Sometimes – nay, often – man has absolutely no idea of what God is doing. And I’m beginning to understand that the tension brought upon our faith by our ignorance of God’s plan is, in some cases, the best place for us to be as we seek to know him better.
The disciples, for instance, were confused when Jesus started talking about his coming departure. In John 14, we read of Jesus preparing the disciples, reassuring them that he would not leave them alone, that his leaving was better than his staying. But they didn’t understand. They recognized Jesus as the messiah, but they misunderstood his work. In their minds, the messiah would come to conquer, to overthrow the visible ruling power and to set up a physical, everlasting kingdom. Yet Jesus was coming to break their spiritual captivity, to establish an eternal kingdom that would transcend every human authority. He came to free them from their bondage to sin and death, a freedom that would be effective even if they were bound by physical chains.
As Jesus was preparing them, he spoke these words:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
In context, this was a huge claim. When you realize that Jesus was preparing them for his death, an inconceivable situation in their minds, this promise was one of seemingly impossible hope. And I have to believe this was confusing to them as well. How can Jesus give perfect peace in the midst of such intense turmoil? Thankfully, he gives his reasoning just a couple of verses later.
“And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”
There is not enough space to go into full detail here (though I’d love to mine this text’s depths), but I want to note something. Jesus tells them in advance what is going to happen. This implies that Jesus has a plan, which is a hugely comforting fact. But Jesus then says that “the ruler of this world is coming” (v. 30). In other words, Satan is on his way to carry out his own plan, his attempt to thwart God Almighty. This is no small obstacle. Even the title, “the ruler of this world,” implies that Satan is no weakling. The disciples are about to face one of their most difficult trials so far. And yet, Jesus states that, “He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me” (v. 30-31). I love this line. “He has no claim on me.” The enemy has no power over our Savior. Satan comes to enact what would be his greatest victory over the Son of God, yet Christ’s death is in fact Satan’s greatest defeat, for Jesus, obedient unto death (Philippians 2), conquers sin and death once and for all at the cross. This means that the imminent future for the disciples, though filled with pain and confusion and perceived loss, was all going according to the perfect plan of their sovereign God. Jesus was not taken against his will; Jesus willingly surrendered to death in accordance with the Father’s plan. The disciples had no need to worry, for all was under control.
This is the firm foundation for peace: faith in the Father’s sovereignty. Though the disciples were confused as to their circumstances, they could rest in the fact that God was in control. And the same is true for us as followers of Jesus. We can trust God even when we do not know or understand his plans. Our peace in trials is not found primarily in understanding our surroundings, but in trusting our Father.
Currently, I don’t have much of a clue as to what God’s up to in my life. I felt him to be leading me in a certain direction, so I took a step forward. Yet the door I thought he was opening turned out to be shut. After checking my heart in prayer and seeking counsel through close friends, I think I can say somewhat confidently that I wasn’t off. I don’t believe that I misunderstood God’s call to action. I also recognize that God is perfectly in control of this situation, meaning that all is going according to plan. Therefore, even though his plan doesn’t match my own, I can trust that his plan is best. Though I may have moved from a position of confidence to confusion in terms of my context, he has never lost control of the course of my life. There is great peace in this truth. Furthermore, though I may wrestle with him in prayer, I can already see the blessings he is bringing through this test of faith. I have no doubt that this is the best place for me to be, even though I have little idea of his plan for my life. Though I remain ignorant of where he might be leading, I can rest in his plan. My heart needn’t be troubled or afraid, for my God is still on the throne.
So I want to encourage you by calling to mind God’s sovereignty and grace. I want to remind you (as I am reminding myself) to trust the Lord regardless of whether or not you know his plan for your life. When trials hit and your hopes are shattered, God is in control. When hardship comes and your faith wavers, God is in control. When tragedy strikes, when failure hits, when life seems wholly chaotic, God is still in control. Have faith. Take heart. Seek the Lord.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18