I don’t think that there has ever been a time in my life where the subject of God’s Sovereignty has been so powerfully prevalent to Annie and me as it has in the last couple of months. Trying to recall a time seems futile because I feel if there was such a time, it would not have been so easily forgotten! I’m careful to write ‘the subject of’ because – of course – the fact of God’s Sovereignty surrounds and permeates all things irrespective of my conscious contemplation of it. God’s Sovereignty is not dependant on my realisation of it!
The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. – Proverbs 21:1
We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall. – Proverbs 16:33
You might not be aware of the fact of God’s Sovereignty right now. You might outright reject it or resist it. But whoever you are – atheist, skeptic or seasoned believer alike – if you’ve read this far, you’ve been presented with (or reminded of) this fact this very moment according to God’s set purpose for your life.
Wherever you are in the world; whatever time it is; whether you’re reading this post moments after I published it or even decades after – in fact, the internet revolution may have been succeeded and replaced and Annie and me might be long dead, buried and forgotten; whether you clicked the link in your email because reading this blog has become part of your daily/weekly routine in keeping updated on how Annie is doing; or whether you stumbled here by accident and intrigue and have no idea who we are (or were)…however you arrived at reading this right now, you’re here by God’s appointment. And the duration of your stay is entirely in His hands too. Even if you should decide to refuse to read on for the purpose of demonstrating again your daily independence, rejection or denial of God, it changes nothing and does nothing to frustrate His plans and purposes for your life but in fact demonstrates them. That’s what ‘God is Sovereign’ means.
Contemplating the Sovereignty of God can drive some people mad. It can leave us confused as we wonder how an All Holy, All Powerful, All Loving and All good God could make plans that accomodate man’s wicked and sinful choices and actions; as we try to clarify and sharpen that blurry area between God’s Sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Some are tempted to resolve this confusion by insisting that God at least drop one of His ‘All…’ titles so that His Sovereignty can be reduced to a simple formula which defines the areas where He is in control and where He is not. For some the confusion remains and results in either spiritual paralysis, negligence, laziness or even a cold and hardened heart towards God.
And we know that in all things God works… – Romans 8:28
In the last couple of months it’s as if in almost every conversation, every meditation, every situation God is teaching and unpacking to Annie and me the wonderfully liberating and uplifting fact that He is in supreme control in all things. It seems every sermon, every hymn, every book I pick up…somehow, I am faced with that subject again. It even entered a discussion I was having with one of the young people in the youth ministry during a conversation about the recent UEFA Champions League cup final! There would be far too many examples to mention in this post because honestly, it’s like we’re looking at everything in life through the lens of God’s Sovereignty, so that in every mundane and significant ‘thing’ in life we find ourselves awestruck (even corrected and encouraged!) by the fact that our God is in complete control. It feels like only recently have we really appreciated the magnitude and majesty of those three words that the Apostle Paul wrote (in the verse above) to describe how and where God works:
‘…in all things…’ – Romans 8:28
It has become to us like a key that unlocks the door to something wonderful during the painful, the disappointing, the difficult, the messy and even the mundane – physical experiences that are all too prevalent in our lives at the moment. And just to refine that ‘key and door’ metaphor a little bit more: sometimes that door is like a prison gate opening out into freedom and sometimes it’s like the gate of heaven opening into even greater freedom. Perhaps it’s like both at once!? Knowing that God is in control (‘the key’ in this metaphor) during this ugly and painful battle with cancer, not only frees us from a cancerous prison cell experience, but it ushers us into previously unexperienced levels of assurance, hope, peace and joy! Levels of experiences that we believe we wouldn’t have had if it were not for cancer.
