September 24th, 2006–that was the day I left home to begin caring for Grandma and Grandpa. It has been nearly a year since that day, and a fitting time for some reflection.
If I were to talk about the struggles in this past year, or the reasons why I have done what I have done, I could say many things. But all the struggles, all the reasons, and all the questions come back to one thing. The sovereignty of God. So I will write a little bit about that, and its relation to where I am, what I am doing, and what I struggle with.
Those who know God know Him as Sovereign Lord. He is Lord of the past, Lord of the present, and Lord of the future. He is the creator of heaven and earth, the one who calls, appoints, and determines. He gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were (Romans 4:17) It is He who apportions the numbers of days to each man and guides our steps. He know the plans he has for us, plans to prosper and not to harm us (Jeremiah 29:11).
This ought to lead us to take a certain perspective on life. We are not tossed about on some sea of chaos called life, struggling to overcome uncertainty and doubt as we make our own way by our own wisdom and strength. No, by faith we understand that God works and directs in all things. In accord with his perfect plan and wisdom he works all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). In our life it is not primarily our place to plan or to determine or to know. As it is said in James 4:13-15 “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” So it is that we ought to seek the will of God, and live our lives in obedience to that will. When we understand the supremacy that God holds in our life we do not first ask, “What do I want?” or “What would be smart?” or “What would be safest” or any such thing. Instead we ask, “What does God want?” and then we do that, and leave our security and the outcome in his hands.
That is the attitude that we should take, but all of us struggle against the fleshly nature to live up to what we know, myself not the least.
Perhaps you might call it a contradiction, but in my present situation I find the truth of God’s sovereignty as both my greatest hope, and my greatest difficulty. In the midst of my troubles it is my comfort and strength, and in the midst of my wants it is at the center of my struggle.
I am where I am now because I believe the will of God in this matter was unmistakable and unequivocal. God had put me in a place where I was able to provide for a particular need in my family and, in accord with 1 Timothy 5:8, obedience to God required that I fill that need. I had no great struggle deciding whether I should or shouldn’t, whether it was wise or best. I found in this matter God’s word was clear, and so there was only to pray for grace to serve.
In this respect my present situation is so very much easier than where most of us find ourselves in life. In many of life’s decisions the will of God is not so clear. When we ask, “Should I go to Africa or South America?” or “Should I take this job or that job” there is no explicit answer in Scripture to those questions. In those matters we must pray, seek the peace of God, and test the matters against Scripture in what ways we can. I.e., “Am I taking this job because of greed?” or “Am I going to this place because of fear?” and so on. Often when we make a decision and afterward trials and troubles come because of that decision we are afflicted with questions and doubts. We say, “Am I suffering now because I made the wrong decision? Did I delude myself? Is this trouble an indication that I should change?” And so the troubles of that time are compounded by doubt, uncertainty, and self-accusation.
By contrast I am in one of those life situation where the Bible itself is very clear, and there is no doubt or regret. The Bible is not silent on the matter of caring for ones family. And scripture doesn’t say “Take care of your family if it is convenient” or “help your family when it is to your advantage.” I do what I do as a living out of my faith and whatever troubles or trials come, I know I am where God has called me and doing what he has called me to do. There is no doubt or thought of turning back and no foothold for the accusations of Satan in this matter. That doesn’t make everything into a wonderful joyride, but it does provide peace and a confidence which leaves no room for doubt or regret . . . and that is a wonderful thing to have when the times get really tough.
I think a common internal reaction people have when considering the situation I have put myself in is, “You’re putting you’re entire life on hold! Doesn’t that make you afraid? You’re not advancing yourself or your career. Doesn’t that concern you?” Beyond all the frustrations and difficulty found in living with and caring for the ailing, there is that undercurrent of fear. Putting yourself in such a situation as mine is to surrender all control of your life. You are putting your life on hold, especially if you are young. You are no longer pursuing what seems best for you–you are looking out for the needs of another. Instead of determining when you will go and do this or that you are (so to speak) at the mercy of the one you are tending, and you don’t know how long it will be. And what will become of your life after those ailing persons are gone? Years and years of work and at the end of it all you have are memories–is that not the epitome of worldly futility? All that work and what you end up with is nothing but two graves. And when you walk away from those graves you have nothing, nothing gained to see you advanced in your life. You’re no further along the path of success than when you started.
