Not by Sight
We look not to things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.( 2 Corinthians 4:18)
It is difficult for us to appreciate the reality of God sovereignly doing as He pleases in our lives because we don’t see God doing anything. Instead we see ourselves or other people acting and events occurring, and we evaluate those actions and events according to our own preferences and plans. We see ourselves influencing or perhaps even controlling or being controlled by the actions of other people, but we don’t see God at work. But over all the action and events in our lives, God is in control, doing as He pleases- not apart from these events, or in spite of them, but through them. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery- a malicious act in and of itself- but in due time Joseph recognized that through his brothers’ actions God was acting. He could say to them, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God”(Genesis 45:8). Joseph recognized the hand of God in his life sovereignly directing all the events to bring about God’s plan for him.
You and I may never have the privilege in this life of seeing an obvious outcome of God plan for us, as Joseph did. But God’s plan for us is no less firm and it’s outcome is no less certain than was God’s plan for Joseph. God did not give us the story of Joseph’s life just to inform us but to encourage us. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”(Romans 15:4). What God did for Joseph, He will do for us. But to derive the comfort and encouragement from this truth that God has provided, we must learn to trust God. We must learn to live as Paul said, “by faith, not by sight”(2 Corinthians 5:7)
Can we really trust that God is sovereign, fully in control of our lives and all the events in the world? Can we trust His Word and His promises? Is He really concerned about us and our lives and experiences? Is He there in those times when the world feels upside down and the crushing weight of trouble and despair sit upon our shoulders? Is He with us in the midst of sorrow, pain, suffering and loss? Does He really have plans for us and can we trust that “all things work together for the good of them who love God”?
These are the questions we ask especially when facing overwhelming challenges. The root question is, “Can I trust God and His love for me”? Let us not make this a trite question and say, “Of course I can.” We are programmed as Christians to respond this way for we are taught that it is the proper response to the question. But in our hearts and the depths of our souls there is the question begging for a truthful answer. Can I trust God? Can I trust God when I sit at the bedside of a loved one in their last hours on earth? Can I trust the promise of heaven and the reunion in the world to come? Can I trust the promise, “But my God shall supply all your need…” when my company downsizes and I find myself unemployed? Can I trust that God is Jehovah Rapha, the Lord who heals when the doctor comes into the room and says, “I have bad news”? Can we trust God to keep us safe and secure when we see all the crime and violence around us? Can we trust the promise of God that if we “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it”, when we are seeing them making destructive choices?
To believe that God is sovereign over all and at all times challenges our thinking for we have a perception that if God we’re truly in full control, nothing evil or difficult would ever happen. There are those who question the very existence of God with this thinking. They say that if there is a God, a God who loves, the innocent would not be suffering and justice would be seen and the world would be a better place. So when they see suffering, they conclude, incorrectly that God doesn’t exist. We may believe that God exists, but do we believe that He is sovereignly directing our lives?
The root of our faith hinges on this question, can I trust God? Romans 8:28 says,
“And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.”
If we settle the question of trusting God, the outcome gives way to another question that I believe is the better question. God in my circumstances, what are you teaching me? What are the changes you are working in my life? How can You use these things to accomplish your purpose for Your glory?
The story of Joseph and many others we read about in the Bible gives us the encouragement to trust God with what we don’t understand. Over my life, again and again, I have seen how the sovereignty of God has directed my steps. I have experienced Him orchestrating and directing sometimes to the point that I have felt like I was in a tunnel and He was the train pushing me forward. I have been broken, devastated, and confused and have often questioned the why, but I can see now that all the time God has been working all things together for my good and His purpose. For example, if I had not experienced the suicide of my dad, the suffering of my mom with the cancer, and the struggle and death of my grandson, I could not be the compassionate person that God is molding me into. It is through personal suffering that we find God’s grace and become capable of giving grace to others. It is through personal failure that we show mercy to those who fall. It is through the long nights of waiting for answers that we learn patience.
From the salvation given to a messed up 17 year old to being where I am and doing what I am doing today, the sovereignty of God has prevailed. Twice I have been to death’s door, once I have faced potential execution. I have been betrayed by friends, often taken the advantage of, and many times felt used and abused. On the other hand, I have experienced how God could take a little country boy from the big city of Ferrum, call him into ministry and work through him in incredible ways. I have had the honor of preaching the gospel in many places in America and other nations. Who would have dreamed it could be so. I have seen sinners come home to Christ. I have watched as a Satanic high priest and the lead Wiccan come to an altar, confess their sins, abandon their practices and become followers of Christ. I’ve experienced God speaking through my words and working miracles through my hands. I’ve seen sick people healed, addicts delivered, and even a blind person receiving their sight. I’ve experienced a God sovereignly opening doors for ministry that were way beyond my imagination. I have preached the gospel in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, England, Germany and Dominican Republic. I have preached in many different churches of many denominations. Please do not take this as some boasting thing. In all these things, I have done nothing other than trusting the sovereign control of God over my life and yielding to Him as fully as I can.
Pastoring churches, serving as a hospice chaplain, and coming to Peters Creek have all been in the sovereign plans of God. Whether in the incredible experiences or in the darkest days of suffering and brokenness, I have learned that Romans 8:28 is a reality. Wherever you are right now, trust God and His sovereignty.
In our chaotic world environment, hear the words of God:
“Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours]. I know how to get along and live humbly [in difficult times], and I also know how to enjoy abundance and live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret [of facing life], whether well-fed or going hungry, whether having an abundance or being in need. I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.]”
We can trust His sovereign rule and reign and through that, whatever is going on at the moment, we can be at peace. Knowing that He is working everything for our good, we rest in His love and grace.
Dr. John Thompson