Can You Trust God With the Details of Your Life?
January 5, 2014
Do all things really work together for good? Consider the following:
*A baby is born with serious birth defects. The doctors tell the distraught parents she won’t live more than a few hours. When the parents take the baby home, the doctors tell them not to bring her back because there is nothing they can do. A few months later she dies.
*In the Central African Republic, roving gangs of Muslims with machetes and guns have killed hundreds of fleeing Christians. “They are slaughtering us like chickens,” one man said.
*Feeling the call of God, a man and his wife and their young son move to Benghazi, Libya so he can teach in the International School where he is greatly beloved by his students. He sends his wife and young son home to the US while he stays behind to be with the students through their midterm exams. One day while he is out jogging near his home, some men in a black vehicle pull up and start shooting. They drive away, leaving his dead body on the street. He was only 33 years old.
*A young man with a heart for God starts seminary, dreaming of the day when he can serve the Lord. Three months before graduation, his wife announces she is leaving him. “I don’t want to be a pastor’s wife.” She divorces him and walks out of his life.
*A police officer stops a man known to be a drug dealer. It happens on a busy downtown street and a crowd gathers to watch the unfolding drama. There is a struggle and somehow the drug dealer grabs the officer’s gun. Someone in the crowd yells, “Shoot him, man.” He does, at point-blank range, in the face. The officer was in his early twenties.
*A youth group returns from a week of summer camp. When they are only one mile from home, the bus crashes as it exits the freeway, hitting a concrete abutment and rolling over. Dozens are injured. The youth pastor, his wife, and their unborn baby are killed in the crash along with one of the adult counselors, a mother of five children.
These stories are all true. I am sure you could add many others to the list.
Of all the questions that trouble the hearts of God’s people, none is the greater than the question Why? No matter how many sermons we hear or how many Bible verses we memorize, the question returns again and again.
Why did this happen?
Why did this happen?
Lord, why didn’t you answer our prayers?
When we see the pain of a fallen world, we wonder, “Where is God?” Over the centuries the greatest minds have wrestled with the problem of pain and suffering and still the questions come:
A few months ago when we started our series on Joseph, I said that we were going to ask and answer nine crucial questions. These are fundamental questions that we all have to answer sooner or later. Some of them we will face many times. Here are the first eight questions:
Do you know why you were born?
Do you know who you are?
Are you willing to wait for God?
How big is your God?
Are you ready to face your past?
Do you want to be set free?
Are you satisfied with God?
How will you be remembered?
Here is the ninth and final question:
Can you trust God with the details of your life?
We all have to answer these nine questions
As we have journeyed through Joseph’s story, I have been impressed over and over again that the real hero of Joseph’s story is not Joseph. It’s God. Joseph’s life illustrates perhaps better than any other story in the Bible a profound truth:
“For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 NKJV).
In many ways Joseph’s whole life is the Old Testament illustration of this profound New Testament truth. Deep in our hearts we know that Romans 8:28 must be true.
Still the questions hang in the air. We wonder why things happen the way they do, why a teacher in Libya is shot and killed, why the bus didn’t make it to the church, why the baby was born with such disabilities.
The real hero is God!
Why do these things happen? Why do they happen to good, decent people? Why do they happen to people who love the Lord?
There is a doctrine that helps us understand. If it does not answer every question, at least it provides the only possible basis for understanding. It is the doctrine of the providence of God. In English the word “providence” has two parts. It’s pro and video put together, literally meaning “to see before.” Though the word itself is not found in most modern translations of the Bible, the concept is certainly biblical. It refers to “God’s gracious oversight of the universe.” Every one of those words is important. God’s providence is one aspect of his grace. Oversight means that he directs the course of affairs. The word universe tells us that God not only knows the big picture, he also concerns himself with the tiniest details.
Here are five statements that unfold the meaning of God’s providence in more detail:
He upholds all things.
He governs all events.
He directs everything to its appointed end.
He does this all the time and in every circumstance.
He does it always for His own glory.
God doessn’t roll dice
The doctrine of God’s Providence teaches us several important truths: First, God cares about the tiniest details of life. Nothing escapes his notice for he is concerned about the small as well as the big. In fact, with God there is no big or small. He knows when a sparrow falls and he numbers the hairs on your head. He keeps track of the stars in the skies and the rivers that flow to the oceans. He sets the day of your birth, the day of your death, and he ordains everything that comes to pass in between. Second, he uses everything and wastes nothing. There are no accidents with God, only incidents. This includes events that seem to us to be senseless tragedies. Third, God’s ultimate purpose is to shape His children into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). He often uses difficult moments and human tragedies to accomplish that purpose.
