The Sovereignty of
"For now we see through a glass, darkly;
but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then
shall I know even as also I am known.
(1 Corinthians 13:12)
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It is usually only as we look back over years that we can truly grasp God's wonder-working,
sovereign imprint upon our lives and in our hearts.
Even before we walked with the Lord, we can look back and pinpoint times when God was supernaturally protecting us and drawing us to Himself. After coming to Christ, we grow more aware of Him working in and through our lives. He is working in our lives all the time. It is usually only as we look back over years that we can truly grasp His wonder-working, sovereign imprint upon our lives and in our hearts.
I am no theologian so this lesson will not be a theological treatise on the sovereignty of God. Because we only see in part, much about God is cloaked in mystery. Certainly there are things about God's sovereignty that are simply unknowable. I don't know all things that are even knowable about the sovereignty of God. I only know it is important to have some understanding of it, because God's Word shows and tells us so much about it. We can learn a little something about how this mysterious and sovereign Lord of the universe works in our lives from studying the lives of the men and women in the Bible.
We will examine the sovereignty of God in creation. Through snippets from the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, Paul, and Nebuchadnezzar, we will witness God's sovereignty up close and personal. We will also look at God's sovereignty in the context of our sins.
Lord of the Heavens and Lord of the Earth
My late friend, Ann Rosenberg, wrote a great Christian song. It goes like this:
I know that I know,
That I know that I know,
That I know that I know,
That I don't know.
This is true for all of us. We see through a glass darkly. We only know in part, but Scripture gives us some clues about the mystery of God's sovereignty.
Our mighty Sovereign God created the heavens and the earth, and He rules over them every moment of every day.
" . . . I am God
and there is no one like Me; Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done."
"Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the vault of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, Scarcely have they been sown, Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble. ‘To whom then will you liken me that I should be his equal?' says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one of them is missing" (Isaiah 40:21-26 NAS).
Time and time again God asserts and affirms in the scriptures His sovereignty over all of creation, which, of course, includes you and me.
Though all analogies are limited in their applications to God, Dr. Duane Spencer, a pastor and author from San Antonio, Texas, said that the operation of the sovereignty of God in a person's life is somewhat like taking a trip on a train. When I get on that train is predestined. Many of the stops along the way are predestined. During our journey we may move freely about the train. We don't always sin as we wander around the train, but often we do, sometimes in what we do that we shouldn't—others times in what we don't do that we should. We may even sin by our efforts to earn the love and approval of men and of God through our own dead works. In none of these things is God caught by surprise.
God has a way of bringing
just the right amount of pressure
to bear upon us to turn us
to His desire for our hearts.
Here I speak from great experience. When we sin, God has a way of bringing just the right amount of pressure to bear upon us to turn us to His desire for our hearts. That pressure may be a gentle nudge or it may be equivalent to the pangs of the late stages of childbirth. God uses whatever it takes to keep us moving along the path of His destiny for us.
"The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will" (Proverbs 21:1).
Here's what I know. God has a unique destiny for each of us. I know God knows everything from beginning to end—both the successes and the failures. I know that God does not ever cause us to sin. I know that God has a common destiny for all of us, and that is to transform us into the image of His Son. And I know that how far we go in this process of transformation is unique to each of us.
"He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:5-6).
The name "sovereign" also means "controller" in the Hebrew. "Lord" is the name used in the Bible for "sovereign". The heavens tremble at the mention of His name. At the end of the age, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is "Lord"—that He is indeed sovereign (Philippians 2:9-11).
Snippet # 1: The Sovereignty of God in Abraham's Life
It is not as easy for most of us to look at theology as it is for us to study the lives of the men and women of the Bible. God's sovereignty can be seen very clearly in the life of Abraham.
We first meet him when His name was Abram. Abram means "high father". The names of men and women in the Bible are indicative of their character and/or destiny. This is why many of the names of the people in the Bible were often changed. It indicated a change in their character, relationship with God and/or their destiny. God was about to do all three with Abraham.
"Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed'" (Genesis 12:1-3).
