Has God Changed Your Plans?
An old Yiddish proverb says, "The best way to make God laugh is to say, I have plans". Our lives seldom work out as we planned. We dream of a "Leave It To Beaver" type lifestyle where Ward, June, Wally and the Beaver lead charmed lives in a perfect setting of family values, love, peace, health and prosperity.
We generally start out in life with a carefully planned and charted course for our future. Seldom do we allow for detours, interruptions and unsolicited changes, but they inevitably disrupt our peaceful journey through life and quickly bring us back to reality.
This appears to be especially true for the Christian who has surrendered his life to God and our Lord Jesus Christ. It seems that just about the time we get too comfortable and snuggle down in our cozy and secure nest of dreams, that devastating and unwanted changes come rushing into our lives. These changes hurl us into a life that we neither desired nor expected. The direction of our life has been permanently altered and it will never be the same again. Will these frightening changes make the Christian doubt God and His love, or will they send the Believer on a journey into a deeper relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ?
Pastor M. Craig Barnes uses terms like "unwanted changes" and "abandonment" to help describe the life-journey of a Christian. In his book "When God Interrupts", he defines these terms for the struggling Believer as follows:
Jesus never deceived us regarding the Christian Walk. He clearly explained the cost that following Him would exact (Matt 16:25-26).
Too often, we want to stay where it is secure and safe. A place that we recognize as emotionally, financially and physically comfortable. We try to hold on to everything that we have built. The "little gods" that gives us our identity, security and a sense of self worth. We usually hold on to these things with a grip so tight, that only Jesus can pry them from our hands. Although Jesus is constantly trying to lead us into a deeper understanding and relationship with God and Himself, we usually resist with all of our strength and violently fight to return to the security of the world that we have created for ourselves.
The Christian Conversion
"It is impossible to follow Jesus and not be led away from something. That journey away from the former places and toward the new place is what converts us. Conversion is not simply the acceptance of a theological formula for eternal salvation. Of course, it is that, but is so much more. It is the discovery of God's painful, beautiful, ongoing creativity along the way in our lives". Conversion always occurs en route to places we do not wish to go. We can get there only if we have abandoned hope of returning to the place where we would rather be" 1.
Conversion is not the act of repentance or baptism. Conversion is a life-long journey with God and Jesus. A journey that God uses to transform us into the "image of His Son, Jesus Christ". It is fraught with loses, unsolicited changes, trials and hardships. It is the heat from these fiery trials that begin to melt and soften us, so that God can begin to mold His new children into the His Son's image. Too often, we want to be perfected in Christ and brought to the fullness of Christ, but without the consequences.
Always On the Move
We might as well face it. If we are going to follow Jesus, then we are always going to be on the move. Changes, losses and abandonment will definitely be a part of our lives. It was no different for Christ and the apostles. They were constantly facing new and unexpected challenges. I do not believe Jesus knew each day where the Holy Spirit would lead Him, or what losses and dangers He faced around each corner. Many scholars say that Jesus owned two homes, but during His ministry, He stated, "the Son of man had nowhere to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20). Jesus abandoned the comfortable things in life, in order to fulfill the will of His Father. He continued to accept and adjust to the changes. He was willing to give everything back to God when called upon to do so. He was faithful unto death.
The apostles faced a barrage of changes that would have challenged the average person's mental stability. They were called from their professions, then told to leave all and follow Jesus into an unknown destiny. They followed Jesus for over 3 years, saw countless miracles, and then witnessed the murder and destruction of the One they had trusted as their Messiah. Frustrated, devastated, confused and hopeless, they started returning to their former professions, until met by the resurrected Christ. They were
Pastor Barnes makes another insightful statement about our Christian walk.
We should try to follow the examples of Christ and the apostles. They understood that all things in life are a gift from God, and one day we will be called upon to give them back to God and our Creator. We must be willing to part with them.
Coping With Unwanted Changes
Many of us are suffering from the loss of a loved one, chronic and terminal illnesses, the loss of our home, church, job or friends. We cannot deny the pain that these interruptions bring to our lives. However, there is one vitally important thought that the Believer must embrace and plant deep within his heart. "If God wounds you - it is only so He can heal you in a much deeper way" 2.
Only a loving and merciful God could wound us out of an act of love. We must always remember what the apostle John said, "God is love" (1 John 4:8). King David testifies to the endless mercies of our God in the Psalms. "The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works" (Ps. 145:8-9).
