I overthink things… like a lot. I’m especially good at this when it comes to planning for things and trying to guess how things will turn out. I get myself in a frenzy over all of the possible outcomes and what I’ll do if this happens or how I’ll react if this doesn’t. It’s exhausting. In the endless hours of empty time I’ve had over the past few days I have been learning about God’s plan and how I should view God’s plan for my life. In a lot of the stuff I have been reading recently, and in the music I have been listening too my eyes and ears have really focused in on this common thread. It’s been a real encouragement to see and hear all of this as this is a season of my life where I need it desperately.
Recently, I applied to, and was offered a spot serving as Summer Staff this July at a Young Life camp in New York. Initially, when I got the news I was thrilled (and, don’t get me wrong, I still am)! I know that this is a great opportunity I have been blessed with but now it is hitting me how complicated this makes things. Unfortunately, college isn’t cheap and I don’t usually trip over large piles of money walking down the street. I need to find a way to make some money this summer. Maybe I can get an internship. But what if the internship isn’t paying, is it worth it? And what if they don’t let me take off in time for Summer Staff? Will the Young Life people let me come a little late? But what if the job pays and is good preparation for my future career, is it worth it to miss Summer Staff?
Mark Driscoll is one of my favorite preachers. He is the founding pastor at Mars Hill Chruch in Seattle, WA and I really enjoy listening to his sermons online. A few days ago I was watching a sermon he gave a few months ago in a series about how Jesus loves the church. This particular sermon is the first in the series and at the time I enjoyed it but it didn’t really take as much away as I thought. It wasn’t until later, after I had been hearing the same message about God’s plan for a few days, that I faintly remembered hearing something like this somewhere. Of course, I had to find out where I heard it. So I went back online and discovered it was a part of Pastor Mark’s sermon that I had heard a few days earlier that spoke exactly to what I had been hearing and how I was feeling. This is the excerpt from that sermon:
(to view the full sermon click this link)
In all the stress I had recently let into my life, pondering whether or not I would have to sell my possessions on eBay to make up for lost money from a month of serving at camp, listening to Pastor Mark again hit my heart exactly where I was hurting. In a lot of ways I know that I am going to have to suffer in some way and sacrifice something this summer and am anxious to find out what that might be. In response to this Pastor Mark gives me this one truth “God has a definite plan, and God know’s what tomorrow has for you.” So I tell myself not to worry because God’s has it under control. I can have comfort in this because I know one thing above all else, that God loves me. Everything else is contingent on that.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34
living by faith through suffering
Pastor Mark continues by saying that I have to live by faith. In fact, Pastor Mark isn’t the only one that says this, scripture say this too. In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul writes that “We live by faith, not by sight.” I have no idea where I’m going to be this summer, a year from now, five or ten years from now. I’m walking through a dark tunnel. I don’t know what I’m going to come across along the way, what I might stumble over or run into but I’m walking nonetheless. But hey, I’m not stupid, I just don’t walk through dark tunnels by myself. I have someone with me. Jesus is leading my through this tunnel and I have to trust him that no matter what comes my way that he’s there for me and that we’ll get through it together.
But this isn’t as easy as it seems sometimes. I do my best to follow Jesus with everything I have but when I’m walking through the tunnel I don’t just step over daisies and fall into a hole filled with soft pillows. No, sometimes I trip over something sharp and fall hard on my face, and it hurts. These evils in life suck, there’s no doubt about it. I might end up spending this summer digging holes for no pay and not being able to do anything fun. That would suck, I can’t deny it. The trial comes though not when I fall, but what I do right after I fall.
When I fall and am in a bad place, Jesus doesn’t leave me. He extends his arm to help pick me up. The choice I have is to swat him away and continue on my own or take his hand. If I refuse his help, I’ll be bruised from the hurt, I’ll push Jesus behind me and lead myself through the tunnel tripping over and bumping into everything single thing in my path. I’ll be knocked down constantly. But because he loves me Jesus will always be there with a helping hand, and maybe I’ll take it and maybe I won’t. But if I choose to take his hand this first time, I’ll get up a lot faster than I did on my own. I’ll still be hurt, no doubt, but I’ll still know that Jesus is next to me and my relationship with him is strengthened because of it. Think about it, if every time I fall and reach up to find a hand, I become more and more confident that Jesus will always be there next to me.