The king's heart is like
channels of water
in the hand of the Lord;
He turns it wherever He wishes.
Without one question, Abram pulled up stakes, gathered his family together and began the journey which would lead him to the fulfill- ment of God's great destiny for his life and for ours.
In Genesis15:2 Abram became the first man to utter the name "Lord," or "Adonai," which means "Sovereign". He combined it with the word "Jehovah," a derivative of the Name, "I AM." He actually addressed God this way. "O Lord God" or "O Sovereign I AM."
In John 8:58, Jesus clearly identified himself as the I AM. " . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am".
At the mere mention of these two names, "Sovereign I AM", God changed Abram's name to Abraham. Abraham means "father of a multitude". His identity and destiny were now clearly identified. Abraham was moving well along on his predestined journey on the train.
The seed of Abraham, those who believe in the Sovereign I AM as Abraham did, are part of the multitude promised to Abraham in Genesis 15:5.
"And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Gal 3:29 NAS).
There is NO mortal in Scripture who more clearly exemplifies the fulfillment of Romans 8:28-29 than Abraham. Metaphorically speaking, both Abraham and Sarah are "wandering around on the train" as it chugged along to their final destination.
Though Abraham sometimes "got off the train" when he wasn't supposed to get off; though he often sat in a seat that wasn't his, he always got back on. Though he spilled drinks on the floor and dripped food on his shirt along the journey; when push came to shove, Abraham was transformed into the image of God unlike any of the rest of us. When God called him to offer up his son, he didn't bat an eye. He said, "Yes sir!" and marched straight to Mount Moriah with his beloved son submissively by his side. Just think about that long, lonely walk Abraham made up the Mount. By this time, Abraham had a level of maturity in his faith that is probably not in most of us yet, though we never know until we are tested. Abraham placed his son on the altar and raised the knife to slay him.
God halted the offering in mid-air. "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him;" said God to Abraham (Genesis 22:12).
"By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death" (Hebrews 11:17-19 NIV).
This was God's destiny for Abraham. And because of his faith, those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are Abraham's seed.
Snippet # 2: The Sovereignty of God in Joseph's Life
It would be difficult for me to say who is my favorite among the "mortals" of the Old Testament—Abraham or Joseph. God has also given us a very clear picture of His sovereign will through Joseph's life, who, like Abraham, is a "type" of Christ in the Old Testament.
God clearly revealed Joseph's sovereign destiny through two dreams. In both of them, he saw his family bow at his feet, indicating that he would have authority over their lives. The only problem is that Joseph mishandled the information, perhaps announcing this destiny of his to his brothers with an attitude. "Ha! Ha! Ha!" he may have said in a sing-song taunt to his brothers. "I'm going to be the Big Kahuna! I'm going to rule over yooouuu!"
Certainly Joseph announced it too soon. Or so it seems. Perhaps it was all part of God's sovereign plan to get Joseph to Egypt.
God clearly revealed
through two dreams.
As the story goes, Joseph's brothers plotted to get rid of the problem of their annoying little brother. First they schemed to kill him. They later decided to sell him to slave traders who just "happened" to be passing by. Joseph was then carried off to Egypt where he was sold to a wealthy and prominent Egyptian named Potiphar. It just so "happened" that Joseph wasn't in Potiphar's house too long before Potiphar's wife tried to get him into her bed with her. When Joseph stood by his integrity and said no to her, Potiphar's wife falsely accused him of trying to get her into bed with him. It just so "happened" that Potiphar's response was to have Joseph thrown into prison where he remained for a very long time. It just so "happened" that Pharoah had two dreams which no one could interpret. It just so "happened" that Joseph was sum- moned from prison to help Pharoah understand his dreams. It just so "happened" that Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams as foretelling of seven years of abundant crops and seven years of famine that would sweep across the face of the known world. When Pharoah heard the interpretations of his dreams, it just so "hap- pened" that he appointed Joseph over all of Egypt to prepare for the famine.
