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Nothing comes our way without His permission and presence
The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Come Thirsty,” published in 2004 by W Publishing Group.
A few days before our wedding, Denalyn and I enjoyed and endured a sailing voyage. Milt, a Miami church friend, had invited Denalyn, her mom, and me to join him and a few others on a leisurely cruise along the Florida coast.
Initially it was just that. Leisure. We stretched out on cushions, hung feet over the side, caught some zzz’s and rays. Nice.
But then came the storm. The sky darkened, the rain started, and the flat ocean humped like a dragon’s neck. Sudden waves of water tilted the vessel up until we saw nothing but sky and then downward until we saw nothing but blue. I learned this about sailing: there is nothing swell about a swell. Tanning stopped. Napping ceased. Eyes turned first to the thunderclouds, then to the captain. We looked to Milt.
He was deliberate and decisive. He told some people where to sit, others what to do, and all of us to hang on. And we did what he said. Why? We knew he knew best. No one else knew the difference between starboard and stern. Only Milt did. We trusted him. We knew he knew.
And we knew we didn’t. Prior to the winds, we might have boasted about Boy Scout merit badges in sailing or bass-boat excursions. But once the storm hit, we shut up. (Except for Denalyn, who threw up.) We had no choice but to trust Milt. He knew what we didn’t---and he cared. The vessel was captained, not by a hireling or a stranger, but by a pal. Our safety mattered to him. So we trusted him.
Oh, that the choice were equally easy in life. Need I remind you about your westerly winds? With the speed of lightning and the force of a thunderclap, williwaws anger tranquil waters. Victims of sudden storms populate unemployment lines and ICU wards. You know the winds. You’ve felt the waves. Good-bye, smooth sailing. Hello, rough waters.
Such typhoons test our trust in the Captain. Does God know what he is doing? Can he get us out? Why did he allow the storm? The conditions worsen, and his instructions perplex: he calls on you to endure disaster, tolerate criticism, forgive an enemy. . .
How do you respond?
Can you say about God what I said about Milt?
I know God knows what’s best.
I know I don’t.
I know he cares.
Such words come easily when the water is calm. But when you’re looking at a wrecked car or a suspicious-looking mole, when war breaks out or thieves break in, do you trust him?
If yes, then you’re scoring high marks in the classroom of sovereignty. This important biblical phrase defines itself. Zero in on the middle portion of the term. See the word within the word? Sove-reign-ty. To confess the sovereignty of God is to acknowledge the reign of God, his regal authority and veto power over everything that happens. To embrace God’s sovereignty is to drink from the well of his lordship and make a sailboat-in-the-storm decision. Not in regard to Milt and the sea, but in regard to God and life. You look toward the Captain and resolve: he knows what’s best.
After all, doesn’t he quarterback the activities of the universe?
For our God is in the heavens,
and he does as he wishes.
(Psalms 115:3 NLT)
From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can oppose what I do. No one can reverse my actions. (Isaiah 43:13 NLT)
Only I can tell you what is going to happen even before it happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish. (Isaiah 46:10 NLT)
He chose us from the beginning, and all things happen just as he decided long ago. (Ephesians 1:11 NLT)
Divine decrees direct the cosmos. Jesus informed Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11 NIV). The Jewish leaders thought they were the ones who sent Christ to the cross. Peter corrected them. Jesus was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23 NASB).
Jeremiah rhetorically inquired, “Can anything happen without the Lord’s permission?” (Lamentations 3:37 NLT).
The book of Daniel declares no! “[God] has the power to do as he pleases among the angels of heaven and with those who live on earth. No one can stop him or challenge him, saying, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?” (Daniel 4:35 NLT).
Scripture, from Old Testament to New, from prophets to poets to preachers, renders one unanimous chorus: God directs the affairs of humanity. As Paul wrote, “God ... is the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters” (1 Timothy 6:15 PHILLIPS, emphasis mine).
No leaf falls without God’s knowledge. No dolphin gives birth without his permission. No wave crashes on the shore apart from his calculation. God has never been surprised. Not once. “The Son is . . . sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrew 1:3 NIV). “He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need there is” (Acts 17:25 NLT). King David proclaimed, “In Your book were written all the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Ps. 139:16 NASB).
Denying the sovereignty of God requires busy scissors and results in a hole-y Bible, for many holes are made as the verses are cut out. Amazingly, some people opt to extract such passages. Unable to reconcile human suffering with absolute sovereignty, they dilute God’s Word. Rabbi Kushner did.
His book When Bad Things Happen to Good People reached a disturbing conclusion: God can’t run the world. Kushner suggested that Job, the most famous sufferer, was “forced to choose between a good God who is not totally powerful, or a powerful God who is not totally good.”1
The rabbi speaks for many. God is strong. Or God is good. But God is not both. Else, how do you explain birth defects, coast-crashing hurricanes, AIDS, or the genocide of the Tutsi in the 1990s? If God cares, he isn’t strong; if he is strong, he doesn’t care. He can’t be both.
But according to the Bible, he is exactly that. Furthermore, according to the Bible, the problem is not the strength or kindness of God. The problem is the agenda of the human race. We pursue the wrong priority. We want good health, a good income, a good night’s rest, and a good retirement. Our priority is We.
God’s priority, however, is God. Why do the heavens exist? To flaunt God. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1 NIV).
Why do people struggle? To display his strength. “I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act” (Isaiah. 48:10—11 NASB). The prophet proclaimed, “You lead Your people, to make Yourself a glorious name” (Isaiah 63:14 NKJV).
