Saturday, April 7, 2012

When God Disrupts Your Plans

From Rick Thomas at
Jason was a blessed man.
He had the world by the tail.
He was tall, dark, handsome, and intelligent. He was physically fit and his parents had a lot of money.
He did not look for a college to attend. They came looking for him.
He had what others dreamed of having.
If there was a thread hanging out of Jason’s $75 shirt, it was this: he knew everything I just said about him and his head was swollen by his self-esteem.
It is one thing to be great, but an odious thing to know you are great and to live in an arrogant response to that knowledge.
He was a walking contradiction.
While many people envied him, there was another contingent who felt sorry for him.
He had gotten too big for his britches.
Though no one would say it, they knew his day was coming. It was just a matter of time.
I suspect that most people reading this are in that majority of people who are just average–not like Jason. Everybody can’t be Michael Jordan. For every star, there are 10,000 average people–like you and me.
Though you might not see the analogy, you and I are similar to Jason. We are tempted to be too big for our britches. We might not be Mt. Everest, but we still have our own elevated view of ourselves. Wouldn’t you agree?
If we compared ourselves to someone like MJ, we would feel insignificant, but those are not the kinds of comparisons we generally make when we think about ourselves. Our more common default are lesser comparisons that allow us to have a high estimation of ourselves. This is what makes Jason and the rest of us the same.

Our God is a disrupting God

This is also where God does all of us a big favor. He allows disruptions into our lives to remind us that we are not great, but rather small and needy. To whatever degree we become too big for our britches, our loving heavenly Father shows up with a reminder. You can probably think of many of these reminders in your life.
He has done this throughout the Bible and church history. This was the simple point at the tower scene of Babel. The boys got too big for their britches, with what began as a small idea, it soon turned into a schema to reach as high as heaven (Genesis 11:4).
God looked down on their selfish ambition and knew the most loving thing He could do for them was to disrupt their plans. Have you ever had your plans disrupted? When they were disrupted, how did you think about what was happening to you?
A man with a God-centered perspective on life is always looking to God first when his plans do not go according to his expectations. He is a man who holds his plans loosely, knowing the high King of heaven may want to assert Himself.
And if He does assert Himself into the plans of His creation, the God-centered man understands and humbly seeks to perceive what the Father is up to. This was the point James was making in his book, when he gave us those humble and helpful words, “If the Lord wills.”
Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. – James 4:15-16 (ESV)

Thorn intervention is a mercy

Whenever we become doggedly determined to do it our way and there are no other options–from our lofty perch, we are more than likely inviting the King of heaven to intervene into our lives. It would be His mercy to do so, as well as a blessing to us.
One of His greatest disciples was a gifted man who needed God’s disrupting intervention in his life. Paul, like us, probably did not see it that way. He was rolling along, hearing from God, evangelizing the world, blogging every day, and getting things done. He was a gifted man.
But Paul had this problem. He had a propensity to be proud. God had blessed him with many gifts, abilities, and experiences. Some of the experiences Paul had with his Father were a few other-worldly revelations (2 Corinthians 12:4). As you know, with any gift or blessing from the Father there is a responsibility to hold those gifts humbly.
As you also know, with any gift or blessing from the Father there is a temptation to forget where the gift came from and what its intended use should be (2 Corinthians 12:7). This was the problem with Jason. He had forgotten God or maybe he really didn’t care about God. Either way, God was not preeminent in his thoughts.
His temptation, and ours too, is to use God’s gifts in ways that promote ourselves rather than making His name great. That was also the temptation with Paul: God blessed and Paul was tempted to exalt himself rather than God.
Therefore, God in His mercy to Paul, gave him a thorn in the flesh as a way to humble him. Paul did not like what God did to him and thought it best to tell the Father about it. He asked the Father three times to remove the thorn that was disrupting his life.
God essentially said, “No.” And then He went on to explain to his supplicating friend that His grace was sufficient for his trial. I was not shocked that God sent a disrupting thorn into Paul’s life. I also was not shocked that Paul prayed to get it removed. And it was not a surprise to hear God say, “No” to the request.
All of these things have happened to me:
  1. I have been proud.
  2. God sent a thorn into my life.
  3. I prayed for the thorn to be removed.
  4. God said, “No.”

