Sunday, July 31, 2011

Responding to the Unexpected Things in Life

“…who was I that I could withstand God?”

Acts 11:17b

 Responding to Unexpected Things in Life

            I think one of the hardest parts about being a Christian is learning to cope with an unpredictable and incomprehensible God.  Now, before I go any further, let me explain.  I don’t mean to say God is inconsistent.  The Lord is consistent.  He never changes in His fundamental character and purpose.  Nor do I mean that God cannot be known.  He wants to be known, and this is a part of the reason He sent His Son.  But rather, what I am getting at is the inescapable fact that we often can’t figure God out.   Providence seems more and more unpredictable, the older I get.
            Take the trials that come our way.  Maybe it is just the uniquely ugly and sinful character of my own heart, but is not part of the difficulty in bearing trials bound up in the fact that we cannot usually figure them out?  The hardworking Christian father loses his job, while the seemingly more careless employee gets promoted.  The prayerful and diligent believing mother watches her children walk away from the faith, while others around her appear to embrace Christ from the womb.  The Christian single, cautious over his or her purity, struggles to find a suitable spouse while a rather flirtatious and less modest friend plans her wedding.  The diligent pastor labors prayerfully and watches the church dwindle while the less scrupulous shepherd enjoys a growing flock and a generous raise.  One could go on.  And add to all this the usual tendency to believe that our trials are harder than those endured by others, and it is not hard to see how Christians get discouraged.  Never been there?  Well, I’m glad for you.  But I have been there more times than I care to admit.  It is not pretty or flattering, but it is true.
            But in meditating a bit on Peter’s words at the top of this page, I have found some help.  Peter had learned to trust God, even when he couldn’t understand God.  The encouraging thing here to me is this:  Peter wasn’t always like this.  Remember when Jesus began to teach about His death?  Peter objected.  It didn’t make sense to him.  The cross was not a part of Peter’s plan for Christ.  But the cross was a part of Christ’s plan for Peter.  And so Peter was firmly rebuked.  Remember when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet?  Again, Peter objected.  Peter thought, or so it seems, “this is not what God does, this does not fit my ‘formula’ for God, this cannot be right.”  Once again, Peter was wrong.  Finally, picture Peter and the rest of the disciples staring up into the sky as Christ ascends in Acts 1.  The angel had to snap them out of it with these words: “Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?”  I can imagine what Peter was thinking:  No…no…this is not right, this is not part of my plan, and this is not the way I saw this working out! 
            Now, in all these things, and many more I suppose, it seems as if the Lord was telling Peter “Peter, stop trying to figure Me out…just trust Me.”  And by the time we get to Acts 11, it appears that Peter has learned the lesson.  Once again, God did the unexpected.  The Lord poured out the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles.  Peter, who had probably grown up believing that God Himself was Jewish, now saw the saving gospel of Jesus Christ blossoming in the hearts of the unclean Gentiles.  We would expect Peter to, once again, object strongly.  But rather what we find is this:  Who was I that I could withstand God.”  Grace had changed Peter.  Grace had taught Peter to trust without questioning.  Grace had strengthened Peter’s faith to trust in a Savior who sometimes worked in ways he could not comprehend. 
            I take these words and apply them to my own trials, struggles and burdens.  I want to learn by faith what Peter learned.  I want to humbly submit to the Lord’s purposes in my life, even when they make no sense to me.  More than that, I want to glorify God through these unpredictable and incomprehensible events.  That is what happened for Peter.  We read in the verses following his words:  "When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God…”  Can I glorify a Savior who often does things in my life that puzzle me?  Yes, by grace I can.  And yes, by grace you can.  Who am I that I could withstand God?” 

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