Rejoicing in Being Derailed
Originally published 23 January 2010
This post is now incorporated with 22 other similar ‘reflections’ in my book, Facing Cancer with Faith.
One thing I knew when I wrote my last blog post on hardship was that my return to paid employment, after 8 months of struggling, would not mean an end of trials and hardships in my life. One of Jesus’ promises to His followers is, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So the fact that after only a month in the new job I was taken ill (and in fact I am writing this from my hospital bed), suffering physical pain, while at the same time losing at least a months worth of income, should not be a surprise.
I had so many plans. I was back in the saddle, in a new job. I was maxing out my time trying to start building an internet business in my spare time, so that when my new contract came to an end I would have a head start. I had plans to make improvements to processes in my new job, motivate the team, see them improve and start to perform more confidently and successfully. But now I feel derailed.
But I rejoice in that derailment. I don’t know what God is doing for me personally, or for my family. But I do know one thing. That is that God wants me to share my reflections on my experiences, so that He may be glorified. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” So wrote the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.
So I will share with you my weakness and vulnerability, and the peace and comfort I receive from my great God and Saviour, so that God may be glorified.
It’s not a bad feeling to feel derailed every now and again. It’s a good thing to acknowledge that we are not completely in control of our lives. God is ultimately in control. If He allows our plans to succeed, it is by His grace. If He does not, it is also by His grace and for our good, if we love Him. “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 also good to submit all our plans to God’s will, acknowledging they will not succeed except with His permission. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16)
I will just make two more points in this article, otherwise I am in danger of waffling!
Firstly, I was struck by the honesty of a dear friend, who after hearing a sermon on Hebrews 12, and being urged to consider hardship as God’s discipline on His children, said he had real problems believing that. When you stop talking about hardship as a concept, and start saying something more specific, like for example, having a child die of leukemia, or suffering starvation, or suffering the violent abuse of a drunken husband, then you really have to ask the question, “do I really believe this is brought about by God for my discipline and training in holiness?” Would God allow His beloved children to suffer such awful things?
Before I come to my response to that, something occurred to me in hospital. I have never been hospitalized before and the whole experience is quite new. For example, I have had to have an intravenous drip and blood tests and injections almost daily. Both my arms are left with huge bruising from just the blood tests. Some pain was involved in all of these things. I remarked to one of the junior doctors that I could not do their job, because I would be so nervous hurting people with needles all day long! The crucial procedure that relieved the jaundice I initially presented with left me in enormous internal pain for several days. But the jaundice cleared (I now have other problems!).
Doctors and nurses know better than anybody that most of the time you have to increase and cause pain to some degree in order to relieve the more serious illness.
So when God causes us pain (I use the word “cause” because I believe in God’s absolute sovereignty, and therefore whether he allows pain to happen which he could prevent, or whether he sends pain personally, you have the pain because He wants you to have it) it is because He sees better than we do that our lack of holiness, or our unbelief and lack of faith, is a more serious illness.
In extreme cases, as battlefield doctors would know especially, an arm or a leg has to be amputated in order to save a person’s life if the limb is going to cause a fatal infection or fatal blood loss. And battlefield doctors sometimes have to do this without anesthetic! It’s awfully painful but for the good of the patient.
In the same way, Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29) We are told to cause ourselves pain to avoid the greater pain of being separated from God. Sometimes God has to inflict the pain on us Himself, because we won’t do it ourselves, in order to follow through His saving work in our lives. He does it because He loves us.
So, do I think it is harsh that I am in pain and losing money, so that I may learn to acknowledge God is in control and I am not? Not at all. Notice the way the apostle James (in the quote I gave above) speaks about the attitude that makes plans without acknowledging God’s will: “As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:16)
By this pain I am being freed from an evil mindset. That is why I rejoice, and I pray that I will always remember to preface all my plans and designs with, “if the Lord wills”, or “God-willing”, or the old fashioned, “DV” (Deus Volenti).
My second, and final, observation for this time, is that sometimes God denies us good things that we ask for in order to provide something better (from His eternal and omniscient perspective). That includes health, wellbeing, wealth, peace, freedom, etc.
I have found John Piper helpful in a story he tells in his book, Future Grace:
“God often blesses us with a ‘grace given’ in the circle of a ‘grace denied.’ For example, on a beastly hot day in July the water pump on our car stopped working and twenty miles from any town we were stranded on the Interstate in Tennessee. I had prayed that morning that the car would work well and that we would come to our destination in safety. No one was stopping as we stood around our car. Then my son Abraham (about eleven at the time) said, ‘Daddy, we should pray.’ So we bowed behind the car and asked God for some future grace – a help in time of need. When we looked up, a pickup truck had pulled over. The driver was a mechanic who worked about twenty miles away. He said he would be willing to go get the parts and come back and fix the car. I rode with him to town and was able to share the gospel with him. We were on our way in about five hours.
“Now the remarkable thing about that answer to our prayer is that it came inside the circle of a prayer denied. We asked for a trouble-free trip. God gave us trouble. But in the midst of a grace denied we got a grace supplied. And I am learning to trust God’s wisdom in giving the grace that is best for me and for unbelieving mechanics and for the faith of eleven-year-old boys. We should not be surprised that God gives us wonderful graces in the midst of suffering that we had asked him to spare us. He knows best how to apportion his grace for our good and for his glory.”
I admit that sometimes that “grace supplied” may not be obvious. God never promised to share with us the reasons for everything that He does. But saving faith is all about learning to trust God, that His promises are true, they are all “‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20), that His passion for His glory is also for our eternal good – even when we don’t see it. It is this faith that is the most important thing in the life of a Christian. As the apostle Peter said, “These [trials] have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7).
May we always look for that proof and increase in faith in all our hardships, pains and sufferings.