Up until two years ago, I thought I had my life pretty well mapped out. I was going to be a life long pastor at the church I had grown up in and loved dearly. That church was going to be a part of Sovereign Grace Churches, a group of churches I loved and still do love (go ahead bloggers, pile on). I was going to grow old and die in little Indiana, Pennsylvania, my version of The Shire. I was going to be closely located to my parents and siblings, and my kids would spend lots of time romping around with their cousins. It was all so peaceful and idyllic, like something out of a James Herriot book.
Then things took a strange turn. My church left Sovereign Grace. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, I ended up leaving the church I loved. I took a job in Tallahassee, Florida, which took me away from the town I loved, the family I loved, and the friends I cherished.
Sometimes I take stock of my life and think, It wasn’t supposed to be like this. My life wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. I had other plans.
Maybe you can relate. You weren’t supposed to be single this long. You weren’t supposed to be the full-time caretakers of your grandkids. You weren’t supposed to be having this much pain. You weren’t supposed to be infertile. You weren’t supposed to be stuck in a dead-end job with no other prospects. The idyllic notions of your youth have been smashed upon the rocks of reality.
As I read through Scripture, I’m discovering that very few people had their lives turn out as expected. God often takes his people on strange paths through uncharted territories. He leads his people out of safe, secure places, and into the howling wastelands.
Joseph was the favored son. He had dreams of being in authority and power. Then he was kidnapped by his brothers and sold into slavery. He spent years in slavery and in prison before God finally exalted him to a place of leadership and authority. I’m sure there were numerous times when Joseph thought, What happened to my life? How did I end up here?
God called Abraham away from his family, into foreign lands. He promised Abraham great things, but waited for decades before finally fulfilling that promise. As Abraham watched his body and Sarah’s body dissolve with age, he must have thought, God, why are you doing this? Why are you so slow to fulfill your promise? Why is this taking so long?
Moses was the Prince of Egypt, living among the choicest of all foods and comforts. If anyone had a secure life, it was Moses. But God had other plans, sending Moses into the wilderness for forty years (!!!) before he finally called Moses to lead the people of Israel. As Moses tended sheep, did he think, How did I go from the highest place to this desert?
David was anointed as king, then forced to cower in caves while Saul was on the warpath. Daniel was exiled to a strange land and then thrown into a lion pit. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago were forced into the furnace. James was executed by Herod. Paul was beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, and eventually killed. John ended up alone on the Isle of Patmos.
Why does God so such things? Why does he take his people on such strange, winding, and even painful paths? Why are you still single? Why is your son in jail? Why am I in Florida?
Of course, I don’t know many of the reasons. I suspect that many of us won’t receive answers this side of eternity.
But I can take comfort in these truths: God loves me very much, he has plans for me that are far better than my narrow-minded, myopic, self-centered plans, and he wants to do things in me that I would never think to ask.
David was forced to act like an insane person before the Philistine king, Abimelech. Was that part of David’s grand life plan? I doubt it. And yet how did he respond after the fact?
I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. (Psalm 34:4-6 ESV)
God took David on a path David would never have chosen for himself so that he could teach David things he could never have learned otherwise. David came away from the experience understanding deep in his soul that those who look to God will never be ashamed.
God took Paul through such a dark place that he despaired of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:8). Surely Paul would never have willingly asked for such a thing. And yet when all was said and done, Paul was able to say:
Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:9-10 ESV)
God used Paul’s near death experience to bring Paul to a deep, unshakable confidence in the delivering power of God. God brought Paul to the end of himself so that Paul would be forced to set his hope on God.
What is God up to in my life? Honestly, I have no idea. I don’t understand why he has orchestrated the events in my life as he has. But the testimony of 10,000 saints is this: God knows what he is doing.
The question is: will I trust him?