What do you do when you’ve prayed to God and you don’t like the answer you’ve received?
*You applied for the college of your dreams, but they said no.
*You interviewed for a new job, but they found someone more qualified.
*You asked God for healing, but the doctor says the chemo didn’t work.
*You prayed and prayed to find a husband, and after all these years he has not yet found you.
*You asked her to marry you, and she said no.
*You sunk your life savings into a new business only to see it fail within a year.
*You moved across the country to take a new job, but it didn’t work out, and now you are unemployed—again.
*You never intended to end up divorced, but here you are.
*You planned on having more children, but it isn’t happening for some reason.
*You volunteered to serve on the worship team. They said they’d get back to you. Evidently they lost your number.
We’ve all been there, most of us many times because that’s the way life is. You have your dreams, you make your plans, you sincerely seek to do God’s will, you pray to the Lord, and when the answer comes, it’s not what you wanted. What do you do then? We don’t talk about this very often but we should.
Your plan and God's plan are rarely the same.
Live long enough and you’ll discover that God’s plan and yours often are not the same. We all know that we should pray “Your will be done,” and most of us do, but it still jolts the spirit when we discover that God has a completely different plan in mind.
You can read the rest of the sermon online.
I’ve never met Jerry Seinfeld.
But he gave me a good idea nonetheless.
It happened like this. A little over a year ago I heard a radio interview with a comedian who said that when he was just starting out, he met Jerry Seinfeld backstage one day and asked him how to make it as a comedian.
“Write better jokes,” he told him.
Good advice, but how do you do that? Jerry Seinfeld said that he wrote a new joke every day. Some days he wrote just one, some days more than one, but he never let a day go by without writing at least one new joke. Keep writing new jokes and soon you’ll write better jokes. It turned out that Jerry Seinfeld has some kind of calendar that he marks each day that he writes a joke. Keep at it and soon you’ve got a chain going.
“Don’t break the chain,” Jerry Seinfeld said. Then he repeated it for emphasis. The young comedian said he took the advice to heart and it worked for him.
When I heard that story, the refrain, “Don’t break the chain” kept rolling in my mind. So I decided to see if there was an app that would help me keep track of certain things I wanted to do each day. Turns out there are quite a few apps that do that. I downloaded one called Chains.cc and started using it. I decided to track four things on a daily basis: my diet, my weight, my quiet time, and my writing. Three days ago I was pleased to see this screen come up:
I’m certain there has never been a time in my life when I have had a quiet time 365 days in a row. To be sure, this doesn’t somehow gain merit with God. After all, it’s all grace all the time. But I want to take seriously the command to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). This little app has helped me be more consistent in some areas that are important to me.
Jerry Seinfeld was right.
Don’t break the chain.
That thought has helped me in the last year. Maybe it will help you too.
The call came at about 10:30 P.M. Someone had died. Would I please call the family? Before I could pick up the phone, the mother called me. Her son had taken drugs and had died earlier that evening. As I got dressed to go to the home, I wondered what I would say. When I arrived everyone was milling around in a state of confusion. At length, the mother took me aside and through her tears asked me the question I had known was coming. Why? Why did God let this happen to my son?It was not the first time I have had no satisfactory answer to that question, and it won't be the last. When you look at the questions of life and death, and when you consider the problems of this death-sentenced generation, even the most fervent believer looks up to the heavens and cries out, Why? Why me? Why now? Why this?Why? The question rings across the centuries and through every generation. All of us ask it sooner or later. If you haven't yet, you will. It's a question that does not admit of an easy answer. Indeed, the godliest believers have sometimes wondered about the ways of God. And if Job never got a complete answer, what can I expect? As I read the Bible, I don't think there is one single answer.
We get one kind of answer in the book of Genesis, another kind of answer in Job, and still other answers in the book of Psalms. Ecclesiastes takes yet another approach, and the gospels present us with a Christ whose very coming alters the way we think about everything. Finally, the book of Revelation shows us our Lord’s final victory and the final defeat of evil. I don’t mean to suggest that these various perspectives contradict each other. It’s just that the problem of human suffering is so vast that we need many different ways to think about it.That’s where the book of Habakkuk comes in. In this series we’re going to dig deep into this little book written just before the world caved in for the people of Judah. If you don’t know where to find Habakkuk, look in the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament. Or just look in the “white pages” of your Bible. Habakkuk is squeezed between Nahum and Zephaniah, two other books we rarely read.
