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“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.’” Matthew 7:22-23
What’s it like to see God in all His glory right here and now; to hear Him speak in a voice as clear as a lion’s roar; to watch Him weave miracles as if He were standing right before our eyes; to feel His comfort in the wasteland of our deepest despair? It is possible, necessary even – in this life – to experience God and more importantly, for God to experience us. It’s possible, but not easy. We must meet Him half way. And in a world full of distractions and detractions the gap is wide – the allure of the alternatives magnetic.
God speaks to us through the clutter of life in the 21st Century. He sweeps us up and carries us through the most difficult days of our lives. In the midst what some say could be the beginning of a second Great Depression. Some are broken, beaten, and hopeless. Out of work, out of money, out of luck – He is there. Come to Him when you are weary and He will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
If I were to spout this declaration in a neighborhood pub, or over a latte at the corner coffee house, the chuckles and sneers that would greet me would be plentiful. It isn’t every day you hear someone speak of God’s presence on Earth in the era of self-help. So, too, is it a risk to speak of the Creator in concrete terms these days without drawing some negative attention from naysayers and non-believers. It simply puts an honest witness of God’s Word smack in the zealot column.
But He did rescue me. And He did so on many occasions. Moreover, He has been with me all along, through dark days and bright. He has walked with me through trouble and triumph alike – through tribulation and celebration. And if knowing that makes me wacko, then so be it.
It is human nature to call on God in times of trouble. We all do it. We Christians seek God when our lives bottom-out and we need help. The trouble is we tend to put God on a shelf when things start to look up. When we’re at the top of our game and firing on all cylinders, or we get caught-up in the demands of every day life, we seldom think about God at all. But if we always wait for the burden to come before we seek God’s mercy, will He give it?
Christ’s words are quite clear in Matthew 7:22-23 when he says, “I never knew you” and that “not everyone who calls out to me” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. These are ominous words. It’s like buying the custom gown and rolling to the ball in a Hummer stretch limousine only to get turned away at the door because your name isn’t on the guest list. These powerful words – “I never knew you” – speak volumes about what is expected of every one of us before we can expect God to accept us into His Kingdom.
At the same time this statement has an air of betrayal in it. And indeed it does express the fact that God wants all his children to realize the gift bestowed upon this world – to understand the cost. And yet so few ever bother to do the work. My feelings are hurt when I say “Good morning!” in passing and the person I say it to doesn’t return the pleasantry. I can only imagine how God must feel when we ignore His Word.
What is it about the “good times” that allows us to put God on the back burner?
I had been rolling down the road of a pretty good professional life for quite some time after I finished college. I had everything I thought I ever needed – put most of my past transgressions in the rearview mirror and was in complete control. I was the ultimate multi-tasker and master of my domain. It was all good and God, well, I didn’t think about it very much. My philosophy: I’ll know God soon enough.
I had completely forgotten that I once bowed my head before Him to secure a decent job after college; to watch over my life so that I might succeed; to help me. He answered every prayer in a big way, and when He did, I took-off after my new life’s ambitions and left God behind in the dust.
It wasn’t the first time I had betrayed that trust though and without even realizing I was doing it again-and-again for most of my life – reaching out on a dark day; turning my back the rest of the time. I charged down the road cocky assuming I was in complete control of my own destiny. It was I that possessed the skills and it was I that would steer the ship no matter what. It’s funny how fine a line there is between confidence and arrogance. Most of us pole vault right over it too.
Then the company folded and my job went away after a sixteen year run. In the tough economic times, come to find, many of my contacts were also out of a job. Colleagues lucky enough to remain employed were more than happy to help me out, but the industry simply wasn’t hiring and in many ways on a fast-and-furious trek to oblivion. Cut-backs were dramatically eliminating opportunities with every passing day. Other avenues shut down in other fields, because they were suffering an equally dismal fate.
Many people I spoke to, Christians, who were walking in shoes similar to my own at the time were upset (even angry) with God. Angry because they couldn’t understand why God, if He was really looking out for everyone’s best interests, would let something like this happen.
Questions like this always arise in times of great disaster, particularly when the news media becomes consumed by the search for great spiritual significance and naturally seeks to uncover all the angles – all the right answers. Remember the aftermath of 9-11? The “Why does God let something like this happen?” question was asked over-and-over again.
I stumbled upon an answer within the confines of my own despair.
It isn’t up to us to understand the complexity of the entire universe. We humans have to let go of trying to get a grip on every aspect of life and let God and His infinite wisdom prevail. We must learn to trust. God uses times of great pain and anguish as a wake-up call. He shows us that we are not alone; that our ultimate battle has already been won upon the Cross. He reminds us that we have nothing to fear here on Earth. And nothing can make that not true.
This is difficult to remember when bills keep coming due and you have not seen a paycheck in two, three - eight months.
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” Luke 9:24-25
I let go and turned my life over to God – for good this time.
What I learned from the entire ordeal was that God was never out of my life. In fact, He was there all along and it took a pretty strong tap on the shoulder to get my attention. This “tap” in particular was quite a bit harder than those in the past and it shook me down to my core.
In doing so I learned a lot about myself, my family, friends, and most important, the unbelievable kindness of strangers. God’s mercy came from many unexpected places.
The timing was incredible too.
For the first few months I - still in a total state of arrogance and self-reliance - thought that I was seeking-out God’s help. But in retrospect I now know that God put many good things in place that would lead me straight to Him, help me through the toughest of times, and humble me beyond words, long before I actually needed them. Friends that I met, a new church, playing in a new praise band (after I thought my own lifelong musical pursuits had ended for good months earlier), so many things that helped rescue me. I also learned a lot about those negative influences in my life that had dragged me down all the wrong roads in the past.
I was completely changed – God tore me down and put-up a new person. And there’s still much work to be done! We’re never really out of the woods, or far from God’s mercy, no matter how bad, or good, life is to us.
“Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw His unfailing love from me.” Psalm 66:20
Make no mistake, God is in control and He will test each and every one of us. Throughout our lives He will lay down the gauntlet and shake us when we need to be shaken. He will wrestle with us and make us change course, just when we think we are on the right track. He will force us to endure trial-after-trial so that we may recognize His mercy and love when times are good.
He will know us if we let Him. He will guide us if we open our hearts to Him. He will bless us now and forever. All we have to do is ask.
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