The problem started a few hours before our flight home from vacation.
At first the text alert said our flight was delayed by two hours. Okay, not ideal with our two small kids, but doable. My mind was already turning back to work and to the sermon I was going to deliver the day after we arrived. Vacation had been great but I was ready to get back to work and home. I had stuff to do.
Then another text: flight delayed another two hours. Okay, that’s frustrating now. I called to ask if the flight would be cancelled so I could rebook. The agent didn’t know any more than I did. We decided to wait. Then, finally, the text came that the flight was just cancelled altogether.
And if I was anxious then, calling the airline to rebook sure didn’t help.
We soon realized that every passenger on our large flight was calling the airline at the same time, attempting to rebook their flights and connections. As we talked to the agent, flights were filling up fast. We pleaded with the booking agent to help us get back in time for the church service. They had limited power and few options.
Eventually we were rebooked to arrive long after the church service. I realized that all my plans and cares and concerns that loomed so large in my view were just numbers and names in a massive airline system. I was a blip, a number and name in a massive database, being shuffled around.
In frustration I walked outside. We were in an isolated area so the stars flickering above were brighter than at home. Light hazy clouds were blowing in from one horizon. I felt utterly small. I couldn’t get an airline to bend to my will, much less stars and clouds. I was just one person, in an isolated area, on a small planet hurtling around an average sized star, in the less populated part of the galaxy.
The truth was that the universe is wildly out of my control.
In day to day life there was so much I could control: which route to take through traffic, which task to work on first, what to do on a free night with the family, where to buy a house. But in reality there was far, far more outside my control than inside it. I didn’t have final control over my health, or the attitudes of my family, or the economy, or the government, or the flight crew delayed in another city. And, strangely, that made me rejoice.
God brought to mind Psalm 8, where staring at the sky the Psalmist writes this: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
Things are wildly out of my control but they are not out of control. These things are set in place. Designed. Ordered. Governed. Even the airline database of cancelled flights. Feeling my smallness helped me to feel God’s vastness. My circumstances were in his control.
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And then the Psalmist weaves into his reflection something surprising. He uses the vastness of the stars as a backdrop to bring into focus the wonder of God’s love for us. In the spinning pulsing shifting changing universe, God has set unique love on his people. If God loved me and allowed, even ordained, my flight cancellation, how could I not receive it as a good gift from him?
Psalm 97:1 says simply “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice!” This of course implies that we do not reign ultimately. On many days I don’t like that. But rather than cause for anxiety the Psalmist encourages us that it’s cause for celebration. Because the Lord reigns.
I think that sitting outside looking up at the stars I laughed out loud. I could spend my time trying to bend the universe to my will, which would only leave me frustrated, angry and hurt. Or I could pray “Father, let your will be done” and trust his heart and his hand in my circumstances. And that finally frees me to get to work with what he has set before me.
An illness is an opportunity to care for someone well, the way God cares for us. A failing company is an opportunity to bring the joy of the Lord to a joyless situation and point people to Jesus. An interruption to your workday is an opportunity for God to redirect our energy to what he has for us that day, perhaps something you didn’t have on your agenda.
Of course this was a relatively easy thing to trust God in: after all he’d give me an extra day of vacation (something I only realized hours later). But in every circumstance it is no less true. When we vote for an election or ballot issue that doesn’t go our way, the Lord reigns. When we don’t get the promotion or lose the job, the Lord reigns. When they find termite damage or busted transmission or a chronic illness, the Lord reigns.
Christian, fear not, the universe is wildly outside of your control. But it is firmly in His control. And He cares for you. So laugh, and do what he has set before you today.