God unfurls his own flag. He flexes his own muscles. Heaven does not ask, “How can I make Max happy?” Heaven asks, “How can I use Max to reveal my excellencies?” He may use blessings. Then again, he may use buffetings. Both belong to him.
I am the one who creates the light and makes the darkness. I am the one who sends good times and bad times. I, the LORD, am the one who does these things. (Isaiah 45:7 NLT)
Enjoy prosperity while you can. But when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. (Ecclesiastes 7:14 NLT)
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
That woe and well-being proceed?
(Lam. 3:38 NKjV)
Sometime ago I went to the Indianapolis airport to catch a return flight to San Antonio. Upon reaching the terminal, I realized I had lost my itinerary. But that was okay, because I knew which airline would carry me home. Continental. Having flown from San Antonio on Continental, I would return on Continental. Right? But the Continental counter was closed. The lights were off. No ticket agent was in sight. With the clock ticking toward my 7:40 p.m. departure, I called for help. “Hello? Anyone back there? I’m here for the 7:40 flight.”
From within the catacombs emerged a Continental baggage handler. He looked at me and said, “We don’t have a 7:40 flight.”
I replied, “Yes, you do. I flew Continental here, and I need to fly it home.”
He shrugged. “We don’t have another flight tonight.”
I turned to the automated ticket machine, entered my information, and requested a boarding pass for the 7:40 flight. It informed me that there was no such thing. Wouldn’t you know? Even the machine was wrong!
The employee, much to his credit, bore with me. Scratching his bald head, he offered a solution. “You know, Northwest Airlines has a 7:40 flight. Maybe you should check with them.”
Sure enough, they did. And I had to admit that the airline’s schedule ranked higher than my opinion. Their authority checkmated mine. I could have stood in front of the Continental counter all night, stamping my feet and demanding my way. But what good would it have done? Eventually I had to submit to the truth of the itinerary.
Every so often in life, we find ourselves standing before God’s counter, thinking we know the itinerary. Good health, a job promotion, a pregnancy. Many times God checks the itinerary he created and says yes. But there are times when he says, “No. That isn’t the journey I have planned for you. I have you routed through the city of Struggle.”
We can stamp our feet and shake our fists. Or we can make a sailor-in-the-storm decision. I know God knows what is best.
Some find the thought impossible to accept. One dear woman did. After I shared these ideas in a public setting, she asked to speak with me. Husband at her side, she related the story of her horrible childhood. First abused, then abandoned by her father. Unimaginable and undeserved hurts scar her early memories. Through tear-filled eyes she asked, “Do you mean to tell me God was watching the whole time?”
The question vibrated in the room. I shifted in my chair and answered, “Yes, he was. I don’t know why he allowed your abuse, but I do know this. He loves you and hurts with you.” She didn’t like the answer. But dare we say anything else? Dare we suggest that God dozed off? Abandoned his post? That heaven sees but can’t act? That our Father is kind but not strong, or strong but doesn’t care?
I wish she could have spoken to Joseph. His brothers abused him, selling him into slavery. Was God watching? Yes. And our sovereign God used their rebellious hearts to save a nation from famine and the family of the Messiah from extinction. As Joseph told them, “God turned into good what you meant for evil” (Genesis 50:20 NLT).
I wish she could have spoken to Lazarus. He grew deathly ill. When Jesus heard the news, he did nothing. Jesus waited until Lazarus was four-days dead in the grave. Why? “For the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (John 11:4 NASB).
Best of all would have been a conversation with Jesus himself. He begged God for a different itinerary: a crossless death. From Gethsemane’s garden Christ pleaded for a plan B. Redemption with no nails. “‘Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him” (Luke 22:42—43 NLT).
Did God hear the prayer of his Son? Enough to send an angel. Did God spare his Son from death? No. The glory of God outranked the comfort of Christ. So Christ suffered, and God’s grace was displayed and deployed.
Are you called to endure a Gethsemane season? Have you “been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29 NASB)?
If so, then come thirsty and drink deeply from his lordship. He authors all itineraries. He knows what is best. No struggle will come your way apart from his purpose, presence, and permission. What encouragement this brings! You are never the victim of nature or the prey of fate. Chance is eliminated. You are more than a weather vane whipped about by the winds of fortune. Would God truly abandon you to the whims of drug-crazed thieves, greedy corporate raiders, or evil leaders? Perish the thought!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the LORD your God.
(Isaiah 43:2—3 NASB)
We live beneath the protective palm of a sovereign King who superintends every circumstance of our lives and delights in doing us good.
Nothing comes your way that has not first passed through the filter of his love. Margaret Clarkson, in her wonderfully titled book Grace Grows Best in Winter, wrote:
The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God. . . . All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and the personal history of every member of his redeemed family.2
Learn well the song of sovereignty: I know God knows what’s best. Pray humbly the prayer of trust: “I trust your lordship. I belong to you. Nothing comes to me that hasn’t passed through you.”
A word of caution: the doctrine of sovereignty challenges us. Study it gradually. Don’t share it capriciously. When someone you love faces adversity, don’t insensitively declare, “God is in control.” A cavalier tone can eclipse the right truth. Be careful.
And be encouraged. God’s ways are always right. They may not make sense to us. They may be mysterious, inexplicable, difficult, and even painful. But they are right. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT).
As John Oxenham wrote in 1913:
He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife,—
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this---His way was right.3 (89-98)
1. Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Avon Books, 1983), 42—43.
2. Margaret Clarkson, Grace Grows Best in Winter: Help for Those Who Must Suffer (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdrnans, 1984), 40—41.
3. John Oxenham, Bees in Amber: A Little Book of Thoughtful Verse, The Project Gutenberg, htrp://www.gutenberg.net/etextO6/8beesl0.txt.
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