by Rachel Dahlhausen, Women's Counselor
When I was a child, I always enjoyed the children’s workbook sheets that included little mazes on them. The kind where “Fido the puppy” was lost and needed help finding his way home. There were dozens of paths you could take with your pencil as you tried to lead him there, but only one that led to the center of the maze. Remember how you tried tracing your finger through the various turns and openings in the maze, hoping to discover the dead ends before you actually drew any lines, so that you didn’t make too many mistakes?
Life often feels like the maze on a child’s worksheet. Except that now you are living the ups and downs, the double backs and dead ends, and the repercussions are much greater than they were on your Sunday school handout. This year, because of the COVID crisis and the ever-changing predictions, suggestions, and mandates, it can feel like the target “home” on the maze has changed locations so many times you don’t know what to do next!
I am writing this article on a day of mixed emotions because it would have been BJU’s graduation day and the closing of a semester of school. Students, congratulations! You have worked hard and done well. You have seen the Lord faithfully providing for you and enabling you to complete what you started. But as you look to do the next thing, you may find that the next thing evades you. Maybe the job you planned on working closed down. Maybe the state you live in is still under “stay at home” orders. Perhaps the summer ministry you were pumped about has had to postpone or cancel plans. You look at your google calendar and it stretches as empty and white as the Sahara desert. And it’s hard. Friend, it’s ok for it to be hard. The Lord told us that we would have tribulation in this world, and He sorrows with us in it. But what are you going to do with that sorrow? How are you responding to all the changes and uncertainties? What are you believing about God, about yourself, and about your circumstances? Here are two things I’ve tried to preach to myself.
First, remember God and His providence. God’s providence is beautifully described in the Westminster Catechism as “His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.” God is unchanging in every one of His perfect attributes (Mal. 3:6). God has not left me or forsaken me (Heb. 13:5). God has not been taken by surprise in this worldwide calamity; rather, He brought it (Amos 3:6). God’s ways are far higher and better than mine (Is. 55:9). He is the Rock upon which we can build our lives (Matt. 7:24-27). God promises to work good for those who love Him, even when sinful men attempt otherwise (Gen. 50:20). God’s providence, rightly understood, is one of the greatest comforts of a believer’s life. Try reading Psalm 139 with God’s providence in mind. As the puritan writer John Flavel wrote, “One word of God can do more than ten thousand words of men to relieve a distressed soul.” Read Trusting God by Jerry Bridges or The Mystery of Divine Providence by John Flavel. It will be time well spent; I assure you! By faith believe that God is wisely directing in every situation.
Secondly, remember the big picture of God’s will for you this summer. We can get so caught up in “what is God’s will for me” questions as we consider where to work or live or what to do or who to marry. While the Bible does teach us that God has a specific plan for us, many of the verses of Scripture that refer to God’s will are focused on WHO we are rather than WHERE we are.
For instance, 1 Thessalonians makes two direct references to God’s will. The first says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from all sexual immorality…” (1 Thess 4:3). The word sanctification is referring to living a holy life, a life that is more and more transformed to look like Jesus. Are you growing spiritually? Are you letting the beauty of Jesus’ face into your life through daily time in the Word (2 Cor. 3:18)? Are you praising and pouring your heart out to the One who bore all your griefs and who sits interceding before the throne for you (Rom. 8:34)? Are you putting sin to death in your life by abstaining from all forms of sexual immorality…movies or reading material or pornography or fantasy? This is God’s will for you!
The second reference to God’s will in 1 Thessalonians is full of absolutes: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). This admonition is immediately convicting to me. “Give thanks in all circumstances.” COVID-19 is a circumstance in my life. Summer uncertainty is a circumstance in my life. Cancelled vacation plans are a circumstance in my life. These are circumstances I didn’t choose and didn’t want. But in God’s good providence, they are in my life. Will I please Him by, in the power of the Holy Spirit, doing what 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says? If I obey in this way, I am absolutely living God’s will out for my life today! I am honoring Him today. I am fulfilling His purpose for me today. And there is comfort in that.
The Heidelberg catechism, after defining God’s providence, asks an insightful second question: “What is the benefit of our knowing about God’s providence?” The answer, if you will take time to digest it, is precious. “The benefit of our knowing about God’s providence is that it makes us patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity, so that we may place our firm trust in our Heavenly Father concerning everything that befalls us.” Patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity. Firm trust in our Heavenly Father. I don’t respond that way nearly as often as I should, but I am learning to do so by God’s grace! As my pastor Mark Minnick said in a recent sermon, “There is something for you to pray today. There is something for you to say today. There is something for you to think today that will glorify God. Please the Lord with your steadiness, your firm conviction about the future.” So turn away from Netflix binging and all-night social media scrolling or endless, mind-numbing worry, and in God’s wise providence, live out what you know is His will for you today!