The writer of Ecclesiastes asserted boldly many thousands of years ago that “there is nothing new under the sun”. The ancient date of that statement has always been a poignant reminder to me that we aren’t as wise as we think we are for all our modern sensibilities. We struggle with the same basic issues that are common to humanity, despite our scientific and technological advances.
God stands enthroned over all of His creation. From His vantage point outside of space/time, He watches as His purposes unfold, including the groaning of creation as some of His crowning creation “seek Him, feel their way toward Him and find him”. (Acts 17:27)
We fit into His purposes by doing just that – to know God and to grow in the knowledge of God is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purpose for us.
We easily get mired in the mundane concerns of daily life. Our future planning is often limited to the benefits we can obtain in our years in these jars of clay we call our bodies. We often fail to give full room for the eternity God set in our hearts. (Ecc. 3:11) We fail to allow the Holy spirit to have full sway in our hearts and our lives.
We are easily distracted and easily preoccupied by lesser things than our relationship with God the Father and His purposes.
I am forever grateful for the grace He has shown to us in the sacrifice He made for us that He has made a way for us to come to Him despite our frailties and sinful tendencies, and to continue coming to Him who receives us in Christ. I am more indebted to His mercy and grace now than ever before. His lovingkindness is truly new every morning.
As we watch the time closing out on 2020, looking backward, and straining forward, I am borrowing from another writer for my own ten reflections on 2020:
From the moment the Chinese government woke up to the significance of the corona virus threat, they kicked their efforts into high gear. I have a friend who described to me what it was like for his parents, who live in China. We have all heard reports of the virtual lock down of the country by the government.
That’s what totalitarian governments do. They exert the collective power of man by the force of governmental control en masse. Totalitarian governments rest on a foundation of top down, human power. The philosophies that gird them are largely humanistic, not reliant on divine power, but on the iron fist of self-governance.
Not that democracies, republics and other forms of government don’t rely equally on variations of collective human power, control and ingenuity. They all do. And we do the same on a personal level. In the face of the present corona virus threat, we have all taken personal measures to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbors. As well we should.
Ultimately, though, the corona virus reminds us of things we can’t control, though we try. Underneath the collective and individual determination to take control of this virus Thing that threatens us, and all the things that threaten us, runs an undercurrent of uncertainty and uneasiness, sometimes even dread. It ebbs and flows from conscious to unconscious. Some of us are more aware of it than others.
Its roots are found in the same place: try as we might, we know that we don’t ultimately control the outcomes. We don’t ultimately control our own fate.
Beginning with our own birth and the circumstances, time and geography in the world into which we were born, we are not in control. We didn’t choose any of it. If we strip away the façade, we don’t control our own lives.
We don’t control our nature or nurture. We don’t control the generations of DNA we carry in our genes, and we don’t control the way our parents raised us, the classrooms in which we were educated, the circle of friends that influenced us and the myriad influences that shaped us.
Things happen in our lives that we don’t control. We could be sailing along at a good clip when a rogue wave comes “out of nowhere” and knocks us overboard. The car we didn’t see coming, the cancer growing inside us, the closing of the place we always worked, an unseen virus that shuts down the state and national economy, putting hundreds of thousands out of work for who knows how long.
When we really think about it, there are so many things that we don’t control in our everyday lives that it can be quite overwhelming to spend much time thinking about it. It’s no wonder the undercurrent of alternating uncertainty, uneasiness and dread ebbs and flows in our conscious and unconscious minds. It causes many of us to panic and worry.
The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. Prov. 16:1
God expects us to make our plans. The ability to plan, to exercise choice, was given to us by God, who created us in His own image. But we do not control the outcomes. On the one hand, we do not control our own destinies. On the other hand, we are not left to our own devices.
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Prov. 16:9
We have the responsibility to plan our ways, but God determines the outcomes. We can spend our entire lives planning our ways without any thought to God, who determines our outcomes. We have the ability to live as if God does not even exist, but we do not escape the One who establishes the course we actually take. We may have no choice in the outcomes, but we have choice in our planning.
