1. What God ordains is always good;
His will abideth holy.
As He directs my life for me,
I follow meek and lowly.
God indeed in every need
Doth well know how to shield me;
To Him, then, I will yield me.
I used to enjoy listening to the stories that George Marg would tell me as we drove to and from conferences together. Pastor Marg couldn't hear when I spoke, so he basically gave a running monologue from the start of the trip to the destination. It was a good thing I enjoyed listening. One of the stories he would tell (I heard them over and over again) was about a drought in his home area. George's father was a farmer. When the drought came, everyone was all upset, except for farmer Marg. When the neighbors confronted him about his lack of distress, George said that his father would say something like, "The land is God's. If He wants it to dry out this year, that is His business."
I was always impressed with the commitment of the farmer to his faith. Farming was what he did. That was his work before the Lord. He left the results in the hands of his God. God owned the land, and the farmer. It was the farmer's job to farm and God was in charge of how it worked out in the end. Farmer Marg had his failings, of that I am certain. He likely did not do everything well or in a praise-worthy manner, I would guess. But this one moment was wonderful. It was full of faith and spoke of living life as Christian should live it — trusting God. I can understand why it impressed a young man who one day, later, became a pastor.
2. What God ordains is always good.
He never will deceive me;
He leads me in His own right way,
And never will He leave me.
I take content What He hath sent;
His hand that sends me sadness
Will turn my tears to gladness.
As I write this, we are in the grip of some hot weather. It is not Iraq-hot and we do not wear the uniform with all its body armor, and carry seventy-pound packs, and need to keep a wary eye out for IED's, but it is triple-digit-hot and we are enduring a significant drought here in the center of the country. The heat and the dry is touching everyone, changing plans, causing some chafing (socially as well as physically), and promising to cause our food prices to rise. There does not appear to be an upside to the conditions, and the longer they continue, the harder it is to imagine how this will work for good.
Fortunately, we do not have to imagine. God tells us that He causes all things to work for good for those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose. The Gospel tells us that the will of God toward us is good and for our blessing. The problem most people have with that is that the good God has in mind for us is not always the good we want right now. He is looking toward eternity and everlasting life, and we are looking for comfort and prosperity now. Those two goals often intersect and we enjoy the good things of this life, but they also frequently head in different directions, and we are left enduring that which we would not choose for ourselves, like heat and drought.
3. What God ordains is always good.
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my Physician sends me.
My God is true; Each morn anew
I'll trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.
The discomforts and troubles that God sends - or allows to come our way - all fit neatly into the plan of God. They don't change His love for us, nor do they signal a change in His attitude toward us. They simply come as part of life lived as the child of God. They are invitations to faithfulness and the confession of Christ. Good times, comforts and pleasures are also invitations to faithfulness and the confession of Christ. One invitation challenges you to look past the pain and frustrations of the flesh and continue to trust God. The other course challenges you to hold fast to your faith and walk in a manner consistent with your confession while facing the distractions of wealth, pleasures, family, and what-not. Both situations are formidable challenges!
Of course, people like to think that they can handle the abundant blessings and would far prefer to be comfortable and at ease. The history of Israel, in the Old Testament, suggests that most people don't handle great blessings well. Jesus even says that it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. There is some debate over what that image means, but it is clear that wealth and abundance tend to lead the hearts of men away from dependence on God.
4. What God ordains is always good.
He is my Friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm,
Though many storms may gather.
Now I may know Both joy and woe,
Some day I shall see clearly
That He hath loved me dearly.
God knows us. He knows what we need to be His faithful people. Also, He knows what we need to be useful to Him in the work He has planned for us to do for Him. When I read the New Testament, it always impresses me that God's favorite people are those to whom He seems to send the most trouble. How many Apostles died of natural causes, like old age? One. Remember what God said when He sent Ananias to baptize Paul? But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon Thy name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." And suffer he did.
Stephen, a deacon in the church in Jerusalem, is famous for being the first martyr - the first one to die for his confession of Christ. Given his choice, as the first stone was still en-route to his body, I would hazard a guess that Stephen would rather have not had to endure stoning. Peter was crucified up-side down, according to tradition. Paul was finally beheaded after many other trials (including being stoned once himself). Paul even makes a point of how few rich and noble and wise and mighty there were in the Church at one point. Since I believe in the love of God for us, I cannot believe that He causes His people to endure all the difficulties and hardships they endure except for cause. He knows what He is doing - and we do not, necessarily.
5. What God ordains is always good.
Though I the cup am drinking
Which savors now of bitterness,
I take it without shrinking.
For after grief God grants relief,
My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling.
Paul even took time to tell the early Christians that what God had in store for them was so good, that they were going to discover that they could have borne more as they waited if they had only known what awaited them. His actual words, translated into English (of course) were, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Paul may have had special insights into the glories to come, particularly since he seems to have been transported to the "third heaven". That is, according to the cosmology of the age in which he lived, the place were God dwells.
Although the pains of life are what they are, God may be pouring out a special blessing on us. We live, as Americans, in an unreal world. We have known wealth and comfort and such an abundance of things as the world has never previously known. Royalty of previous generations could not have enjoyed the abundance or comforts that we have seen in the last fifty years. We have a wider variety of foods available to the common man than at any time in history. We have labor saving devices. We have entertainment technology unimagined a few generations ago. We can watch the finest performances of those entertainers long-dead just as though they were still with us. We have central heat, and air conditioning - something I personally saw very little of just a decade or two ago. We can travel farther with greater ease than they could just a hundred years ago. We can get on an airplane and fly to places that were not accessible to most anyone a century ago. We possess great quantities of things, and many of us have the wealth to own more than just our single home. Nowhere else on this planet, and at no other time, have men and women been so abundantly rich and comfortable.
Perhaps God is awakening us, His people, so that we do not fall under the spell of our abundance and forget Him and turn away from His work. Heaven knows many have. Churches have forgotten Christ and salvation. The most popular preachers in our nation preach self-esteem, not repentance unto forgiveness and life! Church bodies race to approve that which God condemns. It might just be that our pains are a particular blessing for us.
6. What God ordains is always good.
This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, For with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me. Amen.
The words of the hymn were written to comfort a cantor during an illness about 340 years ago, long before our current troubles. When he recovered, the cantor wrote the music for the hymn which we still use. We still sing it because sorrows and troubles still assail us, and we still need to remember that God is truly with us, and that He has our blessing and welfare at heart. Heat and drought are nothing new. The way we perceive them is often colored by the rich abundance of blessings to which we have grown accustomed. Personal pains and the sorrows that come our way are also nothing new to this world, however sharp and new they may be to us personally. The answer of faith is still the same.
Regardless of what happens, or how it feels at the moment, our measure of the love of God for us is the cross of Jesus Christ before our eyes. His Son, suffering the nearly unimaginable, in our place and for our redemption. That is how much God loves us. Because of that one sacrifice, God has set aside our sins - forgiven them! He sets eternal life in glory beyond sickness, sorrow, heat, drought, or death before us as a gift of grace. He loves you and wants you with Him in eternity, so everything He permits in your life is for your good and blessing, or for the good and blessing of another because your salvation is already settled. He named you at your baptism, and He refreshes you at the Lord's Table with His body and blood and full forgiveness each week. Like Peter and Paul and Stephen, you are among His favorite people, so, what God ordains for you is always good!
Yours in the Lord,
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
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