It just so "happened" that Joseph's family came to Egypt for food during the famine. It just so "happened" that they did bow at his feet—three times (Genesis 42:6, 43:26, 44:14). During those three meetings with his brothers, Joseph was beginning to get a glimpse of his destiny in a whole new light. These things didn't "just happen". Joseph began to understand that all the suffering and pressure he had endured had been for a purpose—to place him in the position of authority over the nation of Egypt at that particular time in history. He KNEW. He knew that God caused the abund- ance and that God caused the famine—all for the sovereign purpose of bringing his family into Egypt. And he knew that his many humblings had made him fit to rule.
When we begin to see that God is doing things in us and through us, not for our own promotion but for His life-giving provision and eternal purposes, we begin to understand His sovereignty in a whole new way.
Listen to what Joseph said to his brothers. "And do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here . . . God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance" (Genesis 45:5, 7). Joseph's destiny was bigger than just saving his family's lives from the famine. It is also revealed to us in Genesis 50:24 that Joseph understood that his ultimate destiny was to fulfill the first part of God's promise to Abrahamto bring Israel into Egypt.
"Then the Lord said to him, 'Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions'" (Genesis 15:13-14 NIV).
Egypt was the land that was not theirs. It was the land in which, according to the sovereign plan of God, they were to be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years before He brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
"What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise" (Galatians 3:17 NIV).
The law was given at Mt. Sinai only weeks after Israel made their exodus out of Egypt and 430 years after God promised Abraham he would bring them out of Egypt. Joseph understood the sovereignty of God in his life. He is a great example for all of us.
With the pressures of the great trials and tribulations God allowed in his life, Joseph was more conformed to the image of God.
Listen to how kindly he spoke to his brothers. "‘ . . . Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.' So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them" (Genesis 45:19-21).
The truth is, God used this trial to preserve our lives too. Just as Joseph was the seed of Abraham, so too are we.
Those of us who love God and are called according to His purpose can trust God for the same truth. God will always use what is meant for harm in our lives for our good and for the preservation of others. Through taking this sweeping look at Abraham's and Joseph's lives we can clearly see the sovereign plan of God for both of them. Moses was God's man to fulfill the second part of the sovereign promise He made to Abraham.
God will always use
what is meant for harm in our lives for our good as well as
for the preservation of others.
Snippet # 3: The Sovereignty of God in Moses' Life
If Joseph was the man ordained by God to bring His people IN to Egypt, Moses' was the man ordained by God to bring them OUT of Egypt.
Things had changed in Egypt by the time Moses was born. Joseph was long forgotten. Israel was perceived by the king as a growing threat to his kingdom. He was so concerned about the Israelite slaves that he issued an edict to the midwives that all of the Israelite boy babies were to be killed at birth. But, the scripture says that the midwives feared God, and would not kill the newborn sons of the Israelite women (v. 17). God sovereignly protected Moses and the other male children.
These were the times into which Moses was born. Upon his birth, his mother hid him in a wicker basket among the reeds of the Nile River. In God's sover-eignty, it just so "happened" that Moses was found by Pharoah's daughter. She took him into her home as her son. Once again, in the sovereignty of God, Pharoah's daughter asked a Hebrew woman to nurse her newly born adopted Israelite son. That woman just so "happened" to be Moses' mother—the woman who had given birth to him.
Moses was given the best of both worlds. He was raised with all the privilege and training of the Egyptians as well as the love and nurture of his own Hebrew mother. God had big plans for Moses too. But even with his training and privilege, like Abraham and Joseph, Moses was not ready to lead. He needed a time of humbling. And it was not yet time to bring His people out of Egypt.
In a moment of rash behavior Moses murdered an Egyptian when he came upon him beating a Hebrew slave. When Pharoah heard of this incident, he tried to kill Moses. In the sovereign plan of God, Moses fled to Midian. It was there that this man who had been a person of great power and influence learned to be a lowly shep- herd. He became a husband and father. And he had a dynamic encounter at a burning bush with JAHWEH, the great I AM.