Proper response to thorn therapy

This has been a normal process in my life. However, the thing that did shock me was Paul’s response to God’s unwillingness to take the thorn back. The very next thing we see Paul doing is appropriating God’s grace into his life (2 Corinthians 12:9). That, my friends, is shocking.
Seemingly without hesitation, Paul stopped his triune request for a change of circumstance and got on with God’s plan–with the addition of a thorn in his flesh. This is where Paul and I are different. I’m not that quick to accept disruptions, whether great or small.
And that is my question to you: how long does it normally take you to (1) discern the disruption in your life, (2) turn your thoughts to God, (3) appropriate His grace in your life, (4) and move on according to the new change of plans? Okay, that one question was actually four–and I’m not done.
When you are in a situation that is not going to change, or is not changing at a pace that is satisfactory to your expectations, how long does it take you to adjust to a God-centered perspective? Another way of asking the question is, “How long does it take you to stop complaining, whining, grumbling, or blaming?”
For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)
If you are like me, prone to stumble at the first sign of trouble, then the place to begin calibrating your mind is with the Gospel. That is what Paul did. Do you remember what he told the Corinthians in chapter one of the first letter?
He told them that the Gospel appeared to be weak and foolish to the Jews and to the Gentiles. Do you remember that? He then went on to say that the Gospel was actually the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
What initially appeared to be profoundly disappointing and weak to all those who observed it–the death of Christ–was actually the power and wisdom of God. That is what God’s Gospel is.
Can you see the Gospel connection between what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 and what he was saying in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10? He is applying what he wrote about the Gospel–it appears weak and foolish–to his personal struggle. Paul’s thorn, from the perspective of the world, appeared to be weak.
To the God-centered man, he sees the Gospel differently–it is the wisdom and power of God. Therefore, he sees his situational challenges, like Paul, as having the possibility of displaying the power and wisdom of God.

God will not compete with you

The key for us is not to yield to the temptation of trying to live in our own power, while neglecting God’s power. He will not compete with us. Our friend Jason can choose to live in his own strength and God may let him do that, though He would not let Paul do that.
Rather than letting Paul live and behave under his own power, God weakened him by a thorn so that He could pour His power in and out of this humbled man. This is how God works. He works through broken things like a crucified Savior or a man with a thorn in his flesh.
It does not work in God’s economy to have competing strengths, e.g. Paul’s strength vs. God’s strength–or your strength vs. God’s strength. One of those strengths has to give way to the other.
Paul initially found strength through his pride–gifts, talents, abilities, and that put him in opposition to God’s strength (James 4:6). Therefore, God knew the kindest thing He could do for His servant was to weaken him so His strength could be perfected through Paul’s weakness.
By weakening Paul, there were no competing strengths–Paul was a broken man. The only strong person still standing was God. Paul was humbled and God was exalted. Paul’s condition, like Christ’s condition while hanging on Adam’s tree, appeared to be foolish, weak, and a stumbling block.
It was not. It was God’s wisdom and God’s strength working through a vessel that was turned loose on the Gentile world. It was an unbeatable combination. Paul supplied the empty vessel and God filled it up with His power and off they went to turn the world upside down.

What about you?

Can you connect the Gospel to your personal discomfort? If not, then let’s start small: there you are at a traffic light. You are being hindered by about 3.5 seconds. It’s your turn to push through the intersection, but the rear end of another car is momentarily altering your plans for the day.
In that crucial moment in your life you honk your horn to let the guy know he is disrupting your world. How long did it take you to go weak so God’s strength and power could be manifested through you?
In that moment does your wife or children see your humility–weakness–as you patiently wait on the Lord to let you through that intersection?
Let’s turn the heat up a bit more: your wife disappoints you again. Rather than showing you the respect the world knows you have earned and deserve, she disrespects you in front of others.
How long does it take you to go weak in order for God’s power to take over the situation? Or do you choose to trot out your strength by angrily letting your wife know how she offended your reputation–your high self-esteem?
Let’s do one more–taking it up another notch: you just received the phone call that no one ever wants to receive. You are to see the doctor at 8AM tomorrow. The news is that you have an aggressive cancer that will more than likely take your life.
While you go through several bouts of anguish and maybe even anger, you are growing in your awareness that sovereign God has amazing grace for your illness. You acknowledge your weakness and His strength. You humbly begin the process of appropriating His grace.
In time, your fears begin to be displaced. The power of God is working through you. God’s name is being put on display. You are being affected by His grace and others are coming to see God in ways they never saw Him before.

Your shalom will be disrupted

Friends, we live in a shalom-disrupting world. That is the way of sin. Nothing is neat or forever in this life. Will you ask the Father to give you the grace He gave Paul so you can be fortified at the traffic lights of your life…as well as your larger disruptions of shalom?
  1. Ask the Father to close the gap between the time you experience bad news and your appropriation of His grace to the bad news.
  2. Ask the Father to help you realign your thinking back to the Gospel.
It was the foolishness and weakness of the Gospel that tripped up the Savior’s friends, as well as His enemies. Don’t let what God is doing in your life cause you to stumble too.
Remember how the weak Gospel radically altered you when you were born from above. Believe that He can radically use you in your weakness today–for your good and His glory. Truly, that is the only way He will use you; so don’t resist the weakening process that He is working into your life.

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