When you hear about the experience of cancer in the lives of others you often become familiar with the word ‘courage’. Cancer is a fearsome and horrible illness that takes and takes and takes. It’s not just health that cancer strips you of. Along with your health it strips you of so much more. Annie has often described how cancer has stripped her of even the most simple of pleasures; her enjoyment of cooking, of eating, of enjoying the beauties of creation while taking a bicycle ride, or the joy she has in looking after me and being a homemaker. And as many cancer patients will tell you, if you want to battle cancer you have to put up a fight and that is going to take courage. You can’t enter battles without courage and without a fight. One way of facing and diminishing the fear of cancer is to increase in courage and fight. And there are probably millions of people – irrespective of any Christian faith – doing that very thing bravely and successfully according to an array of strategic approaches, outlooks and methods – from the medical to the philosophical.
As for Annie and me, as we contemplate the fact that God is in control, fear decreases. But fear doesn’t decrease simply because courage increases alone. No. Our experience of facing cancer (especially recently) is that fear decreases as a result of the overwhelming increase of joy and peace and assurance and hope. This is not about Ryan and Annie versus cancer. It’s not even a case of Ryan and Annie and God versus cancer. It’s a matter of our lives and circumstances being in the control and care of the hands of a Sovereign God. But it’s not only that! You see, it’s not just the fact that God is in control of all things…
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
…it’s the fact that His plan – which cannot be frustrated – is always working in the direction of our good! It’s knowing that everything is working ‘…for our good…’ and ‘…according to His purpose…’. The pain and the sickness are not meaningless. They are purposeful. Even now as I write this, I know that this joy in the Sovereignty of God has come as a result of these recent two difficult months. I write today with a joyful assurance that He who started that good work in us will also bring that good work to a perfect completion (Philippians 1:6). When the day of that perfect completion will be, I don’t know. Will Jesus return and do it that way? If so will He return soon or will He heal Annie and return much later on? Or will Jesus call us home before He returns? If He does call us home, will He call Annie home sooner than me? If so, how soon? Again, I don’t know. But I speak for both of us (I speak especially for Annie): we are not worried about that. What we can both say is that we know He is doing that good work within us. This overspilling into this post is just a small testimony of that good work He is doing in us.
Annie has often said to me in distant past months (which feel like years to us!) when I was thinking things couldn’t get harder “Ry, it’s probably going to get harder!” And she has been so right about that you might say it was prophetic! And yet as it has become harder, the experience of Jesus has become sweeter and richer – just as He has promised!
This recent experience really has replaced more opportunities for fear with peace. It’s brought heaven closer to our souls. However, the wonderful truth about God’s Sovereignty is that even when we shudder and shake and cry and wonder; even when a cloud may draw a veil over what we are experiencing and expressing right now, His Sovereign plan lovingly accomodates and carries us – FOR OUR GOOD!
Annie and me would love for everyone reading to truly enjoy this liberating fact: God is Sovereign. We would appeal to you to yield to this fact right now. It won’t incarcerate you it will liberate you! But don’t believe it on account of our testimony alone. As I said, there may be more difficult days ahead when we find this hard to recall. And when we do, we’ll hope to remind ourselves of this truth in the gospel. When the most terrible and wicked thing that ever would and ever will happen on the face of this earth took place – when Jesus God’s Son was handed over by wicked men to wicked men – God’s good and perfect plan was not being wickedly frustrated but rather – while it unfolded with unimaginable pain and horror – it was being wonderfully demonstrated.
“Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” – Acts 2:22-24
God is in control whether you accept it or not. But experiencing and enjoying the peace, joy, hope and assurance of God’s Sovereignty begins by acknowledging that you are not in control of your own life. It begins by acknowledging that you have committed the greatest sin by acting like you are the god of your own destiny. You might not think that’s you but if Jesus is not the Lord of your life, that is you. Enjoying the freedom of God’s Sovereignty begins by turning to Jesus who offers to set you free from the chains and chaos of that kind of selfish living. When Jesus was handed over by those wicked men to those wicked men, He took the punishment that sinners like them, sinners like us deserve. In fact on the cross He prayed “Father forgive them!”
Trust Him and ask Him to become your Saviour and Lord today! It’s a wonderful life lived for Him!
If you’re not a Christian and you made it this far through this post, I can’t help but wonder what God’s wonderful purpose has been for that. I started with a few verses from Proverbs and I’ll end with one.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; – Proverbs 3:5