Just as Abraham met God as the sovereign I AM, so did Moses. God called Moses to fulfill the second part of the promise he had made to Abraham. He called Moses to bring Israel OUT of Egypt and INTO the promised land. God was moving His sovereign plan steadily along in history. And this time Moses was God's ordained man.
Read God's words to Moses in Exodus 3:8 (NIV) and fill in the blank:
"So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey . . . ".
True to His sovereign plan and promise to Abraham, some forty-plus years later Israel entered into the promised land.
Snippet # 4 -- The Sovereignty of God in David's Life
What is REALLY interesting about the sovereignty of God in David's life is that according to The Reese Chronological Bible, God appointed David to be king over Israel eight years before he was born! This is not surprising when you read what God said to Jeremiah about His sovereign plan for his life.
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5 NAS).
"Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please" (Isaiah 46:9-10 NIV).
David was predestined, chosen by God before he was born, to be King over Israel.
"But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you [Saul] have not kept the Lord's command" 1 Samuel 13:14 NIV).
God was looking for a man after His own heart and he found him in a man named David.
"After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do'" (Acts 13:22 NIV) .
God's sovereign plan for David's life was in place.
How we should all long to hear God say of us that He has found us to be people after His own heart. In spite of David's sin, in the genealogy of Jesus Christ listed in Matthew 1, David's name is the first one mentioned. Jesus Christ is referred to throughout the New Testament as the son of David.
David was predestined
—chosen by God before
he was born—
to be King over Israel.
This was prophesied throughout the Old Testament
God let's us see the sins and flaws of His people in the Bible. There are no perfect people, only people who are willing to give up their claim to their right to themselves. Abraham got there. Joseph got there. Moses got there. And David got there.
Snippet # 5 -- The Sovereignty of God in Paul's Life
No one can deny the validity of Saul's sovereign encounter with the Lord. There is no more extraordinary conversion story than his in all of Christendom. In the midst of his threats, murders and imprisonment of the disciples of the Lord, Paul met Jesus Christ.
A bolt of lightning knocked him to the ground, and he heard the Lord's audible voice asking, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" (Acts. 9:4). When he rose from the ground he could not see. He was led by the hand from this amazing encounter by those traveling with him to Damascus.
The Lord had great plans for this man Saul, whose name was later changed to Paul. First, He called a man named Ananias to go and lay hands on Saul that he might regain his sight. Fear struck at Ananais's heart. He had heard many reports of the great persecu- tions Saul had committed against the saints in Jerusalem. When he arrived a trembling Ananias found the one he feared praying. Saul was not surprised to see Ananias, for God had had revealed in a vision that he would come, lay hands on him and his sight would be restored.
Paul was God's predestined, chosen instrument to carry
His name to the Gentiles,
and to the people of Israel.
After a brief time of recovery, Paul began preaching that Jesus was the Son of God. Believers marveled at what God had done. Scribes and Pharisees conspired to murder him.
Acts 9:15 tells us that Paul was God's predestined, chosen instrument to carry His name to the Gentiles, their kings and to the people of Israel.
"But the Lord said to Ananias, 'Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.'"
In Galatians 1:1, Paul declared that he was called to be an apostle, not by men but by Jesus Christ, and by God the Father. In Galatians 1:1-56, he goes on to say that he was set apart by God to preach the gospel when he was in his mother's womb!
"But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood" (Galatians 1:15-16 KJV).
In God's sovereign will and grace, Paul was God's ordained instrument to pen most of the epistles in the New Testament. He was also the man God chose to bring to the light that the gospel was not just for the Jews. Paul's call was especially to the Gentiles.
Paul was set apart by God
to preach the gospel when he was in his mother's womb!
Sin, Error and the Sovereignty of God
In the book of Romans, Paul's brilliant doctrinal treatise on grace and the sovereignty of God, he wrote, " . . . sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Romans 5:21-6:2 NAS).
God's grace never gives His children license to sin. As Paul wrote, "May it never be!" (Romans 5:21-6:2). Yet it says in 1 John that, "If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (v. 8). We also know that God never causes us to sin (James 1:13). So you may be wondering about sin and the sovereignty of God.
