In high school, I missed sixty days in one semester because of illness. Previously an ‘A’ student, I was flunking out of high school and was threatened with repeating my junior year. I was transferred to an independent study program where I graduated with a class of four other people: a teen mom, a recovering addict, someone who had an organ transplant mid-year, and a girl with leukemia. I then registered for college because I thought I was supposed to and began flunking out of college, spending finals week in the hospital. If that wasn’t enough, I dropped out of college and got a job, but lost the job when sickness interfered again. By this point in my life, I was crushed. I felt like the blackest sheep in the world. I stood out as the one person who couldn’t “get it together” and I felt like a failure. Nothing had gone according to plan.
However, God had stopped me from the trajectory I was on by showing me that I was imperfect and human. I had thought I was self-sufficient and felt that I didn’t need God’s guidance or strength to get my goals accomplished. I had wandered away from the relationship I needed to have with my Savior. After everything came apart at the seams, God made it infinitely clear that I needed him in all aspects of my life and that I needed to rely on his plans in order to have the life he wanted for me. God leads us to grow in many ways, and he works to strengthen us as Christians, giving us the gift of a closer relationship with him. Now I realize that very few people get the chance to reconstruct their lives this way. I was putting my life back on track and completely starting over, so that this new way of life I was given better aligned with God’s plan.
Now, I’ve graduated from Biola University and feel more equipped to serve Christ and participate in God’s work in the world. I have Christian friends and mentors to help continually steer me in the right direction. I had to seek out these new people in my life and ask them to give me the cold hard truth when I am not doing what I need to. Most importantly, I understand the necessity of having God as the driving force in my life. Every derailment that I experienced was a way for God to reach out to me and set me on the right path again. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (ESV). This trust is not something that happens naturally for me. I have to be reminded that his plans are best for me. The more I rely on God for these decisions, the more I realize there is so much I don’t know and God can guide me much better than I ever could.
In establishing God’s will for our lives, we must abide in him. Abiding in him is not simply resting while he does the work, as I previously thought; instead, abiding in him is acting according to his will and actively trying to know him. Reading his word and communicating with him are the first steps to reaching for that active relationship with him. When we strive to have a personal relationship with God, our priorities will align with his and we will be better prepared to discern what he wants for our lives. John 15:1-27 illustrates this through the metaphor of a vine, saying:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does not bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing… (ESV).
Everything God directs us to do is leading toward that promise of love and family for all eternity.
The metaphor shows us that productivity and usefulness are found in our role as part of the body of Christ. We “bear fruit” from our labor in a way that is not possible when we are apart from God. This is because we are no longer working towards our own goals, but rather towards God’s plan, which is always good. Romans 8:28 reminds us that “…for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV). His purpose is to bring us into a relationship with him so that we can share eternity with him as his children. In this, we have the ultimate good that God intends for us. Therefore, everything he directs us to do is leading toward that promise of love and family for all eternity.
However, in the immediate situation, do we realize God’s intentions are good as he guides us through life? I don’t. I cling to what I imagined my life would be and I work to accomplish it at all costs. Letting go takes practice.
Even as I applied for colleges, I went in the opposite direction of where God wanted me to go. God closed the doors to the other colleges so I would rely on his guidance. I was heartbroken when I learned that I hadn’t gotten into my top choice and devastated when I realized that my second choice wouldn’t work out either. God put me at Biola so that I could develop as a person, not just get a degree. He pushed me out of my comfort zone and out of my own desires so that he could show me something better. His path for me included lifelong friends, professors who cared about me, and ministries that let me use my talents for the glory of God. I was disappointed for a long time that I couldn’t have my way, but God brought so many good things out of that disappointment of not being able to go to a particular school. The path I had chosen for myself paled in comparison to what God accomplished. My path simply didn’t lead to the bounty that God had planned for me.
Derailments and change are a part of life. We cannot avoid them. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4, ESV). Life has seasons that we cannot avoid. When decisions need to be made, we must look to God to provide the path that we should take. He will provide an answer, even if it is not the answer that we wanted.
The reward for abiding in Christ and relying on God for directing our paths is peace. In Psalm 37, the psalmist tells the reader to trust in the Lord and do good by committing ourselves to the Lord. We are not to worry, but instead to wait on the Lord and to hope in him. The psalmist goes on to say that “the Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (Psalm 37:23-24). The Lord will provide us with the comfort of having him to rely on. In this psalm the word peace comes from the Hebrew word “shalom.” Although the literal translation is peace, the word also encompasses ultimate fulfillment that can be found in the Lord. If we align ourselves with God through a personal and deep relationship, we will find the peace and calm that will help us to make future decisions, even when things are not going according to our plans.
Abiding in Christ is acting according to his will and actively trying to know him.
So even when life tosses surprises and disappointments at us, we can be confident that God is guiding us because his plan is so much better for us than our own. God is strengthening his relationship with each and every one of us by guiding our lives. In giving up control of our own lives, we are gaining a peace and fulfillment by knowing that we are achieving God’s purposes and that we are doing the absolute best things we could be doing. It’s difficult to give up this control and to give up the path we thought we would be on, but God’s plan for us is so much better. Rely on his infinite wisdom and embrace the changes he brings to our lives.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV).