LOOKING FORWARD

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Sometimes I feel as if life is conspiring against me…that no matter which way I turn, my path is blocked and my goals are thwarted. Do you ever feel this way?

 

These situations make me cry out to God in anger, in confusion and even betrayal. Why, God? How can this be part of your plan? I thought you were on my side?

 

Maybe, just maybe, I’ve been looking at this wrong all these years…

What if life is really conspiring FOR me?

What if the God of the universe is actually using every circumstance for a higher purpose?

And if so, just what is that purpose?

 

In Genesis, the Bible’s book of beginnings, we find that God gave the first man and woman everything they needed for life. Their world was lush and safe. They tilled its garden and cared for its creatures. They enjoyed deep intimacy with their Creator and with one another.

 

God gave them one simple rule to define their relationship with him: don’t eat the fruit of one specific tree. Such a simple, seemingly benign command; but it summed up everything. It declared: “You answer to me. You depend upon me. You can trust me. I am your Creator and provider. I am worthy of your love, obedience and worship. In me, there is life in all its fullness.”

 

There was a single consequence for rejecting God’s life: death. Not just the end of physical existence, but the kind of incurable, spiritual alienation that ravages body, mind and soul until there is nothing left.

 

And yet, Adam and Eve chose their way over God’s way. In doing so, they traded a garden of provision for a world of thorns and drought. They traded the profound joy of walking beside their God in the cool of the day for cowering before him in the desert of their rebellion. They traded marital intimacy for family dysfunction. They chose brokenness, fearfulness, selfishness and darkness. And so do we.

 

Their sin disease lives on in our “spiritual DNA.” We are the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, remembering the Garden but unable to return there. So we look for Paradise in our work, our relationships, our diversions, our addictions and even in our religion. As time goes by, we begin to realize that no matter which way we turn, our paths are blocked and our goals thwarted.

 

There seems to be a divine conspiracy to do us in.

There is, more precisely, a Godly plan to undo us.

 

Only when we truly come to the end of ourselves are we truly willing to come to God. Any self-sufficiency tempts us to think more of ourselves and less of God. That is one reason why Jesus warns us so adamantly about the love of money. Money has godlike power. We look to it for our security, identity and significance. When we don’t think we have enough money–or worse, when we are in debt–we think the answer is more money. But there is no real security to be found without the real God.

 

Our jealous God undermines our idolatries so that we might depend only upon him.

 

God knows we cannot live without him and he has moved heaven and earth so that we do not have to. First and foremost, our heavenly Father set in motion a plan to redeem the world by sending his Son to take our “death penalty.” Hundreds of verses in the Old Testament point to Jesus’ coming. The first four books of the New Testament describe the life, death and resurrection of Christ in great detail. Jesus does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He not only ransoms us from death, but he gives us the kind of life for which we were created.

 

But this free gift is not without cost.

 

It cost the Great Judge his own Son to justify the world. It will cost us everything as we die to our old habits and are recreated with a new, Christ-like nature. After we accept this free gift of salvation, our old nature needs to be undone and our godly nature restored. We must be remade for the new heaven and new earth that will be our eternal home. Even more importantly, our capacity for true intimacy with God and one another must be reborn.

 

This is God’s grand scheme: an audacious, extravagant, unwavering assault on our pride and self-sufficiency. First, he uses every circumstance of our lives to bring us to him. Then he uses every circumstance of our lives to make us like him.

 

Even the apostle Paul experienced firsthand how the Lord allows–even ordains–this attack upon the god of self. Paul writes his fellow believers in the Greek city of Corinth that:

 

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12: 7b-10)

 

God’s plan is nothing less than our complete undoing.

 

The apostle James goes so far as to tell believers that they should “count it all joy” when faced with all kinds of trials (James 1:2), because it is precisely those situations that can produce in us the character God desires. Although we were once orphans rebelling against our Father’s plan and purpose; in Christ, we are now beloved children being conformed to the likeness of Jesus. What could give our Father more pleasure than having the whole world see how well we embody his integrity, compassion and grace?

 

Paul tells the believers at Thessaloniki not to be discouraged and “unsettled by these trials for you know quite well that we are destined for them.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3b-4).

 

So it is our divine destiny to be undone. And we would be naive to assume that our undoing will be painless. In his letter to the persecuted church in Rome, Paul tells them that suffering is inevitable but that God can use every bit of it to develop his Son’s character in us:

 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:18, 28-30)

According to these verses, our all-knowing and all-powerful God planned all along to justify us by the death of Christ, to recreate us in the image of Christ, and to eventually carry us into the glorious presence of Christ. This is our truest calling. Our purpose. Our raison d’être.

 

God has done it all. That’s why grace is so amazing. It’s an unfailing gift from an all-powerful God. And that’s why the apostle Paul can face uncertainty with profound confidence. Although he writes the following words to persecuted Christians while he is in Caesar’s custody awaiting certain execution, Paul is convinced that nothing can pry us from our Father’s loving embrace:

 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? ….Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-32, 35, 37-39)

 

Nothing. No thing. Not the horrors of cancer nor the throes of addiction. Not the heartbreak of divorce nor the betrayal of abuse. Not the slow death of Alzheimer’s nor the suddenness of a car accident. Not the loss of a lover or parent or child. Not war. Not poverty. Not slavery. Not bankruptcy. Not ignorance; nor even indifference. God does not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear. And while he is not pleased with sin, he is absolutely committed to undoing it. He never abandons his children, even in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He is working for his glory and our good not just in spite of our trials, but especially through our trials.

 

Centuries ago, God allowed most of the nation of Israel to be conquered and carried away into Babylon. Even so, he proclaimed his redemptive promise to them through the prophet Jeremiah:

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

 

So what does this all mean for us? I can only answer for myself…

 

First and foremost, it means I can be confident that God’s love for me drives everything that happens to me. Even the vilest evil done by me or to me is no match for God’s redemptive muscle.

 

Therefore, whatever I face–seemingly good or bad–I can trust God to use it for his glory and for my good. I can abandon my own schemes and surrender to his will. I can let his Word light my path and his Spirit lead my steps. I can choose faith over fear, prayer over worry, and peace over anxiety. I can serve and encourage those who are in the valley with me. Because death is not the end, I will not cower at its inevitability. I can trust that God is using every circumstance to undo my brokenness and to move me toward wholeness. Like beleaguered Job, I can testify, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him….Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance.” (Job 13:15-16)

 

There IS a divine conspiracy. That’s why we can be encouraged when life forces us to our knees, for this is precisely where God wants us. It is both where we begin and where we will end. Our undoing is a sure sign of an infinite, unconditional love that accepts us just as we are but refuses to let us stay that way.

 

And as I am being undone, I can choose to confess: Lord, I know the plans you have for me, plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future. So I will call on you and come and pray to you, and you will hear me. For I will seek you and find you when I seek you with all my heart.

 

Lord, undo me.

 

–Vince Wilcox

July 2012

 

 

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