The essence of sin is not
morality or immorality
but our claim
to our right to ourselves.
It is important to understand that the essence of sin is not morality or immorality but our claim to our right to ourselves. It is self and its inherent selfishness that is at the core of sin. This selfishness can drive us to lie, cheat, steal and kill. Before we get to feeling too smug, sin can also drive us to strive for an appearance of godliness for the approval of men.
Hebrews 6:1 tells us that repentance and faith toward God are the first two principles of the doctrine of Christ.
"Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repent- ance from dead works, and of faith toward God" (Hebrews 6:1).
"‘The time has come,' he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. repent and believe the good news!'" (Mark 1:15 NIV).
Read Acts 20:21 (NIV) and fill in the blanks.
"I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:21 NIV)
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV).
These scriptures assure us that we are brought into right relation- ship with God through faith in what Jesus Christ did on the cross. Repentance toward God is the natural response of obedience to our faith in the Lord.
"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:15 NIV).
Believers cannot possibly be at peace and rest for long when we are entrenched in sin. Neither can an unbeliever for that matter, but God will not let a believer rest in ongoing conscious, inten- tional, willful sin. The law of sowing and reaping is clear on this.
"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8 NIV).
It's pretty straightforward, but let me say it again. When we sow to the sinful nature, we will from the sinful nature reap destruction. When we sow to the spirit we will reap life.
We do not reap corruption directly from God when we sin but from our own flesh. There are always consequences to what we do. When we sow to the spirit we will reap life. When we sow to the flesh we will reap destruction, and we are not an island. Whatever crop we harvest, we will not be the only one to reap. When we sow to the flesh, those who love us will suffer. Those who work with us will suffer. It's like Pigpen in Peanuts. Wherever it goes, corrup- tion just stinks up the place. The smallest drop of leaven leavens everything, and how sad it is to live with the consequences of forgiven sin.
Snippet # 6 – Sin and the Sovereignty of God in Nebuchadnezzar's Life
I don't know if Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was a believer or not, but he learned his lesson the way most of us learn it—the hard way. We can learn a lot about the sovereign will of God and His redemptive discipline for sin from studying his life.
One night while surveying his vast domain, Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed, " . . . ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?' While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes'." (Daniel 4:30-32).
Because of his great arrogance, God sentenced Nebuchadnezzar to a time of great humbling. He had met the True and Living God who "reduces rulers to nothing and makes the judges of the earth meaningless" (Isaiah 40:23).
"Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven way from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair had grown like eagle's feathers and his nails like birds' claws" (Daniel 4:33).
This was a grim sentence indeed for the arrogant Nebuchadnezzar. After some unknown period of time passed, the next verse says, "But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever. For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation, And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?' At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride'" (Daniel 4:34-37 NAS).
How sad it is
to live with the
consequences of forgiven sin.
We learn from God's disciplinary action in Nebuchadnezzar's life that God only chastens us for our good, though it may look harmful for a time. Nebuchadnezzar was even greater after God's chasten- ing than he was before. Returning to the metaphor of the train that is moving us toward God's sovereign destiny for our lives, Nebu- chadnezzar was on the train and moving toward his destiny. He got a little too big for his britches (which was no surprise to God) and God had to chasten him for his own good. He does the same with us. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
What is clearly demonstrated in Nebuchadnezzar's life is the role temptation and sin play in God's sovereign plan. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Temptation, "The heart of man is revealed in temptation. Man knows his sin, which without temptation he could never have known; for in temptation man knows on what he has set his heart. The coming to light of sin is the work of the accuser, who thereby thinks to have won the victory. But it is sin which is become manifest which can be known, and therefore forgiven. Thus the manifestation of sin belongs to the salvation plan of God with man, and Satan must serve this plan" (italics mine).
The heart of man
is revealed in temptation.
Man knows his sin,
which without temptation
he could never have known;
for in temptation man knows
on what he has set his heart.
In God's sovereignty He has made provision for our sin through the shed blood of Jesus Christ from the foundation of the world.
