In anticipation of our annual conference in October, we will be offering monthly articles that center on this year’s theme, The Promises of God. Now more than ever, when there seems to be no solid ground beneath our feet, we stand on the promises of God. In Christ we receive a new heart and a new spirit, becoming citizens of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Join us at Rooted 2021 as we celebrate the One whose promises to us are trustworthy and true: For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV)
Life doesn’t often go the way we think it will, does it?
In fact, curveballs feel like the norm for some of us.
This has been true for me in nearly every sphere of my life, from vocation to family of origin to my body to my marital status. I’ve never been an optimist, but certain paths tend to have common trajectories. For instance, it was reasonable for me to expect to pursue work related to the field I studied for four years in college, but that didn’t happen. It was reasonable to expect that my parents’ forty years of marriage wouldn’t end in divorce. But it did. As a lifelong athlete and coach, I could never have expected to be told I would never run or play soccer again in my thirties. And I could never have imagined longing for marriage for almost 20 years without having ever carried the title of girlfriend.
Yet here we are.
With the best of my rational faculties, I can enumerate “lessons” I’ve learned with each disappointment. I can reframe to my heart’s content, trying to convince myself that resilience and perseverance are worth the heartaches. I can even believe, in my better moments, that the empathy that has come from suffering is well worth the pain.
But it isn’t quite enough.
Doubts linger, and in the depths of my heart I know I wasn’t made for suffering or disappointment. Our students aren’t either. Yes, disappointment is a regular part of life after the Fall in Genesis 3. But it is essential to remember our Genesis 1 and 2 roots: Image-bearers were created for glory and for love’s sake, not to suffer from things like bullying, abuse, or hatred.
This world is broken. I am broken. And the best reframing in the world can’t rescue and redeem me. It can’t give me a hope I can stake my life on. It cannot convince me everything is going to be all right. It can’t give me the power to love where I fail to love.
But Jesus can. And he does.
Not only does he enter into the depths of darkness and suffering in order to redeem it— he leaves us with the Holy Spirit, the fullness of God available to us in every moment of every day. He is with us.
I find great comfort in remembering that God’s with-ness isn’t dependent on me. Yes, I can avail myself of practices like prayer, worship, and communion that allow me to enjoy and be reoriented to the Greater Story at work in our world through Christ. (And thanks be to God for those means of grace!)
But God’s Word is stronger than my ability to remember it. In fact, it’s even stronger than my ability to believe it or not. It stands outside of time, and it is empowered by Creator of the universe himself. It has the force of Love Incarnate as its engine, and not even the powers of hell can prevail over it.
God’s promise is not dependent on me. It’s dependent on someone much more trustworthy and reliable: it’s dependent on him.
God’s promise to be with his people can be found all over the pages of Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments. Deuteronomy 31:6 reminds us: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of [your enemies], for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
With our Trinitarian God, we are never alone. And his promise is never to leave us alone. That takes care of the now and it takes care of the future.
Our God is trustworthy and true, incapable of lying or making a false promise (Deut. 32:4). This means that whether we feel it or not, it is true. Whether we believe it 20 percent or 80 percent, it is true. His promise is dependent upon his perfect character, not upon our ability to believe it, which is both a bit paradoxical-sounding and also very relieving.
In our failures in ministry, God will not leave or forsake us.
In our disappointments in life, God will not leave or forsake us.
In our doubts, our shame, our fears and our faithlessness, God will not leave or forsake us.
He is Emmanuel, God with us, the God who reminds his people over and over that He will be their God and they will be his people (Gen. 17:7; Ezek. 36:28; Jer. 7:23; 30:22). He is the God who walks with us in the darkness; he doesn’t make our conquering of our own fears or darkness the contingency on which he works. He invites us to be strong and courageous in himself, trusting him to his promise.
Imagine how different the Christian faith would be if God’s with-ness was dependent on us! What would it be like to have to pray perfectly enough or to worship rightly enough to get God to come be with us? What if we had to bring just the right sacrifices or go to just the right spot to find him? (And by the way, these are great questions to ask your students, reminding them just how amazing the God of the Bible is.)
Our gracious God goes to the furthest extent to fulfill and extend his promise throughout the Old Testament; his promise to be with his people is offered to all people through the sacrifice and resurrection of his beloved Son (Rom. 1:16; I Cor. 12:12-13; Gal. 3:23-29). Not all people take him up on this promise, but it is there for all. And it changes everything.
So what does this mean for us as we take steps toward the plans we’ve set in our ministries, as we pursue the natural trajectories of our vocational training, and as we reasonably hope that the lives and wellness of those we love around us will not be cut short?
It means everything.
It means that God’s presence cannot be thwarted by the height of your anger, the width of your numbness, the depth of your sorrow, or the breadth of your disappointment. It means your best laid-plans and your worst made mistakes cannot cause God to leave you. His love remains perfectly with you at all times because he remains with you at all times. The Source of life, light, and hope is closer than your skin, tying you to his redemptive story.
Yes, it is good to pray. And yes, it is good to imagine the ways the Lord could be at work using and redeeming our sufferings and disappointments. But more than that, he is intimately with us through all these things, helping us to be his beloved people.
He is not a genie we can manipulate to get our own way or a philosophy to be divined; He is Alpha and Omega, the One True King. He is so much more than a helpful idea or a daily affirmation. He is Lord. And because of his promise, his intimate, loving presence cannot be removed. His power is near. His care for us is not dependent on us.
Our stories find their ultimate joy in the ending He has already written for us in Christ. Thanks be to God.