Sovereignty and Submission
God has a wonderful plan for your life!
We love to hear these words, to believe in a kind, loving God who has everything under control and is working all things for our good. These things are true and they are biblical, but what happens when our lives don’t go the way we want them to, when we experience suffering and heartbreak and difficulty? If our understanding of God’s sovereignty is limited, we will struggle with trusting God when our plans go awry.
The first time I truly understood the importance of trusting God’s sovereignty was when I was a sophomore in high school. I knew my Dad had been struggling with chest pains for some time, but didn’t realize how dire his situation was until his doctor told him he had to have open heart surgery. Right away. Four of the arteries leading to his heart were blocked by 90% or more. The fifth was 75% blocked.
The next few days were a whirlwind. We watched videos explaining heart surgery and stood by my Dad’s side as he prepared to face his biggest fear. For a decade, he had tried to ignore the pain and the shortness of breath that had increased steadily over that period of time in hopes that he could avoid surgery. But he was now facing the inevitable and while he had known on some level this was coming, my Mom and sisters and I were surprised and in disbelief. My Dad was my hero. I admired the man he was and I loved him fiercely. All of a sudden, I was faced with the possibility of losing the man who was my biggest supporter, the one who understood me better than anyone, and one of my best friends. It hit me in the hospital, while he was in surgery that I didn’t know what I would do if he didn’t survive the surgery.
From my earliest memories, my Dad had been a strong example of trusting in God, of leaning on Him through prayer and of knowing His character through the study of His Word. So my first instinct when confronted with the possibility of losing my father was to pray. There is something profound that happens when we pray with submission to God’s sovereignty. When we are willing to say, “Not my will, but yours be done!”, there is a peace that passes understanding that floods over us. I experienced this peace in the hospital lobby all those years ago. I didn’t hear God speak audibly, but I knew in my spirit that if God chose to take my Daddy to his heavenly home, God would still be enough for me.
God chose to spare my Dad’s life at that time and we were granted the gift of having him officiate our weddings and by God’s grace, he met all of his grandchildren (he died a few months after my youngest was born). But the lesson I learned, the necessity of submitting to God’s sovereignty in order to truly see his sweetness, has continued to impact my life in powerful ways.
When I chose to stick to my commitment of attending Moody Bible Institute instead of following my heart, God blessed in ways I never could have imagined.
When my fiance was rejected from being a resident assistant, my disappointment quickly turned to awe as God blessed my future husband with a part-time youth pastor position that would set the course of our ministry lives.
When I lost my first baby to a miscarriage, my heart was broken, but my faith never wavered and I have been able to comfort others with the same comfort that God has demonstrated to me.
When we faced hardship and rejection in ministry, we knew we could trust God’s plan even when it seemed so unfair, not knowing that God would use every one of our hurts to allow us to love others in God’s strength, not our own.
When my sweet Daddy would start to gradually forget everything and all we could do was love him through the slow losing of him, God had graciously prepared my heart, so that I knew, that I knew, that I knew that when God took his faithful servant home, it truly would be well with my soul.
God DOES have a plan for your life. And it IS good. But it’s not going to be according to your terms. There will be difficulty. There will be suffering. There will be hardship. But in the midst of it all, He will be with you, He will carry you, and He will be your strength. When you trust Him, you will still experience devastation, but there will always be hope. Hope in knowing that God is enough. Hope in knowing that this life is not all that there is. Hope in knowing that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Hope in knowing that God’s justice will prevail. Hope in knowing that His goodness will be evident in our lives.
We tend to shy away from submission in general, but what I have found is that submitting our plans and our perceived control is actually one of the most freeing things we can do. When we hold tightly to how we think things should be, we will be angry when it doesn’t go our way. We will fight circumstances that were never meant to be ours to control. We will feel the need to manipulate people who get in our way or situations that we can’t bear. But when we understand that we need to hold our plans loosely knowing that the good plans of our Heavenly Father are held securely in His hands, we are able to experience peace (that doesn’t make sense!) and joy (when humanly speaking we should be falling apart!) and hope (because we know that this life is not the end of our story!).
I like to think of our lives as a giant labyrinth. There is an overarching plan and God has written that plan into our lives. But our experience of that plan is dependent on our choices. At each stage in our lives, we are met with choices. We might make the “wrong” choice and end up in a dead end. Or we might go the “right” way and experience the joy and blessing of those choices. If we are depending on ourselves to make it through life, our tendency will be to say we trust God when all is going well, but to be angry at God when things seem to be falling apart. But when we understand that God is the one who built the labyrinth and He is above it, seeing where we should go at all times, then we can trust His sovereignty and submit to His leading. This doesn’t mean that we won’t face dead ends and have to turn around (pain, hardship, difficulty). But it does mean that in those difficulties, we know that His plan has not failed, that He will use even our heartaches for our good and His glory.
I can look back on my life and see how God has faithfully led me. My Dad’s open heart surgery was not about me, yet God used that experience to be a pivotal moment in my life. Ultimately, God did take my Daddy home before I would have wanted Him to, but my experience of losing my Daddy was so different than it could have been. I was able to submit to God’s plan for my Daddy to go through dementia, to move from his beloved Pennsylvania, to spend his last year on this earth in a nursing a home and through it all to love the Lord completely and wholeheartedly. Oh, how I saw God’s goodness and faithfulness through it all, but if I had demanded that God not allow anything bad to happen, my experience of all of it would have been exponentially more difficult.
I had learned a valuable lesson.
Submitting to God’s Sovereignty allows us to experience His sweetness!