This morning, my friend and pastor, Greg Arender, asked our church family to reflect on 2019 and to consider what God has been doing and teaching us as we turn our attention toward a new year and a new season for our church.
As my thoughts came into view, I was struck by something Jeremiah Burroughs wrote after he made his ninth point about that “Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.” He said at the end of Chapter 1 that he hoped that people who had already learned to be content, upon considering contentment afresh, would realize that they were still learning their ABC’s and that we all have a long way to go (my paraphrase).
When pushed to the moment of contemplation, I realized that God has been speaking to me loudly this year, but I was so busy listening for the still, small voice, that I couldn’t hear the fog horn of his gracious leading, now become so clear to me. He has been calling me back to a reality I’ve long been familiar with, as if to say, “pick this up and look at it again. It’s still beautiful. Still true. And son, you’re just learning your ABC’s.”
Job confessed to God that “you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2) God himself tells us through the prophet Isaiah that “[his] thoughts are not [our] thoughts, neither are [his] ways [our] ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) And Paul says that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NASB)
God can do whatever he wants, whether we like it or not, but also, for his people, everything he does is good for us… whether we like it or not. I’ve taught this many times to others, but now I see God teaching it to me.
Jesus told his Disciples that God is building his kingdom on faith–faith in the Messiah, the Christ, the only Son of God–and that the gates of hell will not prevail against the advancement of God’s kingdom (Matthew 16:17-18). We’re on the offensive side, the advancing side, and God’s going to win! Grace shall reign! Love prevails.
In this Great Fight, he fights for us (Matthew 10:20), he enables us (John 15:5, Galatians 5:22-23), and he equips and arms us (Ephesians 6:10-18). I haven’t been on the lookout for any more weapons to take to the battlefield, though. I felt like I was in a healthy rhythm. We were in a healthy rhythm.
But it’s God who advances. It’s him who grows his church. And he does things his way. And his ways are good, whether we like it or not.
“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.” (Psalm 127:4)
Three arrows feels like a handful already.
But God can grow his church however he wants, and he decided to give us another child to train, to discipline, and to disciple in the Way and the Truth. We weren’t looking to carve any more arrows. Frankly, we were shocked when God handed us a new one. And it took a while to come to terms with the goodness of his plans. But he’s not obliged to let us know ahead of time what he’s up to. “After all, he’s not a tame lion.” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis)
I had to come around to the idea that he’s in command of this little army I’m raising in my household, and he can bring in new recruits whenever he wants, however he wants. I actually had to come around to the idea that when God surprises me with a gift, it’s a good gift. (Matthew 7:11) Chesterton said “It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton)
In my sin, I had grown old and forgotten that surprises are fun.
“Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:5a) God can bless me however he wants, and he decided to bless me with another son. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)
John Piper once said “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” I think one of the things he’s letting me be aware of right now is that his plans are good for me, even if I’m late to find out what they are. Even if I disagree with them at first, God’s thoughts and ways, greater and higher than mine, are for my eternal good.
I thought I knew something about the sovereignty and grace of God. But then God knit together a little boy in my wife’s womb so that, among 10,000 other reasons, he might show me that he is still in control of the universe and that his plans for me are good.
I’m still just learning my ABC’s.