Many verses in the Bible teach these truths, including Acts 17:28 (“in him we live and move and have our being”), Colossians 1:17 (“in him all things hold together”), Hebrews 1:3 (“He upholds the universe by the word of his power”), Proverbs 16:9 (“The heart of man plans his way but the Lord establishes his steps”), and especially Psalm 115:3, (“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases”).
Providence is the “invisible hand” of God
The doctrine of God’s providence is really a combination of four other attributes:
Sovereignty—He is in control
Predestination—He is in charge of how everything turns out
Wisdom—He makes no mistakes
Goodness—He has our best interests at heart
In the words of R.C. Sproul, “God doesn’t roll dice.” Nothing happens by chance. Ever.
Think of providence as “the invisible hand” of God moving through the circumstances of life.
With that as background, we turn to consider the story of Joseph one final time. It goes something like this. Because Joseph was the favored son of his father Jacob, he was the object of envy by his many brothers. The day came when his brothers conspired to sell him to the Midianites who happened to be passing by. They splashed his “coat of many colors” with the blood of a goat in order to make it appear that he had been killed by a wild animal. They showed the coat to Jacob, who believed their lie and sorrowfully concluded that Joseph was dead.
Meanwhile Joseph was taken to Egypt by the Midianites. There he was sold again, this time to Potiphar, who was head of Pharaoh’s security force. Genesis 39 tells us that Joseph gained favor with Potiphar because the Lord was with him to bless him. Eventually Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his entire household. This was a high honor for a Hebrew slave. Because he was competent, confident, and good-looking, Potiphar’s wife approached him about having a sexual affair. Joseph refused, pointing out that he could not betray Potiphar and he would not sin against God. The woman persisted, to the point that one day when everyone else was gone, she attempted to pull him down on her bed. Joseph fled from the scene, leaving his cloak behind. Humiliated by his refusal, she accused him of rape. It was a false charge, of course, but Potiphar believed his wife and had Joseph thrown in prison.
In prison Joseph prospered once again and gained the respect of his fellow prisoners and of the guards. This happened because the Lord was with him to bless him. Eventually the cupbearer and the baker were thrown in the same prison and Joseph befriended them. One night they both had dreams they could not interpret. But Joseph was able to interpret them with the Lord’s help. The dreams came true exactly as Joseph had predicted—the baker was hung but the cupbearer was released. Joseph asked him to remember him after he was out, but he didn’t.
A Hebrew slave became Egypt’s Prime Minister!
Two years passed and Pharaoh had a dream that he could not interpret. That’s when the cupbearer remembered Joseph’s amazing ability and mentioned it to Pharaoh who ordered Joseph brought before him. Joseph correctly interpreted his dream and was rewarded by Pharaoh, who made him the Prime Minister of Egypt. Not bad for a Hebrew slave who had been sold into slavery by his brothers!
Eventually a famine settled on the Near East. Jacob told his sons to go to Egypt and buy some grain. They go and in the process meet Joseph—only they don’t know it’s Joseph. This happens twice. Then Joseph reveals his true identity. They are shocked and then scared because they betrayed him and now he is in a position to get even. But Joseph doesn’t do that. In fact, he stuns them with these words:
And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt (Genesis 45:5-8).
But that’s not the end of the story. The brothers go back to Canaan and tell their aged father that Joseph is still alive. He can’t believe it, but eventually they convince him to come to Egypt with them. He makes the trip and is reunited with the son he had given up for dead many years ago. Then he meets the Pharaoh who offers to let Joseph’s family settle in Egypt for as long as they like. The family settles in Egypt and lives in peace there for many years. Finally Jacob dies at the age of 147. Now it’s just Joseph and his brothers. They fear that with Jacob’s death Joseph will be free to take revenge on them. So they tell Joseph, “Oh, by the way, before Dad died he told us to tell you to treat us kindly.” It sounds like just one more deception to cover their guilt.
Joseph saw God everywhere!
Listen to Joseph’s response. These are the words of a man who believes in the providence of God.
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:19-20).
How could Joseph talk like that after all that happened to him? The answer is simple:
He saw God everywhere!
