Acting Wisely in Light of God’s Sovereignty
Trust in the Lord and do good. (Psalm 37:3)
God’s sovereignty doesn’t set aside our responsibility to act prudently- to use all legitimate means at our disposal to avoid harm to ourselves or others and to bring about what we believe to be the right course of events.
We see this illustrated in Acts 27, the story of Paul’s shipwreck. After many storm-battered days, when everyone had given up all hope of being saved, Paul stood before everyone and said, “Take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Pail…God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men….But we must run aground on some island”(Acts 27:22-26)
Yet some time later when he saw the sailors trying to escape from the ship with the lifeboat, he said to the Roman centurion. “ Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 27:31) Paul apparently realized that the presence of skilled sailors was necessary for everyone’s farther safety. He took prudent action to bring about that which God by divine revelation had already promised would certainly come to pass. He did not consider God’s sovereign purpose a reason to neglect his duty, though in that instance God’s purpose had been revealed by an angel from heaven.
In our circumstances today, we don’t know what God’s sovereign purpose is in a specific situation. We should be even more aware not to use God’s sovereignty as an excuse to shirk the duties that He has commanded in the Scriptures. God usually works through means, and He intends that we use the means He has placed at our disposal.
As I read this, I though what an appropriate principle for us in the midst of a pandemic and a chaotic world. I’m sure some of you have heard me say that we live with both faith and common sense and they work together and balance each other. What I mean by this is that God expects me to do what I know and can and my faith trusts in Him for all that’s beyond my ability or control. Over this last year I have observed the tension between faith and common sense in how people have processed the pandemic. There have been those who have chose to ignore the medical implications and have decided they will “faith it out.” They believe that if they meet the pandemic with faith that they need not to take any precautions and everything will be ok. On the other side of the equation are those who have decided that they should embrace all the medical implications and hunker down with no activity or social connections until it’s over. So in both cases the idea is that one must choose either or. We meet it with faith or we meet it with human ingenuity.
In our story of Paul, we learn that it was faith in God that brought the angel with the promised but it was common sense that induced Paul to recognize that if the sailors left the boat, no one left on board would know how to sail the boat through the storm. So faith in the keeping power of God and the application of available means worked together to bring everyone to safety.
I have seen this very thing in my own life. There are those occasions that through my knowledge and experience I can address a situation. At other times it is far beyond my ability so I must rely on faith in God. One of my mission trips to Kenya resulted in about 70 people in one village coming to know Christ. The pastor there wishing to honor my work requested that I be the one who baptized these candidates. I was pretty excited for that opportunity until I discovered that the baptism was going to occur in a local church baptistery which was literally a pit dug in the church floor and the water that filled it was muddy river water. According to the travel guide, which, by the way, I had read the day before, gave instructions that on no occasion should a traveler immerse themselves in. It seemed that the river water contained a parasite that caused river blindness. When I arrived at the church, I offered to let the local pastor have the honor of baptizing. He insisted that I was the one. So there I was, what I had read and the pickle I was in. I had no choice but to carry out the baptism. The pastor asked me to pray and “sanctify” the water and I tell you it was a serious prayer. Down into the water I went. I’d like to tell you that I did so without fear or worry but the truth is that all the while I was baptizing, there was this little voice in my head telling me how foolish I was. Many of the people that were being baptized were so excited about being saved that when they came up out of the water they were leaping and shouting and raising their hands in praise to God. In the process of that I was literally drenched. Water on my body, in my hair and face and eyes. But God kept me and I never became sick. So there will be those times that we will have to trust the sovereignty of God completely.
On the other hand, as I have grown older, I have developed a digestive issue with heartburn. Now I’ve prayed about it and trusted God for healing and believe that He can do so. I’ve also analyzed which foods contribute and when I eat before going to bed and made adjustments. I’ve invested in a bed that the head can be elevated. And I know that God has given the wisdom for me to do this.
So two cases, one in which I had to trust the complete sovereignty of God and the other in which I relied heavily on common sense while at the same time bring the matter before God.
As we continue to be affected by the pandemic, let us see that both common sense and faith working together will bring about God’s full purpose. It’s been amazing how God has and is working among us. In our common sense approach of choosing drive-in services we have done our best to keep the congregation safe. We have been to meet almost every week and the side benefit is that we are touching the community in unprecedented ways. We have been able to a large degree continue to worship and have God encounters consistently. All in all God has abundantly blessed us. As we decided to not quit or sit down but to use every way and every means we had access to, the Sovereign Lord provided us thus far incredible weather week after week. So you see this is the principle. If we will do what we can, if we will use common sense and faith combined, God will do the rest. We can trust Him to do so.
As we move through the end of this year and into the one to come, let us be people of both faith and action.
In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God literally says, “If you will, I will.” Let us choose to work, to act, to do the work of God with all our natural abilities. Let us then by faith believe and trust that God will provide us the supernatural abilities when we face challenges beyond our capabilities.
Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. If I shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or if I command locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence and plague among My people, and My people, who are called by My Name, humble themselves, and pray and seek (crave, require as a necessity) My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear [them] from heaven, and forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:12-14
Dr. John Thompson