God's Will Versus Your Plans
By Stuart Briscoe
Stuff happens. We all know that. Sometimes it’s good, other times it’s horrible. When it’s good we don’t spend too much time analyzing it – we just enjoy it! But when it’s bad we ask questions, we want answers. “Why did this happen?” Or more likely, “Why did this happen to me?” If we’re of a philosophical frame of mind, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Some people shrug their shoulders and say, “Stuff happens and that’s all there is to it.” Others say, “You make your own life; you’re responsible for your own happenings.” And then there are those who say “everything is determined.” Some say environment and genes are the determining factors while others say “God is sovereign and He dictates what happens.”
It seems to me that the Bible is clear that God is in charge. If He isn’t, He isn’t God! But there is lots of biblical evidence that people are responsible for their actions, too. So I believe that God has chosen sovereignly to give us choice and related responsibility. Ultimately He is in control; but within the context of that control, He has granted us freedom to act. He is sovereign, we are responsible. But more. The environment in which He has chosen we should live is less than perfect. It is “fallen” and we are not exempt from its ills and its woes. So stuff happens in our lives under the sovereign control of the Lord who has intentionally given us free will and placed us in a difficult and dangerous environment. Things come our way sometimes because we made them come our way. Sometimes they happen because of the fallen circumstances in which we live and from which we are made. Other times they happen because of the actions of others, but always under the ultimate oversight of God who rules in the affairs of men and women. God’s will rules!
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane contemplating His imminent crucifixion, He asked if there was another way He could accomplish His mission, but then immediately told the Father, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” There was, in that moment, the most remarkable acceptance of the divine will in human history. And it was not going to be pleasant. Jesus was willingly agreeing with the Father that His will was, as Paul would later say, “Good, acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12: 2). But it was a most horrendous will, a most excruciating plan.
The question that then comes to mind is, “How can something so horrendous be good, acceptable and perfect?” This is not simply a theoretical question. Millions of believers have been faced with a similar one as they have confronted the difficult dimensions of life at the same time they were trying desperately to hold on to the belief that God’s will is best. When a young husband dies leaving a widow and three small children, how can that be part of a good, acceptable and perfect will? When a young couple desperately anxious to have children encounter infertility, how do they fit that into a good divine plan?
Perhaps the only way we can hold firmly to a good will and confront unpleasant issues is to recognize that the only person who can ultimately determine the “goodness” or the “badness” of something is the person who has all the facts at his or her disposal. And none of us has that capability. There are certain things to which God has introduced us, and there are others that are hidden in the inscrutable depths of His divine plan. As Moses said, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29). We don’t know all He knows. We will never know this side of eternity what He doesn’t reveal; but we do know what He has told us, and we must tenaciously hold on to that.
So suppose we can arrive at that position, how do we handle life’s unpleasantnesses or worse? Let me make a few suggestions:
1. Recognize that there is nothing fundamentally surprising about being exposed to bad things. Jesus was, and He warned His disciples they would be, too. He intentionally left us in a world that had rejected Him and He warned that we would be treated no differently. Peter certainly got the message and later wrote, “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). This is what life in this sad world is like – even for believers!
2. Remember that what God permits in your life will never outstrip the grace He makes available to enable you to live well in it. He doesn’t promise escape from difficulties, but He does guarantee grace to live well in them. Paul told the Corinthians, “God is faithful: He will not let you be tempted (or tested) beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
3. Reflect on the way that difficulties and stresses are often the means to development and growth. In the same way that an athlete is conditioned for better performance through carefully monitored training, so the believer is granted the chance to mature through the difficult dimensions of the divine will. Paul wrote, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:4).
4. Refuse to be intimidated by the forces that oppose you in your life, and recognize that the way you conduct yourself in the hard times is evidence of God being truly at work in your life. It is also a reminder to those who may be the cause of your difficulties that they will not escape the consequences of their actions. Paul told the Philippians in no uncertain terms not to be “frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved – and that by God” (Phil. 1: 28).
5. Resist the temptation to resent the hard edges of God’s will by acknowledging the fact that people “suffer according to God’s will” (1 Pet. 4:19) as surely as they are blessed by His gracious provision. In fact, in some way that is almost too difficult for us to grasp, if we are to know “the power of His resurrection” in our lives, it will be related to our experience of “the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). The Christians who lived in the difficult early days of the church grasped this perhaps better than modern-day Christians in the western world. They actually rejoiced after they were publicly flogged because they “had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).
When Jesus said in the Garden, “Not My will, but Thine be done,” He was not entering into a passive mode of resignation to inevitable circumstances. He was actively consenting to glad participation in the divine will. We need to be careful at this point. For sometimes when we are exhorted, as in this article, to look positively at the difficult aspects of the divine will, we settle into an attitude rather like that of a rebellious teenager who chafes under parental discipline, and can’t do anything about it except project a constant attitude of disapproval of what she has to endure, and plays this one possibility to the hilt – technically submitting to the parental will, but realistically living in open, although muted, resistance to it and resentment of it.
So try this. Next time God’s will and yours don’t see eye to eye, and before you get horribly bent out of shape, remind yourself that you don’t know all the circumstances so you can’t make a definitive assessment of the situation as to whether it is ultimately good or bad. Then remember that God claims His will is “good, acceptable and perfect.” Give Him the benefit of the doubt and concentrate on the positive things that you know can come out of glad acceptance of His plan. You may be surprised at the way life becomes less of a struggle and God’s will becomes less of a problem.