Major Message from a Minor Prophet
Let’s back up for just a second. There are 17 prophetic books in the Old Testament, divided between the Major Prophets (5 books) and the Minor Prophets (12 books). They are not called “major” and “minor” because of their respective importance but because of their size. In one of my Bibles, the five Major Prophets take up 191 pages while the twelve Minor Prophets take up only 61 pages.We’re talking about short books here. Habakkuk contains 56 verses spread over 3 chapters. Though he is a “minor” prophet, there is nothing minor about his message. He’s writing about a topic that we all think about eventually.Habakkuk is unlike the other prophetic books (major or minor) in that it records a dialogue between one man and God. Whereas Isaiah contains a message from God, Habakkuk records a conversation with God.
If you’ve ever felt like you had a few questions for God, this is the book for you. Howard Hendricks called Habakkuk “the man with a question mark for a brain.”Here’s a bit of the background. The year is 605 BC or thereabouts. We can’t be sure of the precise year but that’s a good guess. After good king Josiah died in 609 BC, the nation of Judah plunged headlong back into the cesspool of corruption, immorality and idolatry that had plagued it for so many generations. This time the people seemed hell-bent on their own destruction. Instead of edging toward the cliff, they seemed determined to plunge over it going full speed. It was as if the nation had a death wish and no use for God at all.
You can read the rest of this sermon online.
The Bible instructs us to "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
We know this is biblical, but it is not always easy.
The question revolves around the expression “in all circumstances.” We know that we should give thanks when things are going well. It is right and good to “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” We shouldn’t take our blessings for granted or think that we somehow deserve them. But if you only give thanks when you have money in the bank, when your marriage is good, when the deal goes through, or when the doctor says, “You don’t have cancer,” when your kids are doing well, when the church is growing and your friends are glad to see you, if that’s the only time you give thanks, what will you do when trouble comes?
What will you do when your company downsizes and you are out of a job, when your retirement fund loses 45% of its value, when your marriage collapses, when your daughter gets pregnant out of wedlock, when the cancer returns, or when your friends betray you?
I freely admit that often things happen to us (and to our loved ones) that make no sense. Try as we might, we cannot trace God’s hand in every circumstance because God paints on a canvas much larger than our tiny vision. How do we give thanks when our hearts are broken? How do we give thanks when we are confused? How do we give thanks when we are angry at what sin has done in the world?
I think it is biblical to give thanks in the following manner even in the worst moments. We give thanks . . .
That God is sovereign.
That nothing happens by chance.
That God causes all things to work together for good for his children.
That hard times reveal our weakness, break our pride, and show us our total need for God.
That God has triumphed over sin and death through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
That God uses the worst that happens to promote our spiritual growth.
That God is faithful even when we are faithless.
That God’s Word will be vindicated.
That God’s promises are true.
That evil will not reign forever.
That heaven is real.
That this world is not the “real” world.
That when we are weak, he is strong.
That his grace is sufficient for every situation.
That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
That our salvation rests on God and not on us.
That there is no pit so deep that the love of God is not deeper still.
That the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from every sin.
That God delights to save sinners.
That the Lord can soften the hardest heart.
That there are no impossible cases with God.
That even when we feel alone, we are never alone.
That our Father will not test us beyond what we can bear.
That the Holy Spirit abides with us always.
That the Lord Jesus feels our pain.
That the Holy Spirit prays for us when we are too weak to pray for ourselves.
That the Lord Jesus intercedes for us so that we are finally saved.
That God uses everything and wastes nothing.
That our doubts cannot cancel God’s work in us.
That someday we will be conformed to the image of Christ.
That God is faithful to finish his work in us.
That our hardships equip us to minister to others.
That we are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace.
That God’s plan far exceeds our puny imagination.
That weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
That we are still God’s children even when our faith falters.
That while we suffer outwardly, we are being renewed inwardly.
That our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory.
Eugene Peterson nicely captures the meaning of verse 18 this way. “Thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live” (MSG). I like that phrase “no matter what happens” because it perfectly describes life in a fallen world.
I do not mean to suggest that this is easy, only that it is absolutely necessary. As hard as it may be to rejoice always, what is your alternative? To give in to despair and anger? If you refuse to give thanks in every situation, you are virtually saying that you know better than God how to run the universe. By giving thanks when we don’t feel like it, we are proclaiming that God’s wisdom is greater than ours. That simple act of giving thanks in the midst of sorrow is a testimony worth more than 10,000 words spoken when things are going well.
If we know the Lord, we can still give thanks even when life makes no sense.