Voices of GBC - Ben Chase
by Ben Chase
God Has a Plan
I wish I could say that my first instinct is to trust God when things aren’t going well, but it’s quite the opposite. Whenever I hear about something new that feels like a threat to the safety of myself, my family, or my friends, I start to feel anxious. There has been no shortage of things to make me feel anxious lately. Although my family has been relatively unaffected by everything we’ve been hearing about in the news, nobody has remained untouched. We all have to deal with the limitations and inconvenience of living the “pandemic life.” We have all experienced the discomfort of friends with differing politics as we grow more and more divided. And we all had to breathe some really poor-quality air for a while. Many have had it pretty easy, but some of us have lost income. Some have experienced violence in their own neighborhood. Some feel targeted. Some have lost their home in a fire. And some have lost a family member to Covid-19.
When all these things stack up in my mind, it can feel overwhelming, and I start to wonder what God is doing in all of this. Instead of trusting that God has a plan, I start making plans, running through scenarios in my head of what I would do in such-and-such a situation. In short, I start catastrophizing, and I get the feeling that I’m not alone in this. This drive toward self-reliance and self-preservation is human nature, isn’t it? But it’s a part of our fallen human nature, not God’s original intent. We were created to rest confidently in our Father’s arms. So how can we get from here to there? These fears, or you could call them lapses of faith, that I’ve experienced over the past several months have caused me to reflect on my place in the world and my position as a well-loved child of God.
In her book Hind’s Feet on High Places, Hannah Hurnard tells the story of a woman named Much Afraid who is invited by the Chief Shepherd to leave the Valley of Humiliation and go with him to the High Places. This is a work of allegory, and it is meant to convey the journey of following Jesus into a deep experience of his love. The Chief Shepherd introduces Much Afraid to two women whom he has chosen as the very best companions and teachers to accompany her to the High Places. But when she discovers the names of her companions, Sorrow and Suffering, she begins to panic. “Why, oh why, must you make Sorrow and Suffering my companions? Couldn’t you have given Joy and Peace to go with me, to strengthen me and encourage me and help me on the difficult way? I never thought you would do this to me!”
If I’m not careful, this can be my attitude when Sorrow and Suffering come my way. Why would God allow me to suffer? Because he sends his greatest blessings of comfort and faith through my experience of trials. This won’t happen automatically though. When I face hardship, I can respond with self-pity, self-sufficiency; or I can respond with faith. Self-pity says, like Much Afraid, “I never thought you would do this to me!” If I respond this way, I will become paralyzed in my emotions and begin to see God as unfair. If I trust in my own power and self-sufficiency to get me through hard times, I won’t think about God much at all, and I will miss whatever he is trying to teach me. What’s worse, I will be trying to take his place. But the response of faith says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). God does incredible things in our hearts when we answer him in this way!
As I have been asking God to put an end to the things that make me feel anxious, I have felt led to consider what it is that I call my treasure. Is it my health, or my income, or my home? Is it my family and relationships? Is it the entertainment and diversions that I busy myself with? We have all heard the message of Matthew 6:19-21.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
All those transitory treasures I listed pale in comparison to the hope of Heaven that we have in Jesus. And sooner or later, they will all come to an end. But they are not the only things coming to an end. God has promised to make a final end to all suffering for those who are in Jesus Christ.
Do you remember Apple’s old ad campaign, “there’s an app for that”? Whatever earthly pain we are experiencing, God has a promise for that. Is there disease? Heaven holds the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2). Is there injustice? “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103:6). Is there division? One day we will join the multitude from every tribe, tongue and nation praising God together (Revelation 7:9). Is there poverty? Jesus promises to provide for our physical needs (Matthew 6:25-34). Is there danger? “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you” (Psalm 91:7). Are you afraid? God is a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46).
These promises have their ultimate fulfillment in the future kingdom of Heaven, but we can also experience a partial fulfillment now. I know and believe that God cares for his saints every day and actively keeps them out of danger. And I also know that even though we face all kinds of dangers and he promises “it will not come near you,” Christians still die from disease and violence. Even though he promises to feed us, Christians around the world still die from hunger. How then are God’s promises fulfilled? We can trust that God has a plan and purpose for each of us in our life, and in our death. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). He has perfectly planned the time and the way that each of us will say goodbye to this life and meet him face to face. No danger can come near us unless he allows it.
And so, we can confidently say that God will keep his promises and provide for our every need, and then after we leave this world in one way or another, we will have the greatest fulfillment of these promises. This is the way that we find strength to endure hardships, because we have faith that God is lovingly using our suffering for his good purposes, that nothing can happen to us outside of his will, and that something far better is coming.
Toward the end of her journey, Much Afraid and her two companions are caught in a terrible storm and take refuge in a cabin in the woods that has been stocked with firewood and supplies for travelers. During their stay, Sorrow begins to sing a song about Christ’s love for us. “‘Why Sorrow,’ exclaimed Much Afraid, ‘I didn’t know that you could sing, or even knew any songs.’ Sorrow answered quietly, ‘Neither did I.’”
It feels like nothing good could ever come out of our suffering. If we can embrace it as something that God has chosen for us, if we can see ourselves as perfectly safe in his arms through it all, we will experience joy in his presence that we never could have felt if our lives had gone smoothly. We will find out that Sorrow can in fact sing.
What I am gaining through these hard times is a greater sense that God is my treasure, and I can trust him and let go of everything else for his sake. Does that seem like a small consolation? It’s really an incredible leap for our hearts to make, and it can only be accomplished through the work of the Spirit. If that’s all that comes of this season, that’s more than enough for me.