guilty about unfriending people on social media, even if the relationships are superficial. But I think that when you get older, you realize that you don’t have the time for drama. You don’t see the point of wasting your emotional energy on battles you cannot win.

At the beginning of the year, after reading a book on spiritual maturity, I resolved to be more authentic. That meant being free to be me without worrying about what people think of me. Something interesting happened when I decided to be the real me. In letting go of my need to be accepted by others, I found the courage to let go of people whose worldviews are diametrically opposed to mine.

While I can still accept the people I can not change, I accept that sometimes there are irreconcilable differences, as in views on gun control, or the freedom to protest peacefully, or on immigration or the separation of church and state. The religious and political environment we live in highlights the great divide between us.

Facebook made it easy to establish a social connection with classmates or relatives. But if I am honest with myself, I don’t have much in common with many of them. I am no longer willing to pretend that we have anything meaningful in common. We don’t even share the same zip code.

Guilt, with the click of a button, I’m letting you go too. And I won’t even say goodbye.

via Daily Prompt: Guilty

Broken Assumptions

When I make an assumption, I accept that something is true without proof. When I make an educated guess, I have some knowledge about what to expect so my assumption is likely to be correct. Unfortunately, my assumptions are often broken. Sometimes my trust is misplaced. Sometimes, I expect a certain outcome because I wrongly assume that other people share my values or expectations.

I learned this lesson several years ago at my job. I have a strong work ethic. I go to work to work. I assumed that my boss also had a work ethic and that all employees would be held accountable to the same standards. I was wrong. I learned that he cared more about being seen as a nice guy by my slacker coworker than about making sure the work got done.

I used to assume that our democracy was strong. I believed that our elections were legitimate. I believed that my vote matters. I believed that the separation of powers would prevent one branch of government from overreaching. I was wrong.

I used to assume that facts and truth matter to everyone. I was wrong. Conspiracy theories abound. Untruthful people peddle “alternative facts” and people continue to listen to them. The president lies several times a day and his supporters don’t care. Individuals adapt not only to their own dishonesty but also to that of others.

I used to assume that Christians cared about immorality – the aforementioned lack of honesty, for example. As a Matthew 25 Christian, I assumed that Christians cared about the “least of these.” I accepted as true that followers of Jesus would care about refugees, immigrants, the uninsured, etc. I am sad to say that millions of Christians proved me wrong.

People let me down when I make assumptions about their values and character without proof. Broken assumptions have made me much less trusting of my fellowman. It’s made me cynical.

via Daily Prompt: Assumption