1 John 1:9 tells us "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (NAS).
If we are never disciplined for our sins, Hebrews 12:8 tells us that we are illegitimate children and not sons! Let us cherish the times of chastening and discipline in our lives, for He is only dealing with us as beloved sons.
"For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief" (Proverbs 24:16).
"All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrow- ful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11).
God's Sovereign Intention in This Life
So are we nothing but marionettes, with God yanking our strings? If we are, what is the purpose of God in creating us at all?
When the Lord confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, He was no longer walking on the earth but sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven. His question to Saul in Acts 9:4, "Why are you persecuting Me?" (NAS) gives us a unique insight into the church from God's perspective. When the church suffers persecution, Jesus says it is He who is being persecuted.
We are not merely symbolically the body of Christ. We are, in reality, His flesh and blood body here on earth until He returns. We are spiritually and organically related to Him and to one another. And we are His ambassadors in the earth.
No, we are NOT mere marionettes on a string. Neither are we free agents. We have seen in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David and Nebuchadnezzar, that God did not control their every move and decision. We have borne witness to the fact that God has a destiny for each of us. That destiny for the believer is first and foremost to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, and He is always working in our lives to get us there. He alone knows how far each will go. Some of us will arrive in heaven laden with gold, silver and precious stones the Lord mined and purified in the fires of our lives. There will also be those of us who arrive reeking with the smell of smoke (1 Corinthians 3:12-13). We will be very surprised on that day when we stand before the Lord as He hands out the rewards. Some of us who looked REAL good here on earth may smell of smoke. And some of us who didn't look so good on earth may have gone as far as we could, farther than we can possibly understand. These too may bring gold, silver and precious stones to cast at the feet of Jesus.
God is not a little boy playing war games with tinker toys and tin soldiers. He is The Almighty God. He made us "a little lower than the angels" and He is conforming us to the image of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ!
To mature in Christ is to know Him—to continue growing in our knowledge and understanding of His character and His ways. His sovereignty is Who He Is. We need to fully understand that He not only created us to fulfill His purposes but that He is personally involved in our lives day by day to cause us to triumph in all things (2 Corinthians 2:14). And, we need to know that the way we live our lives makes a difference for good or for evil—not just for us, not just for all the generations of our families that follow after us—not just for the body of Christ – not just for a lost and dying world, but first and foremost for the glory of God.
The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
Proverbs 16:9 NAS
May we ponder these words in our hearts and be forever changed by them.
"For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:14-21 NAS)
"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19:21).
" . . . What is mere man that you are so concerned about him?
And who is this Son of Man you honor so highly? For though you made him lower than the angels for a little while, now you have crowned him with glory and honor. And you have put him in complete charge of everything there is. Nothing is left out. We have not yet seen all of this take place, but we do see Jesus—who for awhile was a little lower than the angels—crowned now by God with glory and honor because he suffered death for us. Yes, because of God's great kindness, Jesus tasted death for everyone in all the world" (Hebrews 2:6-10 TLB).
"I know, O LORD, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23 NIV).
"You made him lower than the angels for a little while, now you have crowned him with glory and honor" (Hebrews 2:7 TLB).
Tormented by mental illness,
my mother was one of those who didn't look so good here on earth.
The Sovereignty of God in My Relationship with My Mother
Tormented by mental illness, my mother was one of those who didn't look so good here on earth. In spite of her debilitating illness, I would not be very surprised to find out that mother arrived in heaven bearing gifts of gold, silver and precious
stones to lay at the feet of Jesus.
