I am no expert on the sovereignty of God – only God is (this comes with the territory and is the beauty of it). In fact I am not even close. Rather, it is my prayer that sharing my experience will encourage you in your journey towards gaining a better (not perfect) understanding of God’s sovereign grace in your life.
If you feel like you don’t ‘get’ the sovereignty of God or that you have lost sight of it, don’t worry, because you are not alone and it is going to be ok. I’ve been there and, inevitably, I will go back there again. How did I get to this point? God has taught me four important lessons.
Lesson 1 – God is sovereign
The most important lessons are often inconspicuous and incremental. For me, it all started with hearing the words “God is sovereign”. I’ll be real with you – some sermons stick more than others. But this sermon and this phrase had an immediate impact and lodged itself in my mind (we’ll get to my trying to grasp its meaning later. For the moment this was enough for me to get my head around).
To some, this may seem like Christianity 101 – but to me (taking my background and previous experience into account) it was revolutionary and life-changing. This concept changed my prayer life and, as a natural consequence, my relationship with God. Nine times out of ten the phrase “you are sovereign and therefore…” was the mainstay of my prayers. Clearly, God, in one of an infinite number of examples of His sovereignty, knew when, what, how I needed to hear this truth.
Lesson 2 – God’s sovereignty is a blessing instead of a burden
Ok. So God is sovereign. Great! But what does this mean (in general) and what does this mean for my life? As the conversation between Jesus and Pilate in John 18:37-38 demonstrates, it is all very well to hear the truth but what really matters is comprehending it, accepting or rejecting it and facing the consequences of that decision.
Here was (and is) my simplistic understanding of the sovereignty of God. I am not in control of my life – God is. This changes everything that I think, do and say. Here is what the Bible has to say, which, let’s face it, is much more articulate and accurate than I am. Here are some passages that resonate with me:
“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9
Face it Claire, God’s plan is better than yours and resistance is futile.
“It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”Philippians 2:13
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
So it is not up to me?…I don’t have to try and be perfect anymore?! *mind blown* What an undeserved privilege!
God, particularly through His work through the Christians around me, has taught me to see His sovereignty as a blessing instead of a burden. This may not be new to you but it was certainly new to me. I was a very anxious person and I spent most of my time, energy and resources trying to control every aspect of my life and being. Every day felt like a battle to survive where I thought I had to be perfect in order to be worthwhile. It has only been in the last few years that I have started to even grasp the concept that I never was and never will or should be in control of my life. To be honest, I’m surprised at how ‘freeing’ this is. Instead of getting caught up in the hamster wheel of trying to gain control, I’m learning to let go and hand the reigns over to God. Instead of beating myself up for every imperfection I am starting to see them as opportunities to learn and grow to be more like Christ. And it feels pretty good (at least most of the time).
Lesson 3 – Just because it is God’s plan doesn’t mean that it is going to be easy all of the time.
What difference did my newfound understanding make? What would my life have been like if all of this hadn’t happened? Perhaps I would have stayed on the trajectory that I had established for myself many years ago. I was in my mid-twenties and I was looking for big answers to life’s big questions. But now the question was – what does God want me to do and who does He want me to be? Just as I started to feel like I was making progress and moving in the right direction, that’s when spanners started appearing in the works. I was about to learn that applying the sovereignty of God to my life was even harder than understanding it.
God has given me a heart for serving and empowering young people. I am convicted that He wants me to be a teacher. I desperately want to be a teacher. So I changed course and studied education. This process was much harder than I thought it was going to be. It didn’t just affect me – it also affected those close to me some of whom understood why I was doing this and some who didn’t. From this point on I have felt like the odd-one out amongst my peers. Since starting this journey, and as the difficult events of the past two years unfolded, I came to feel more and more isolated. I started to doubt whether I really did understand God’s purpose for my life. If this was God’s plan then why was my life getting harder and why were there so many things ‘getting in the way’ of my plan to follow Him? Once again, I turned to the Bible.
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)
Whilst I found this encouraging, I also found it hard to reconcile with my experience. Inevitably I compared my experience with those around me. Everyone else were going places (literally and figuratively) and I felt stuck. Thus I learned that just because it is God’s plan doesn’t mean that it is going to be easy all of the time.
Lesson 4 – NOTHING can get in the way of God’s sovereign plan for our lives (especially not ourselves)
Despite how easy or hard it may seem, if it is God’s will, it might not happen overnight but it will happen. Why? Because nothing can get in the way of God’s sovereign plan for our lives. I refer again to John 18:28-40 – Jesus’ Roman trial before Pilate. Verse 32 reads:
This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
Immediately after this scene, Jesus is sentenced to be crucified. Jesus knew God’s plan but it certainly wasn’t easy (cf. Mark 15:34):
And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Nothing got in the way of God’s plan for Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection. He planned everything in minute detail. The events of Jesus’s life and death would not have been possible if God hadn’t planned it so. So why should anything get in the way of His plan for my life? God has a big picture of which we only see a tiny part. Therefore, we have to trust his better judgement and promises:
The steps of the Godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand. (Psalm 37:23-24)
Most of my teaching practicum was at a prestigious Catholic boys school. But I was convinced that God wanted me to teach in a rural public school, so I was confused by this placement – it seemed to be the exact opposite of ‘the plan’. Little did I know that I was exactly where I needed to be to learn more specific details about what God wanted me to do with my life and career. It was an opportunity to learn that I can cope (and thrive) when I’m thrown in the deep end and the fact that Christain schools really need genuine Christian teachers. So I changed focus from public to private and from secular to Christian. I enrolled in (yet more) further study in religious education and planned to slowly introduce myself to teaching as I recovered from the events of the past few years.
God opens doors for us. He generously and lovingly gives us opportunities to follow His plan for our lives. What isn’t helpful is when we slam those doors in His face. Only now do I realise that this is what I was doing. I had become focused on what I could and could not do instead of what God can and was doing. Either I wouldn’t take up the opportunities God was giving me or I wouldn’t make the most of them. I wouldn’t take that leap of faith and trust Him with control of my life. Something had to be done. So God staged a major intervention and gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I finally and suddenly acted on an opportunity. I made a teaching resume and put myself up for a job (!) Then I got an interview (!?) In case that wasn’t enough, I was offered the job only a few hours later (?!?!) which I accepted (!!!) After stagnating for so long my life changed instantly. I got my “dream job” without even trying. I’m not trying to gloat, rather I’m trying to demonstrate how powerful God’s sovereignty is.
It was my birthday yesterday. It was also the one year anniversary of my father’s death and marked the last time I spoke with the person I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. Needles to say the past two years have been the most challenging years of an already challenging life. Yet they also coincide with these lessons on God’s sovereignty and grace. I was at a fork in the road both personally and spiritually. I could have easily gone down a different path away from God, but He had a plan for me and did not let me go. Piece by piece He has led me to this point.
Please learn from my mistakes. Don’t let it get to this point. Forcing God’s hand is not wise. Rather, sometimes you need to take a leap of faith. You will never be 100% ‘ready’. But God is always ready. Better yet God has already planned what is going to happen and is right there with us.
Share your thoughts and experiences with me 🙂