Look how Joseph says it: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Both sides of that statement are true. “You meant evil against me”—what the bothers had done was indeed evil and Joseph doesn’t sugarcoat the truth. They are 100% responsible for their sin. “God meant it for good”—this doesn’t mean that evil isn’t evil. It just means that God is able to take the evil actions of sinful men and use them to accomplish his plans. Joseph saw the “invisible hand” of God at work in his life. He understood that behind his conniving brothers stood the Lord God who had orchestrated the entire affair in order to get him to just the right place at just the right moment in order to save his whole family.
Joseph is saying, “Though your motives were bad, God’s motives were good.” Though it took years and years for God’s purposes to be clear, in the end Joseph saw the hand of God behind everything that had happened to him.
Think about the implications of that statement:
At just the right moment his brothers threw him into the cistern.
At just the right moment the Midianites came along.
At just the right moment he was sold to Potiphar.
At just the right moment Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him.
At just the right moment he met the baker and the cupbearer.
At just the right moment the cupbearer remembered Joseph.
At just the right moment Pharaoh called for him.
At just the right moment he was promoted to Prime Minister.
At just the right moment Jacob sent his sons to Egypt.
At just the right moment the brothers met Joseph.
At just the right moment Jacob’s family moved to Egypt.
At just the right moment Pharaoh offered them the land of Goshen.
At just the right moment they settled there and prospered.
All of this happened at “just the right moment” and in “just the right way” so that the right people would be in the right place so that in the end everything would come out the way God had ordained in the beginning. God never violated anyone’s free will, yet everything happened as he had planned. That’s the providence of God in action.
At just the right moment Joseph was thrown into prison
When Charles Spurgeon preached about Joseph’s life, he repeated the details at great length. Then he pointed out that everything in Joseph’s life had to happen in a particular way. He spoke of the chain of circumstances that led Joseph from the pit to the palace at just the right time. Then he concluded that “God is to be seen in small things.” He also used a wonderful expression that I find personally encouraging. He spoke of the “minutiae of providence.” If we look with the eyes of faith, we can see God’s fingerprints everywhere.
I began this sermon by saying that the final question from Joseph’s life is,
“Can you trust God with the details of your life?”
But that’s not quite the right question. We need to change one word.
God is to be seen in small things
Not “Can you?” but “Will you?”
“Will you trust God with the details of your life?”
There’s another way to say this. Either you run the universe or he does. A lot of people try to run the universe, but it never works out very well. Or you can bow before the Lord and say, “You are in charge. I am not. I will trust you with every detail of my life.”
He Maketh No Mistake
In the 1920s a young man named A. M. Overton became the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Baldwyn, Mississippi. I happen to know a little about Baldwyn because we lived for seven years in nearby Tupelo. Baldwyn is a small community in north Mississippi on the road between Tupelo and Corinth. Back in the 1920s Baldwyn was just a tiny place. In 1932 Mrs. Overton was pregnant with their fourth child, but when it came time for delivery there were complications and both she and the baby died. During the funeral, the preacher officiating the service noticed Pastor Overton writing something on a piece of paper. After the service the minister asked him about it, and he handed him the paper with a poem he had just written. The poem was unknown for many years until someone set it to music. It eventually went around the world. The poem is called “He Maketh No Mistake.”
My Father’s way may twist and turn
My heart may throb and ache,
But in my soul I’m glad to know,
He maketh no mistake.
My cherished plans may go astray,
My hopes may fade away,
But still I’ll trust my Lord to lead,
For He doth know the way.
Tho’ night be dark and it may seem
That day will never break,
I’ll pin my faith, my all, in Him,
He maketh no mistake.
There’s so much now I cannot see,
My eyesight’s far too dim,
But come what may,
I’ll simply trust and leave it all to Him.
For by and by the mist will lift,
And plain it all He’ll make,
Through all the way, tho’ dark to me,
He made not one mistake.
That will be the testimony of every child of God. When we finally get to heaven, we’ll look back over the pathway of life and see that through all the twists and turns and seeming detours that he was with us all the way.
Until that morning comes and the sunlight of God’s presence fills our faces, we move on through the twilight still believing that though life is hard, God is good. In the end we will say with all the children of God as we look back on our earthly pilgrimage, “He made not one mistake.”
We have a great God!
Stay tuned. There is more to come, but we will have to wait until we get to heaven. Joseph will tell us the rest of the story in his own words.