To say that mom was seriously mentally ill seems like an under- statement. She was frighteningly abusive, instigating terrible, violent fights with my father, locking her children out of the house in the freezing cold in the dark of night, tyrannizing us with vile and terrifying words, stalking her family, threatening to murder us, threatening to get us and our husbands fired from our jobs, harassing our employers, telling terrible lies about us to our friends and anyone else who would listen, calling non-stop at all hours of the night, sending the police out to tell us to hang up our phones, trying to get our children taken away from us and threatening to kill herself when she couldn't make us do what she wanted us to do. This last threat carried with it the additional threat that she would leave a suicide note blaming us for her death. Her abuse did not stop with her family. Anyone who did not tolerate her desperate demands and neediness became a target for her vile vengeance. This awful list of her tyranny is long, yet there is another list. When she was wonderful, she was really wonderful —magically wonderful. She was a brilliant scholar with a master's degree in English literature. She was a poet and published author. She was a gifted story teller and a survivor. I remember her joyful laughter. She instilled in me a love for reading, classical and non-classical music, theater, a fascination for metaphor and the mystery and wonder of God, even when she was not yet a Christian.
The awful list of her tyranny
is long, yet there is another list. When she was wonderful,
she was really wonderful —magically wonderful.
There came a time when I had to separate myself from my mom. One morning on my knees with tears streaming down my face I heard God's still small voice within me say, "I want you to separate from your mother." "But, God," I prayed, "what about the commandment to honor my mother and my father?" I heard a startling reply. "I don't want you to allow Satan to use your mother to abuse you any more."
I was still very unsure about whether I had heard God, so I called my pastor and made an appointment to see him. I gave him a fifteen minute rundown of what life with my mother was like. I also told him that I thought God was leading me to separate from my mother. I did not mention the part about not letting Satan abuse me through my mother. I asked him about the commandment to honor my mother and my father. After a time of prayer together, my pastor said he believed I had heard God, and that I was to separate from my mother. And then he gave me a scripture that confirmed to me what the Lord had whispered to my heart. "I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils" (1 Corinth- ians 10:20). When he gave me this scripture, I knew I had heard from God. I had to separate in obedience to God. This was no easy thing for me to do. I did not walk away from my mother saying "Whew! What a relief! Now I don't have to deal with her any more." I deeply loved my mother and wanted desperately to have a relationship with her. I wanted to meet her needs and make her happy. And I wanted her to meet my needs and make me feel all better. No. I cried almost every day for my mother. Even eighteen years after her death as I write this, tears come to my eyes. I wept tears in prayer for her everyday for the rest of her life. Long after her death I wept not only for what never was but for what now could never be.
God's sovereign love,
devotion and intimate attention
to the personal details
of His children's lives
are often quite amazing.
God's sovereign love, devotion and intimate attention to the personal details of His children's lives are often quite amazing. On April 28, 1981, over a year since the last time I saw my mother, I was on my knees in prayer. There were two Bibles open on the floor. As I bowed my head, the Bible to my left, a Bible I hardly used any more, lay open before me, though I wasn't really paying attention to the Bibles. It was as if a verse was suddenly high- lighted on the left side of the page. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I leaned over further to read the verse. It said, "Strengthen your hands and be valiant, for Saul your master is dead" (2 Samuel 2:7). I quizzically pondered this scripture for a moment. My response was a curious, "Hmmm." Beyond that I had absolutely no clue what it meant for me that day. Because of the unusual nature of how I was given this verse I dated it. April 28, 1981. After my time of prayer, I went about the things I had planned that day, never giving another thought to what had happened.
Around 3:00 o'clock that afternoon, while talking with a friend on the phone, an operator interrupted our call with an emergency. My mother was on life support at a hospital in Dallas. I rushed to see her. She was clinically dead, and the doctor recommended disconnecting her from the respirator. After spending some time with her, I went home to pray and talk with my sister.
On my way home I remembered that God had given me a verse that morning but couldn't remember what it said. As soon as I walked in the door, I went to my Bible and read it again. It was as if God had given me a word of comfort before my mother died. "Saul your master is dead." It seemed to me as if the Lord was saying to me that He understood this, the greatest struggle of my life. Saul had persecuted David from the beginning of their relationship. David spent many years running and hiding from Saul. It is my belief that the Lord knew I would feel so much guilt about my mother—the horrible fights we had, the separation from her. What else explains the unusual circumstance of this verse appearing to me so uniquely and so timely? I certainly do not believe it was a coincidence. After much prayer and talking with my sister, I returned to the hospital to say my last goodbye to the woman who had been the source of great heartache all my life.
