Trusting God to Work Things Together for Good
- Thursday, February 03, 2005
"They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul" (Jeremiah 32:38-41).
Those are tremendous promises. In sharing His father's heart, God promises He will "never stop doing good" to His chosen ones. In The Pleasures of God, John Piper looks at the passage this way:
He will keep on doing good. He doesn't do good to his children sometimes and bad to them other times. He keeps on doing good and he never will stop doing good for ten thousand ages of ages. When things are going "bad" that does not mean God has stopped doing good. It means he is shifting things around to get them in place for more good, if you will go on loving him. He works all things together for good "for those who love him" (Romans 8:28). "No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11). "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:71)....
But the promise is greater yet. Not only does God promise not to turn away from doing good to us, he says, "I will rejoice in doing them good" (Jeremiah 32:41). "The Lord will again take delight in prospering you" (Deuteronomy 30:9). He does not bless us begrudgingly. There is a kind of eagerness about the beneficence of God. God is not waiting for us, he is pursuing us. That, in fact, is the literal translation of Psalm 23:6, "Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life." God loves to show mercy. He is not hesitant or indecisive or tentative in his desires to do good to his people. His anger must be released by a stiff safety lock, but his mercy has a hair trigger. . . .
But still the promise is greater. Finally, God promises that this rejoicing over the good of his people will be with all his heart and with all his soul. . . . When God does good to his people it is not so much like a reluctant judge showing kindness to a criminal whom he finds despicable; it is like a bridegroom showing affection to his bride. And add to this, that with God the honeymoon never ends. He is infinite in power and wisdom and creativity and love. And so he has no trouble sustaining a honeymoon level of intensity; he can foresee all the future quirks of our personality and has decided he will keep what's good for us and change what isn't; he will always be as handsome as he ever was, and will see to it that we get more and more beautiful forever; and he is infinitely creative to think of new things to do together so that there will be no boredom for the next trillion ages of millenniums. . .
There is a condition we must meet in order to know him as our God and be a part of the wonderful covenant in which he never turns away from doing us good but rejoices over us with all his heart and all his soul. That condition is to put our hope in him as the all-satisfying Refuge and Treasure. God takes pleasure in this response with all his heart, because it magnifies the glory of his grace and satisfies the longing of our soul.
As I began to gain an insight into this, I found myself uplifted. Trials are all the more difficult if they seem to be needless or a waste. Once you begin to see that they are purposeful, it's a great thing because then you know that (1) they will come to an end when the purpose is accomplished, (2) you will somehow, in some way, have gained something of great value, and (3) you will have glorified God by trusting Him and giving Him time to work.
As I sought the Lord during those days, I opened my heart to whatever He had purposed for me. I had previously assumed I would continue in the investment advisory profession for the remainder of my career; now I wasn't so sure. Perhaps the Lord was using these difficult circumstances to change the direction of my working life. As long as I was financially comfortable and had a large client base, why would I consider anything else?
So, just in case this was part of the agenda, I surrendered to the Lord all aspects of my professional life. If He wanted to rebuild my company, that would be fine. If He wanted me to take a job working for someone else, that would be fine. If He wanted me to leave the business world and go back into full-time ministry work, that would be fine. I was finally in the best place for a child of God to be: "Whatever You want, Lord, before You even reveal it, the answer is yes." I added a little P.S. "If You think it would be OK, I'd like work that's mentally challenging, emotionally satisfying, and which somehow involves a ministry to people."
The answer came unexpectedly (and unrecognized by me at the time) in October of 1989. I was having lunch with my longtime friend Larry Burkett and his ministry associate Steve Humphrey. As we discussed the financial challenges facing the average Christian family, Larry felt what was lacking was a certain kind of monthly investment newsletter with a truly Christian perspective. He said there was a great need for a reliable source of information, written with easy-to-understand, "user-friendly" wording, which would guide readers through the investment process step-by-step with instruction and counsel from a biblical perspective. It would help Christians make the varied and often complex investment decisions they face, as well as continually attempt to help its readers "renew their minds" with God's principles.
My initial response was, "You're right. Sounds great -- too bad nobody's doing anything like that." It didn't occur to me that I should undertake the task -- after all, I was an investment manager, not a writer or publisher. But as the weeks passed, the Lord kept bringing me back to Larry's comments. The number of investment services and products being offered today is mind-numbing in their variety. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. So I began to pray. Though I agreed Larry had put his finger on a real need, I wondered whether I should be the one to attempt to meet it.