To that extent, we could plan our ways with God in mind, seeking God’s wisdom, God’s purposes and God’s plans. Or we can choose to plan our ways without regard to God at all. God gives us that choice.
A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way? Prov. 20:24
The actual courses we take, however, are affected by the “circumstances” of our lives, the opportunities and obstacles that come our way, and the almost unlimited variety of influences, happenings and factors that ultimately determine the “steps” we take. This is just another way of saying that God establishes our steps.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 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. James 4:13-16
We don’t control our own way though we often think (presume) and act as if we do. God doesn’t frown on our plans. He made us with the capacity to plan our own ways, but we err (sin) if we fail to understand that we are not in control of the outcome of our plans. Our ability to freely plan our ways creates an illusion that we are the captains of our own destinies, but thinking and acting as if we actually do captain our own destinies is arrogance of the first order.
What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14
Our lives are but a breath. (Job 7:7) Our lives are like clouds that appear and then vanish into thin air. (Job 7:9) Our days on earth are just a shadow. (Job 8:9) Our days are like the runner, fleeing away. (Job 9:25) Our days pass on like grass boats slipping downstream. (Job 9:26) Our lives are like a wind that passes and never returns. (Psalm 78:39) We are like flowers that bloom and quickly wither. (Job 14:2)
LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am. Psalm 34:9
Don’t presume about your life. Be mindful that life is short. Be aware that God is ultimately in control. God has his purposes. Pray and seek God and to understand His purposes. Make plans, but always be mindful of God and his plans and purposes. Invite God into your plans; seek for your plans to be harmonious with God’s plans.
We can live our lives on our own, going our own ways or we can live life in harmony with God and His ways. God gives us that choice, and we are responsible for the way we exercise that choice. At the end of our short days, as the bloom withers, what will be the outcome of our lives if we lived them our own ways?
The creed of this world lived our own way, apart from God, is I Did It My Way. We can do that. We can boast we did it our way. But, to what end?
As for me, when I think of the alternatives, when I consider the temptation to be the captain of my own soul, come hell or high water (as it is said), I think of the disciples complaining of the words of Jesus spoken to the crowds:
“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60)
Jesus didn’t change His message to accommodate His followers, and, as a result, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him”. (John 6:66)
In this context, Jesus turned to the twelve disciples and asked,
“Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67)
This is the question we all must face. This is point to which we all have or will arrive, either in this life, or when our days are done. How we respond to it is the ultimate choice we make or will make.
We don’t control when the light that is our life will go out. Our days are numbered, and they are in God’s hands. We don’t control when the choice to accept and follow Him can be made.
The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. Prov. 16:1
We make our choices, but God is the determining factor in our destiny. Will we choose to submit our selves, our plans, our destinies to God? Or will we go our own way.
When Jesus asked his disciples whether they wanted to go away too, as the others followers did when the message got difficult for them, Simon Peter answered for the group:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
This, too, is my response. Though I often stumble, there is no other path for me. There is nothing else for me. There is nowhere else I want to be.
God is from everlasting to everlasting. He sets eternity in the hearts of men (Ecc. 3.11), but our glimpse of eternity and our sense of God is often obscured by the every day realities of our lives.
That God set eternity into the hearts of men should tell us something. It should urge us to look beyond ourselves, to look to God for His purpose in our lives. Yet we are often given to walking with our heads down, driven with blinders on chasing after self-fulfillment or prone to obsessive self-reflection with eyes turned inward. We have a hard time seeing past our own noses, much less focusing on an eternal God We have a hard time, wherever our gazes are set, letting go of self-direction.
The Bible calls that sin.
Take the morality out of sin, and sin is simply missing the mark. The mark is God, His character and His purpose. When our focus is on other things, when we are pursuing other things to the exclusion of God, we are missing the mark. We are missing the purpose of God in our lives.