Mankind is only granted a 70-year life span on this earth. That is not much time for God to call, educate, train and mold a future family member. He is trying to teach us deep things that we can carry with us throughout eternity. The lessons that teach and train the Christian mind and heart have to be powerful and profound.
God has given several gifts to help the Christian in Training through these difficult times. He has given us His Spirit, through Jesus Christ, to comfort us. We have Christ's promise that He will never leave nor forsake us and He has given us His Holy Word to strengthen us. However, God expects the church, or rather, the body of Christ to bring support, acceptance and consolation to His hurting children.
The Body of Christ - A Sanctuary for Support
The Lord intended for His "Body of Believers" to be a refuge of comfort for His hurting and wounded followers. It should be a ""hospital for the spiritually sick and wounded". It should be a place where we can come and bleed, and share our wounded lives with our brethren in Christ, without fear of condemnation or judgment. A place where we can receive understanding and help for life's devastating problems. A Christian needs to know that they are not alone in their struggles. That other people have experienced the same need that their particular problem is not unique and has not isolated them from the Love of God.
However, too often the church has become a place of judgment, where we are measured by a set of rules and our ability to meet these standards. This kind of judgmental environment only nurtures an atmosphere where members feel they can never share their losses and besetting sins with their fellow man. This makes us feel that we have to hide and cover our hurting lives, to appear as if everything is okay. As a result, the congregation never hears our cries for help. The only yardstick we should ever use to evaluate another Brother - is the grace of Christ.
The Wonderful "One Anothers"
The Holy Spirit has given instructions to the body of Christ concerning the sharing of burdens. There are over 58 references in the New Testament where the phrase "one another" can be found. These scriptures instruct us to love one another, comfort one another, forgive one another, edify one another, serve one another and to bear one another's burdens.
The word in the New Testament translated "one another" is allelon. It is a Greek word and is a reciprocal pronoun. This means that both parties will experience the action of the verb. For instance, "love one another" means that both will experienced being loved by virtue of both doing the loving. "Comfort one another" means that both will be comforted by virtue of both doing the comforting 3.
The "one another" in the New Testament communicate God's intention for us to be involved in each other's lives. Every "one another" is for the purpose of growing stronger spiritually as a result of functioning in relationship with other members of the body of Christ 3.
Intercessory Prayer is another way we can show love to our fellowman, and to give help in times of need. Intercessory Prayer should not involve our needs, or us. It is an unselfish act of taking another person's needs before the throne of God. It is totally centered and focused upon the person for whom we are interceding. Some clergymen have called Intercessory Prayer, "Love on It's Knees".
Called To Be Judges
We have all feared the Judgment of God, but what does God have to say about our judgment. "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22). However, Christ has handed down the job of judging the world to the saints. "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? "(1 Cor 6:2).
God, in His infinite mercy, knew that He could not impartially judge mankind because He has never been tempted by the weakness of the flesh. Although the flesh tempted Jesus - He never bowed to its sinful pulls. He paid the penalty for our sins, but He never lived the life-long consequences and scars that sin produces in mankind's life.
Therefore, God has called people with all kinds of problems and bondage's, so that they can be merciful judges in the world to come. He has called those who have been touched with every form of loss, sin and bondage that can be imagined. This kind of love and forgiveness shows us the depths of God's wonderful grace.
God calls people into the Body of Christ that have experienced the price of sin. Baptized members still struggle with the pulls of lust, adultery, homosexuality, drug addictions, pornography and every conceivable sin that is known to mankind. What more understanding judges could God and Jesus have prepared for the judgment day?
This is another reason that God has allowed unwanted changes to infiltrate our lives. He is preparing His first fruits to become wise, understanding and merciful judges.
Yes, God's plans for our lives are seldom our plans. Changes will come - and they always mean that we have to let go of something. Many times we do not understand and try to fight God's will for our lives. Sometimes we try to swim against the strong current of His plans - only to become exhausted and swept back into the current of His will. It might be easier to accept the unwanted changes in our lives if we would always remember that, "God will only wound you - so He can heal you in a much deeper way".
1 M. Craig Barnes, When God Interrupts, InterVarsity Press
2 Erwin W. Lutzer, How To Say No To A Stubborn Habit, Chariot Victor Publishing
3 Jeff VanVondern, Good News for the Chemically Dependent, Bethany House Publishers.