I can still taste the first time God allowed me to be grateful in my total brokenness. Trust me, it was messy. I had determined that I couldn’t do the things my legalistic-leaning church told me to do; so I decided to just have fun. I tried it all–more than once. Some things even worked for a while. I was on a relentless pursuit of pleasure (as James 4 speaks of), and I actually found a few things that gave me fleeting moments, even seasons, of happiness. All of the war stories I heard at various revivals came from men who I perceived to have lived a life of debauchery. In my mind, the Lord miraculously transformed these men and made their lives smooth sailing after trusting in Him. Oh, how I longed for God to intervene in my life and change me in the same way.
God did intervene, but all my problems did not melt away. Actually, they intensified. God graciously taught me that His plan was different than mine. The counterintuitive process of learning how to live as a Christian was so different than I understood; but, learning His truth was a painful process. Oh, but it’s a gloriously good process, and I continue to battle. And, counter to the false interpretations I so desperately held, He reminded me that His story is nevertheless true. He would call me to be dependent on Him, not self-reliant. Patient, not demanding. Humble, not proud. Boastful, but only in my weakness. God didn’t simply fix the problems in my life or exalt me for the accomplishments in this life; rather, He reoriented my reason for existence in the first place. So, long before I began meeting with anyone in a counseling capacity, God brought me to my knees and taught me more about his counterintuitive plan of redemption.
contrary to intuition or to common sense expectation (but often nevertheless true)
Would I have ever written the story of my life this way? On my own, would I have thought to consider my very best offerings to God as filthy rags? No, I would be worshipping the Lord during utopic Christmas seasons, singing Kum Ba Yah, with all my children getting along and serving one another. But the more I grow in grace, I have realized two things: (1) His ways are not my ways; and, (2) Growing as a Christian means that you see more of your sin, not less.
But wait, isn’t that counterintuitive? Of course it is! If we want to know when God is moving in His people, we should expect it to look nothing like we typically imagine. The more I study God’s Word, the more I am reminded that God chooses to show love to His people in ways that I would never choose. The God of creation chose His only begotten Son to be nailed to a tree for you and me. Can you believe that? I have a son and there‘s no way he’s getting nailed to a tree for anyone’s sin if I have anything to say about it. Could anything surprise us more than God ordaining the violent execution of His Son to culminate redemptive history?
Let’s consider a few more stories that go in a completely different direction than we would typically expect. Consider Abraham at the ripe old age of 100. God said that he would be the father of many nations, and Sarah would bear him a child after breaking through the century mark. Would you believe God if you were Abraham? Well, Abraham didn’t either! He and Sarah decided to take matters into their own hands and have a baby by Sarah’s female servant. Or, how about God choosing Moses – a man who stammers and stutters when speaking – as the deliverer of His people? Or why does He select the runt of the litter to kill the mighty giant Goliath? Or tell a man to build a boat greater than four football fields to survive a worldwide flood when rain had yet to fall on the earth? Or elect to have Joseph, a Jew, sold into slavery by his own brothers to basically run Egypt in the end? These radically shocking stories are woven throughout Scripture.
Have you ever thought God’s plan seemed shocking? Well, our forefathers in early redemptive history were bewildered just like us. God clearly chooses to work in people we would never expect – and in ways that we would not choose and probably do not like (at least initially). He works against the grain, and in our weakness. The Apostle Paul understood this reality. In II Corinthians 12, he repeatedly describes his fierce battle with a thorn in his flesh. Paul doesn’t like his weakness; in fact, he begs God to remove it three times. However, Paul explains, “But each time God reminded me that His grace is sufficient. His power works best in my weakness. Therefore, I learned to take pleasure in weakness, and in persecution, and in troubles and hardships.” Are you able to be thankful for weakness? What does this look like in real life?
The more I meet with people, the more I witness celebration in weakness! Rejoicing in the most difficult circumstances: addictions, relational conflict, unresolved family issues, various types of pain, unmet expectations, depression, anxiety, anger, and much more. This does not mean that we enjoy these things, and it definitely doesn’t diminish the reality of unspeakable pain and suffering. Further, there are many complex layers that we unpack together wisely, carefully, thoughtfully and slowly over time. We can learn to think redemptively about how these difficult realities are being used to point us to the one and only Savior. In doing so, we pray for wisdom to understand why a sovereign God allows us to suffer in a fallen world. It’s hard work learning to be thankful for hard things. But as we grow in faith, we are not surprised to see more of our sin; rather, we are shocked to taste more of His grace.