I believe this is how God uses evil in my life. We are sinful creatures, end of story. Therefore, there is evil in this world. Like Pastor Mark says, “though He is not the author of it [sin], He is the ruler over it.” These evils in our lives are inevitable, I am going to encounter things in my path and I will fall, and it will hurt. But God uses this evil so He can be there for me and I can know He is there when I reach for Him.
Paul writes in chapter 1 of the book of James “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.” When I face trials my faith is tested. Will I turn from Jesus or accept his help? Each time I reach for him it “develops perseverance” and makes me stronger. Next time I fall I am stronger than I was before, it is easier for me to persevere through my hard time and look toward Jesus.
However, like I said before all of this is meaningless without knowing one thing, that God loves me. Ephesians 3 says that Christ’s love for me “surpasses knowledge” — I have to know and trust that this is true and God’s definite plan for me is for my own good.
And 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
Reaching for Christ isn’t always easy for me. There are times where I have wanted to say, “No, Lord. This hurts too much. Why would you do this? Why would you let this happen?” This is the way I think many people in the wake of large tragedies and traumatic events. When I fall hard in times like these, it makes it even harder to get up. I can feel the pain before I even have a chance to absorb what has happened and I’m upset. Along my faith walk I have found that my reaction in these situations has changed radically. When I was a new Christian, and I was weaker in my faith, it took everything I had to look up at Jesus and take his hand. Now that I have been walking with Jesus for a few years, and I am stronger in my faith, toward Jesus is the only way I can think to turn in this situations. In the times where my faith was the weakest, God demanded the most of my faith. I believe this is where growth happens.
I can say these things with confidence because I have seen how God’s definite plan worked in my life. I have been able to look back and see how the events during a certain time of my life linked together in order to get me where I am today. It’s amazing to see how God’s hand has worked in my life. Although I didn’t see it at the time, it is clear now. And this is not to say that I see how each event has specifically effected my life but I have seen enough to know that they were part of God’s plan and He knows how they fit together.
I was listening to the radio in the car yesterday and I heard a song that struck a chord (#punny) with me in this exact way. I looked the song up later and really listened to it. The song is “Already There” by Casting Crowns and it speaks exactly to this aspect of God’s plan. These are my favorite lyrics to the song:
“One day I’ll stand before you and look back on the life I’ve lived, I can’t wait to enjoy the view and see how all the pieces fit.”
Like I said, I don’t know what God’s intention was with every single thing that has happened in my life, but I know he does. One day I’ll be with Him in heaven and I’ll be able to look back and see exactly what He was doing.
I’ll wrap up by continuing with my subpar tunnel analogy. This tunnel I’m walking through, life, is replete with evils. I know Jesus is beside me and I can always reach up for him when I fall and he will be there for me. The best part about this whole tunnel thing is the light at the end. At the end of the light is an eternity that we get to spend with our Father in heaven. We get to spend the rest of eternity with our God who loves us in a place with no pain or suffering, where we can spend forever praising the God who is worthy of all praise. As Paul writes to Timothy from prison before his death, in 2 Timothy 4, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” This plan definite plan that God has laid out for us is a fight. We must struggle through it with Jesus to finish the race. Jesus paid it all so that we could have eternity with him in heaven and our faith in him is the ticket. God just wants us to power through and keep fighting! He wants to meet us at the end of the tunnel just for Jesus to claim us so that we can celebrate in paradise with Him forever!
The chorus of Josh Wilson’s song “Before the Morning” (one of my all time favorites) goes like this…
Would you dare, would you dare to believe, that you still have a reason to sing,
because the pain that you’ve been feeling, it can’t compare to the joy thats coming,
so hold on you’ve got to wait for the light, press on and just fight the good fight,
because the pain that you’ve been feeling it’s just the dark before the morning
GOD LOVES YOU! He wants us more than we can ever know! We can’t let these struggles in our life drive us away from Him. We have to turn toward Jesus because the pain of these hard times are nothing compared to the eternal joy God has for is in heaven. Don’t worry what’s next for you because it doesn’t matter the suffering as long as Jesus is with you! Like the lyrics say, would you dare to believe that you still have a reason to sing? So hold on and wait for the light, press on and fight the good fight, because the pain that you’ve been feeling it’s just the dark before the morning!
I am not skilled to understand, what God has willed what God has planned,
I only know at His right hand, stands one who is my savior. ~Aaron Shust