I began to pray for wisdom: "Lord, do You want me to try to do this? Well, it would certainly be mentally challenging -- I don't have much experience as a writer and none as a publisher. If I could succeed in encouraging my readers, it would be emotionally satisfying because I know from my own experience how important encouragement is in sustaining our hope during the tough times. And to the extent Christians get their finances and investments straightened out and give more to Your work, it would certainly have a ministry component. But Lord, I don't have the experience or the start-up money or the wisdom to pull this off -- I'd have to depend totally on You." Hmmm. . . .
After many other closed doors and much prayer, Susie and I felt the Lord was indeed orchestrating events so that I would begin moving in that direction. At a time when I was wondering if I should go into publishing, it "just happened" that two of our best friends had built a successful publishing business centered on a lineup of monthly computer software journals. Their company was the national leader in its field. Their counsel and prayers were invaluable. The first Sound Mind Investing newsletter was issued in July 1990.
Almost 15 years have now come and gone since the day I bravely had 500 copies of the first issue printed. The start-up phase was physically demanding, financially unprofitable, but spiritually fulfilling. The way in which events have unfolded have reminded Susie and me on several occasions that our God "is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think -- infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes or dreams ? To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever" (Ephesians 3:20-21, Amplified).
God is a loving Father to His children. If you're facing challenges, financial or otherwise, He can help you just as He helped me. Trust Him. The story is told of the young Christian student who was distraught because of an argument he had with his girlfriend. He made an appointment to see the youth minister of his church for advice. When he arrived, his wise friend began their meeting with this prayer:
"Dear God of creation, who created the universe from nothing, scattered billions of stars at a mere word, engineered every favorable condition necessary to support life on this blue planet, populated the oceans and the lands with creatures of unimaginable variety and complexity and made man their master . . .
"God of Moses, who turned the mighty Nile into a river of blood, sent hordes of frogs, swarms of lice and flies, a plague of disease and boils, devastating hail, locusts that covered the sky, and the death of Egypt's firstborn in order to answer the prayers of his people for freedom. . .
"God of the disciples, who on Pentecost received Your power, spoke in other languages so 3,000 were baptized on one day, and then turned the world upside down for Christ . . .
"Father of Jesus, who made the blind see, the lame walk, lepers whole and the dead to rise, and gave His life to rescue those who were hopelessly dead in sin and made them alive to righteousness and eternal life . . .
"God of creation, God of history, God of the Bible, God Almighty . . . could You possibly be of some help with this young man's girlfriend? Amen."
When I heard this story, I couldn't help but smile. How like that young student I can be. Stopping for a moment to reflect on God's sovereign power -- and His promise to use it always for my good if I'll put my trust in Him -- puts my daily concerns into a whole new perspective.
In truth, my problems are so small, so transitory. And God is so big, bigger than I can possibly imagine. Surely, I trust Him for too little. Perhaps you do, too. If the youth minister had been praying for your concerns, how would he have closed his prayer?
• ". . . could You possibly show this couple how to get out of debt and save for the future as Your word commends?
• ". . . could You possibly lead this man to a job that would be a better fit for the way You've made him and for the financial and family needs that he has?"
• ". . . could You possibly help this widow to make wise investing decisions as she seeks to be a good steward of Your wealth?"
• ". . . could You possibly show this family how they can give even more to take the saving message of Christ to those who have never heard?"
Could He possibly? We know the answer is, "Of course!" He is the One about whom Jesus said "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). Our part is to trust Him. We have it on the highest authority that "Everything is possible for him who believes" (Mark 9:23). And again, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed . . . Nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20). There is one exception, however, one thing that God has declared is impossible for us: "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Hebrews 11:6).
So let us seek Him, trusting Him to deliver us through the difficulties of life, remembering that we pray to a God who is too strong to ever lose control of any situation, too wise to ever make a mistake, and too loving to ever abandon us. Just the kind of God we need.
God Knows What We Need Most
As I indicated at the beginning of this article, it's a tricky matter to accurately discern which experiences in life will ultimately work for our good. The reason for this is not that bad things are necessarily good things in disguise, but rather our God is so great that He can take the bad things and transform them into good things. He does this because He purposes to use everything in life that we might "be conformed to the likeness of his Son."
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