That is how the world thinks.
In contrast, for me knowing that there is a sovereign God, and that I walk in obedience to what he has commanded me, I don’t struggle with that fear. I don’t know where I am going, but I do know who I am following, and I know that he is faithful. As Paul says, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). I am not in control, and I am not at the helm of this boat that is called my life. It is true that in my present circumstance my ability to advance my goals is very limited. But my goals are not important, God’s are. I have no idea where I am going or what the futures holds, but God does. I have no clue how I will be successful in life, but it is God who defines success for me, not the standards of men, and he will lead me in his success. I surrender all of that up for Him to work out as he wills. I obey God and let the chips fall where they may. I wait to see what he will do.
Yet, that is not the end of the matter. For, if while knowing the sovereignty of God and obedience to his will calms my fears, it does not still my desires. When a year ago I acted out my obedience and went to do what I believed God had called me to do, I didn’t leave behind all of my wants and desires.
There is a difference between knowing God is in control, and finding satisfaction in that. There is a difference between knowing that God works in my life, and seeing my life through the eyes of Christ.
There is a great snare laid for those who would try to conform God to our image instead of being conformed to the image of God.
One of the snares I see is the attitude which thinks, “I will obey God, now I expect success as I view success.” That is exactly how the world thinks about God, and there is no quicker path to disappointment.
If we obey God we will be successful–in Christ Jesus. That means the dying of our fleshly nature and our worldly ideas of success. When we step forward to obey God it means the dying of what the flesh holds dear. Being successful in Christ can mean being very poor in the things of the world, and many people stumble over this.
I ponder over this, wondering if such deceit is laid up in my heart. Have I truly given up my success for the success of God in my life? We may think we have the answers to such questions, but the truth is revealed under the testing of fire. If I am going through this time harboring the thought, “After these days I will be successful in the things which I hold dear” then I will surely come to a great sorrow.
Then there is also the snare of the attitude which thinks God should work according to our time-line. There is the heart that chafes and grows impatient with God. There is the heart which says he might be in control, but I sure wish he’d hurry up and move me on to more pleasant and greener pastures. I believe he works in my life for my good–and I sure want him to get onto better things. Knowing God controls things somehow doesn’t stop the fleshly heart from thinking it can tell God how to better handle matters.
Impatience is what I find myself really struggling with right now. The decision I made to obey God a year ago, (wherever he might be leading, however he might be working,) was not a once for all decision. I must live it, I must decided it again and again, every day.
There is a continual tension in my life between my will and God’s will. I must die every day to my will that I might live in God’s will. I am honored, and I rejoice in the spirit of Christ Jesus, that I have the opportunity to serve God in this time by serving my grandparents. But as for my flesh and my desires–there is nothing in my present situation that is what I want. The spirit says, “However long, Lord, I serve you.” The flesh says, “How long, Lord, must I serve you?”
I would prefer that I were so spiritual that I didn’t have this struggle. It is a struggle, and knowing that it is a struggle and an assault from Satan doesn’t make it all go away. Knowing things isn’t the same thing as living them. And the struggle with attitude and mindset can quickly feed on itself as I become angry with myself that I cannot rest in God’s will, and then I loathe myself because the desire to be done with all of this is an expression of the basest self-centeredness because willing to be done is (in effect) willing ill on those I tend, for is it not in essence wishing they were dead? And so I despise myself in my failure and sins, and Satan has a jolly time, no doubt, feeding the vicious cycle.
The answer, of course, is not in my perfection but in the perfection of Christ. Satisfaction is found not in living up to the standards by some supreme effort of my will, but in repentance and faith–knowing that God is working in me a conformity to Christ and that he is able and just to forgive my sins. I know that God is working, and working things perfectly, but in my attitude I struggle with that daily, and God knows it is a struggle. Peace in his will is something I must seek each day. Yesterday’s peace isn’t sufficient, and neither is last weeks.
Acknowledging God as Sovereign Lord is not something only done at momentous decisions. It is not only a truth that must be acknowledged, but also lived. It must be done daily in life. The sovereignty of God means dying daily to ourself, our grumbling, our complaints, and our desires. It is dying that we might live rightly, in obedience and faith, rejoicing in his desires. That is not just something for this time in my life, but for always, until the end of the age.