Not According to Plan
What will you do when your life pivots in ways you didn’t anticipate?
Do you find yourself with an acceptance letter for graduate school at a point you had hoped you would be accepting a marriage proposal? Do you wish you were dating, but instead spend your Friday evenings mentoring a young teenager from church? Do you wish you were soaring in your career, but find yourself on the low rung of the ladder or in a field unrelated to your field of studies? Are you a newly married woman suddenly expecting an unexpected baby? Or possibly you’re wondering if you’ll ever be able to conceive. Whatever your circumstances, things regularly don’t go according to plan. That’s the norm in this fallen world.
My husband and I have a friend who is teaching us a lot about how to respond to what the Lord purposes, especially when it’s wildly out-of-step with our plans. He has a rare medical condition called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID for short, that renders him without an immune system. We met him at the seminary where he is getting his Ph.D. His Ph.D. My first thought was, why? Why go through all that work and take on all that expense for a degree you may never get to use or use for such a short time? Not only is he getting his Ph.D., he’s doing so with a wife who married him knowing she might be a young widow and a baby who was conceived with the knowledge that the disease is genetic. Because SCID is X-linked and the baby they were expecting was a boy, he wasn’t at risk of the disease. If Matt and Ashleigh have all boys, the disease will stop. If they have any girls, their daughters will automatically carry SCID, which could then show up in their sons (50/50 chance). Again I wondered, why? As Matt faces death daily, he is a walking lesson in how to live.
Time Is Short
James 4:14 says, “[Y]et you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Matt can’t help but know this. The backpack he wears reminds him every time the whirring starts, signaling the pump is working, filling his blood with life-extending medicine. The constant awareness of his mortality is a gift of motivation.
We need to remember our mortality because we are all called to be faithful with however many days God gives us (Matthew 25:14-30, John 15:1-4). Tweet This Feeling the brevity of our days can be a powerful motivator to “seek first the kingdom of God” and to not fritter away today thinking we’ll always have tomorrow (Psalm 90:9-12). It can make the difference between saying yes to risks and opportunities as well as saying no to laziness about challenges and commitments already underway. It also helps us keep right priorities, along with an eternal perspective. In all we do, remembering the limits of our mortality helps us be decisive and intentional.
All Things Are From God
What does it mean to serve a God who is Sovereign? It means He sends the blessings as well as the suffering. Isaiah 45:7 says, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.” This is something our friend knows well. Often in our western context we think blessings alone are from God and that blessings are what we as Christians should expect. When trials come, we’re often quick to assume it’s bad luck, spiritual attack or the consequence of some unconfessed sin. Scripture shows us, however, that good as well as bad are from the Lord (Job 2:10).
Understanding God’s sovereignty — that He is in control of all things — helps us trust Him in the midst of suffering great and small. It might be a dreaded disease. But it could also be a broken relationship, a difficult class, an unreasonable boss or even car trouble. God has a purpose for what happens in your life. All of it. Will you submit to Him and trust Him?
Suffering Is Purposeful
Job is the classic model for godly suffering. But he’s not the only one. Born a slave, Moses was rescued from genocide by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as a prince in Egypt, the center of world power in his day. He had the best of the best. Yet he pivoted from a path toward royal ruler in Egypt, to desert wanderer and itinerant prophet. He gave it all up in obedience to God. Hebrews 11:24-26 says,
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
Moses laid aside his plans and labored for 40 years in the wilderness before God called him back into active service as the Hebrews’ deliverer. Even then, his calling was utterly unlike what he presumably was preparing for while studying in Pharaoh’s palace. Yet that preparation was essential to the work God would call him to: He needed to be literate and fluent when it came time to write the first five books of the Bible. Not only did God have a purpose for his suffering in this life, we know from Hebrews 11 that Moses’ ultimate motivation in the midst of deep suffering was his eternal reward.
Contentment Is Possible
We often want what we don’t have, but Scripture shows us a better way. Paul said, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13). In Christ, we not only have the strength to endure, we also have the assurance that no matter how hard this life gets, nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). If you are in Christ and He is your Lord, you can know with confidence, in the words of a glorious hymn, that He will hold you fast (Jude 1).
God’s Ways Are Good
Matt’s mother-in-law had LIVESTRONG-style bracelets made for friends. The blue bands read “PRAY FOR MATT NAHUM 1:7” which says, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” They are holding on to the unchanging goodness of God, no matter how hard this life gets. But also, they are comforted by God’s knowledge of them. God’s goodness isn’t abstract or impersonal. It’s particular, poured out in relationship with His children. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9), and they are good.
I pray for Matt whenever I see him. And I realize how his willingness to embrace the life God has given him is an encouragement to me to do the same. You see, I’m not that different from Matt. He reminds me of the reality of my condition. In most ways, he’s no different from any of us. We are all terminal. And none of us knows if we have 80 years, or eight more days, or eight more minutes to live. The only difference is that his known ailment forces him to admit his frailty. Most days he does so with joy.
To know Matt is to know a man who loves Jesus, who trusts his Heavenly Father, who is being carried along in the strength of the Holy Spirit. He lives each day, and writes his dissertation, and endures each medical treatment, and loves his wife, and delights in his son as unto the Lord, trusting God for the outcome. What will you do when your life pivots in ways you didn’t anticipate? What if it turns in ways you don’t like? Whatever twists and turns come, will you trust Him?
There is great freedom in remembering we are dust, dust formed by the hand of a Maker who loves us and sent His Son to redeem us. We are clay pots. But we are being prepared for eternity.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power … in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:42-43, 52).
In this life, may we entrust ourselves to the One who made us so that one day, when this fleeting life is over, we will be alive forever and utterly transformed.
Copyright 2014 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Candice Watters is a wife, mom, and Bible teacher. She is the author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen, co-founder with her husband, Steve, of Boundless.org and co-author of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. They have four children and blog at FamilyMaking.com.