One of the certain things about life is that life is full of uncertainty. Happily, as Christians, we do not navigate the uncertainty of life alone. We place our hope in an imminent and loving God who is reconciling the world through his son. The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is a testimony to our future hope and the present reality we enjoy with God. We are comforted by the words of Jesus when we says, “…if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you…” (Luke 12:28).
Yet life is still full of bewildering circumstances that leave us questioning which decision best pleases God. A list of examples would be too numerous to count but consider just one example like the issue of infertility. Imagine all the questions, feelings of ambiguous loss, and uncertainty that would come up for you as a Christian. How does one navigate all that as a person who desires to honor God with their life? Unfortunately, for many people, this example hits too close to home. As a member of the body of Christ, and as a minister, I have experienced so many of these questions, either vicariously through brothers and sisters in Christ, or through personal trials. When you are unsure what God wants you to do, what do you do?
In my own walk with God, there are four foundational things that have helped me to navigate uncertainty. They are Prayer, Transformation, Good Intent, and Desire. I am going to briefly explain them, but please be aware, these are not instructions, they are beliefs, rooted in faithfulness to a loving God. Instruction manuals are “great” for setting up your universal remote or assembling furniture but not so good when it comes to living your life. Sometimes scripture is regarded as an instruction manual. For example, someone might say, “just do what the bible says.” It is fair to say, scripture is full of things about God and about life, but its not an instruction manual. Scripture is useful for navigating life because it is a sacred and relational space a person enters with God. Scripture helps us to live more human lives as it helps us engage in a relationship with God. These four foundational things rose from the pages of the Bible, but they also came from God’s engagement with me, and my faithfulness to God. So, what can I say about prayer, transformation, good intent, and desire?
Let us look at Prayer first. While the word prayer conjures up times in my life when I asked God for guidance and for answers, I have a more specific way of thinking about it here. Prayer is a space I allow God to come near to me in my vulnerability. Remember Jonah’s prayer after he was cast into the sea. In his prayer it reads, “As my life was slipping away, I remembered the LORD. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple” (Jonah 2:7). There is much more going on in this text than space allows here but see Jonah’s vulnerability. Crushed by the seas of chaos and death, and as far from God as one can get, he looks to the Temple. Jonah is ungirding his defenses and calling out to the presence of God. It is there, at the gates of death, God finds him and carries Jonah to safety. If ever I am going to navigate the uncertainty of my life, with all the chaos and anxiety that may come, it is going happen when I let God into my uncertainty. So, prayer plays a role in navigating uncertainty, not because God gives us clear and explicit instruction through prayer but because we are inviting God into our uncertainty and as Jonah reminds us, God is our deliverer.
Transformation comes next. This one is perhaps a little more difficult to see how it fits here without explanation. I ran into a situation about a month ago where a young woman tried to stop my wife and I as we were driving home. She approached the car in obvious distress. I don’t think its necessary, or appropriate to share her story here, but she was an individual who needed some help. What do you think I should have done in that moment? What was the right thing to do? We chose to stop and to speak to her. She was looking for a ride to get to somewhere where a family member could pick her up. Should Rachel and I have given her a ride? We gave her a ride. We drove her to a plaza near a liquor store, gave her some money and gave her my business card with the church number on it. Did we make the right decision? Should we have done more? Here is what I believe, regardless of how you would have handled this same situation, every Christian is being worked on through the Spirit for just these kinds of moments. God is transforming you so you might walk faithfully through uncertainty. Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth expresses as much when writes, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18ff). Yet it has taken me a long time to accept that God is working in me and preparing me to trust my faith in Him. I think the reason for this is that it was never part of my catechesis. Faced with uncertainty as a young Christian, my only recourse was to look for an explicit command or to do nothing. Often it was debilitating inaction that dominated my choices, which is not a characteristic I would attribute to friends of God. Paul’s life was full of uncertainty, but he comes to realize that the Spirit of God is making him, and us, like Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18b). As David Garland puts it, “God’s Spirit empowers us to do what we want to do and makes what we want to do to be what is right so that Christlikeness flows from us naturally.”1 As we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, we deal with uncertainty by having confidence in the new life we have been given.
This next one is Good Intent; it is the belief that God intends good for me no matter the circumstance. This is best illustrated in the life of Joseph. The narrator of Genesis expertly lays Joseph’s story out to show that while Joseph falls victim to the evil intentions of his brothers, God is working for his good. The entire story describes God as invested in the welfare of his people. It’s this reason that Joseph refuses to take revenge on his brothers, and instead says to them, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:19-20). The realization that God intends good for me gives me the courage to live faithfully. Despite the uncertainty of life and any encroaching evil, God is working for my good and yours. Isn’t Jesus’ resurrection a confirmation of this belief? It is in Jesus we see that God overcomes evil, sin, and death, and is reconciling the world to himself.
Last is Desire, or more specifically, the belief that God is pleased by my desire to please God. As Paul writes to the church in Philippi, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13). Thomas Merton expresses this beautifully in a prayer recorded in the book, Thought in Solitude. Merton prays, “and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.” In periods of uncertainty I hold onto this belief that God is pleased by my choice to honor God with every decision. It helps me to move from indecision, to faithful action. Chances are likely, not everything I do will work out the way, I expect. Even in those moments, I believe that God is pleased, and that His unseen hand will lead me and put me back on the way I should go. Life becomes a playful engagement with God, despite the harsh realities of life’s experiences.
I have brought these things together because they really have helped me to live a deeper and fuller life with God. It is my hope that by sharing these four foundational beliefs others might see their value, and perhaps, walk through uncertainty a little more easily. Like any belief, adopting them too practice. Over the last five years I have tried to let these beliefs shape my imagination as I move through life. If I believe God is transforming me, then I must learn to trust His handiwork. If I see uncertain and difficult times ahead, I trust that God intends good for me. In my efforts to please God, I hope in the immeasurable love of God, that he is pleased. I pray, Lord, be with me, and carry me out of the depths of the seas, and in the arms of God.
May you walk with the Spirit of God.
1 Garland, David E.. 2 Corinthians: 29 (The New American Commentary) (Kindle Locations 4368-4370). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.