My husband and I just arrived back home this week from sailing on a wonderful cruise to Alaska. It was only our second cruise, so I came away with some new insights: 1) All of my clothes have suddenly shrunk. 2) The ship’s bathroom shower was custom made for Froto. 3) I want to know who paid the whales, seals, and bears to take a vacation away while we were there. We did briefly see the backend of a bear as he was entering the brush. Awesome.
Seriously though, the absolute greatest and best insights that I gained was seeing the beauty of an unspoiled frontier, experiencing the majestic vastness of the land, and enjoying the quiet of nature, because they were ever-present reminders of just how big and great our God is. The experience reminded me of how the heavens and the earth constantly shout of His presence and obey His commands. My inner thoughts were tenderly touched by His voice that constantly proclaimed, “I am the great I am. I am sovereign over all things.”
This daily, natural reminder of God’s great sovereignty caused me to think about how we can often be full of anxiety and worry, despite the fact that God, our Keeper, is ruler over everything in life. Think about it….paralyzing anxiety challenges belief in God’s sovereignty, and cannot allow there to be peace . The two will clash and one will win our heart. The confidence of His sovereignty should cancel out any fear we may have in times of our uncertainty about the future. But yet, we somehow either forget, or we have never truly grasped what His sovereignty means. I urge you to think about what you mean when you say you believe that God is sovereign, for it is the foundation of how you’ll come to understand life, its purpose, and its challenges.
By definition, sovereign means that someone is supreme above all. Someone stands alone in their reign; they are independent of all others. Nothing or no one has power over them. We say we believe that God is all these things, yet when circumstances are challenging or unsure, we fret over the potential outcome. What does this say about us? Sadly, it exposes our weak faith. Surely, it’s normal for us to be fearful for a time because we’re emotional beings, but when we get stuck in the quagmire of worry, it’s time to take a precise look at exactly what we believe, because sovereignty and stress cannot reside in the same camp. One or the other will become the guiding force.
I heard a lot about bears while we were in Alaska. They were an ever present danger, if given the right circumstances, during hiking or camping. A large brown bear can weigh 1500 pounds or more…. certainly no match for a person. People and bears can coexist at a distance, as long as the people don’t forget that bears rule, and they have the physical advantage over people. Bears are to be respected in all cases, and people need to know how to protect themselves if an encounter should take place because bears don’t have the people’s good in mind…. only their own. Consequently, people and bears cannot reside closely in the same camp and expect peace.
Similarly, when we’re anxious, we think as though our powerful God is like the big, brown bear. We believe he is powerful and we can coexist with His sovereignty at a distance, but at the same time, we also have to protect ourselves from anything that threatens our future safety. We believe we have to come up with our own escape or plan in order to shelter ourselves from the danger of His prospective plan and purpose for us. We may even sometimes look on God as an adversary who wants to plague us with difficulty for his own amusement.
Remember when Jesus was facing the imminent challenge of a painful death, and He called out to God to remove Him from the impending pain of the cross? Yet, overriding His plea for a different less tortuous way to die, was his willingness to submit to the Father’s sovereign will. Jesus didn’t want pain any more than we do. Jesus dreaded the cup of God’s wrath ahead of Him, and in his humanity, He asked God to, “Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) Doing the sovereign will of the One he trusted and loved was his overriding comfort and confidence to press on, even though he wasn’t looking forward to the manner of death ahead of him. Likewise, we don’t often look forward to what God may have for us, but instead of trusting and submitting, we slide into doubt and worry (as if we could change what has been sovereignly predestined).
An important thing for us to understand is that God’s sovereignty never changes or weakens, but we can ignore it or disbelieve it, which changes us. We act as though we’re running from the big, brown bear! Our stress certainly doesn’t mitigate God’s sovereignty, but stress can cover up the surety of God’s good plan and purpose in our hearts. Think about it….A cover-up is meant to protect and change the way something looks. Cover-ups are meant to escape the brunt of how things feel. When we use a coat as a cover-up to protect us from the cold, the cold is still there. It doesn’t go anywhere. The cover-up only changes the way it feels between your body and the outside temperature. Likewise, when worry and anxiety are used in forming a plan to protect us as a cover-up to what may happen, it may help us to feel differently, but God’s sovereignty is still there. It doesn’t go away or disappear. Stress never overrides or overpowers the will of God. So why do we spend so much time trying to outwit Him, or to get ahead of Him as though we can cut Him off at the pass, or thwart His will? It’s a fool’s game to worry and stress. These things don’t change a thing about God, and they further feed our pride in thinking that we know better than He does.
I’d like to suggest a couple of things to ponder at this point which feed stress and worry:
First, consider your unbelief. I’m not talking here about your salvation (although that can’t be ruled out). I’m talking about the sanctifying process of growing in faith. When we simply will not accept what God has in mind for our lives, it speaks of our lack of belief that God can be trusted. We usually try very hard not to follow those whose intentions are shady, but we gladly follow those who we believe have our best interest at heart. If we believe that God can be trusted to act on our behalf for our good, then we will shelter there for safety. If we believe that God is against us, or simply apathetic to our needs, then we’ll worry over outcomes that aren’t in our control, and devise a plan to avoid the suspense, i.e. taking matters into our own hands.
I often worry about the future. What if my husband dies before I do? Can I handle the absence of a 50-year relationship? Won’t I feel alone? How will I manage the finances? These worries would consume me (and I admit that manytimes they threaten to), if I didn’t believe that God’s sovereign plan and purpose for my life can be trusted, because I trust Him to know what is best for me. He is conforming me to the likeness of Christ in all things, and that is His goal for you, as a believer, as well. He always acts for your good. (Romans 8:28-30) Never to devour you as a big, brown bear, but to loyally guide you to a deeper faith. Confess your unbelief, and repent and turn from devising your plan of safety, to a faith that trusts Him wholly.
Second, consider how you view God. Is He good all the time? Do you sometimes feel He is against you? Does His sovereignty scare you, like the big, brown bear? If you’re afraid of His plan for your life, then I’d encourage you to reconsider the gospel message. When we think of God as a cosmic sheriff, then we have forgotten His grace and mercy. We have adopted the world’s view of humankind, and have bought the lie of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The Scriptures tell us that, “There is no one righteous, not even one;… there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans:3:10,12b) I dearly love the C. S. Lewis quote from his Anthology, “No man knows how bad he is, until he tries very hard to be good.” If you think you’re good, then listen to your thoughts. How many times have you criticized or judged someone today (ouch!), how much of your day has been spent in envy or jealousy of someone else (double-ouch!), how often do you get angry for not getting your way, when was the last time you were selfish, have you lusted over someone or something? The list is endless and condemns us at every turn, yet God in His grace and mercy demonstrated His love for us through the redeeming death of Christ. Confess your pride and repent, acknowledging that God is good to continue loving you, despite your sin.
Be not afraid. You can be joyfully thankful for the sovereignty of God. We don’t have to see Alaska in order to appreciate His reign over all. Look around you today and listen to His voice with your eyes…. the heavens, the stars, the waters. Let these sights be a reminder to you that God didn’t create the planet Earth, and then decide to place us in it. He crafted the Earth because he knew that it would be a suitable place for his people. He uniquely created it for Himself to enjoy fellowship with us….yes, with you. If He cared about you so greatly to have lovingly formed a particular planet for your pleasure and survival, how much more can you humbly trust Him to sovereignly manage your life and your future? Let your Turn Around Time be short as you move from doubt to trust, which moves your heart from anxiety to peace.