I did not walk away
from my mother saying
"Whew! What a relief!"
And Now the Rest of the Story
Totally unprepared for the grief and the deep sense of loss I felt at losing my mom, I waited for my sister to arrive from California. Those few days of waiting were a blur. I was totally consumed with reflections on the death of my mom and any hope I had of a relationship with her.
The day mother died she was moving back to Texas. In poor health and feeling exhausted, mother parked her U-Haul and spent what turned out to be her last day and night with a friend.
Mother's friend called me the day of her funeral to ask, "Did you get the package from your mother," she asked. "Package? No I didn't," I replied. She then explained. "It's a record (there were no CD's then). The day your mother died she spent the entire day listening to it. She said, ‘I've got to get this for Anne. She will love it.' Anne, your mother died before she had a chance to get this for you, but I have sent it for her. It should be in your mail."
I hung up the phone and walked over to the pile of unopened envelopes and parcels that were stacked two days high. As I shuffled through all the mail, I found the package from mom and eagerly opened it. The title of the album was, "It is Well with My Soul." Not only did the lead title of the album speak volumes to me, but there was a song on the album entitled, "I will Sit with my Mother and Father at the Banqueting Table Up There."
I believe the Lord was closing this chapter of my life by letting me know my mother was in heaven. I have no guarantees but I do have a strong conviction that this is true. I also believe it's possible my mother had some gold, silver and precious stones for Jesus. I know she could not help the way she was. And I know the Lord knows she walked in all the light she could. Mom was a tragically tormented woman. I believe she is now resting in the arms of her Savior—that all of her wounds are healed now.
This is one of many testimonies in my life to the sovereignty of God. And to the goodness of God. God's instructions for my life are unique to my life. I would never have trusted what I thought I heard God say about separating from my mother without confirm- ation from someone godly whom I trusted in authority over me. And I should never casually apply His instructions for my life to someone else's life. We are each unique and God's plans for our individual lives are unique. Each one of us must seek God for His will. We cannot walk in the convictions of someone else. We can only walk in the convictions of God for our own lives. And, in such desperate situations, His will must be confirmed through those in authority over us; otherwise it is all too easy to do the convenient thing instead of the godly thing.
We see through a glass darkly. We do not have God's perspective, so we are limited in what we can do, but the things we can do are great things. We can only walk our walk. We cannot walk anyone else's for them. We are to be available to do the work of the ministry in the lives of those the Lord puts in our path. We are called to pray for one another (James 5:16), to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32), to bear another's burdens (Galatians 6:2) and to turn those straying to God (James 5:19-20). God does NOT call us to condemn others or micro-manage the lives of others in our heads or with our hands. First and foremost we are to pray and trust God for every outcome.
After walking with the Lord for many years, I have learned a very important truth. God has demonstrated it in my life. We get on the train through a sincere belief in Jesus Christ. We can walk freely all over that train. We will fail sometimes, but when we arrive at the final destination, we are still on the train.
The Mighty Sovereign God is our loving Father. He had plans for a disobedient and chastened Israel when they came out of Babylon, and He has plans for us, plans for welfare and not for calamity, plans to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).
"The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9 NAS).
May we never forget that the moment we think we have God figured out, we find ourselves enveloped in a cloud of mystery once again.
He has sent His Spirit into the heart.
He is the Author of prayer inditing the petition.
He breathes in the soul, implanting the desire convincing of the existing necessity,
unfolding the character of God,
working faith in the heart,
and drawing it up to God through Jesus.
O the perfection of His wisdom,
benevolence, and grace!
Wonder, O heavens, and be astonished, O earth!
God has plans for us, plans for welfare and not for calamity, plans to give us a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Lord, may we never forget that the moment we think we have You figured out, we find ourselves enveloped in a cloud of mystery
once again. Praise your holy Name. Amen.
The Sovereignty of God and You
(c) by Anne Murchison 2000
Not for commercial use.
Please feel free to copy for for personal use.
Please credit the author.