Saturday, May 15, 2010

It’s a Wonderful Life?

Some Christians don’t like it when they hear other believers witnessing to sinners by saying, “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” (Personally I prefer to use the term “awesome.”) Recently I saw a video produced by an evangelistic ministry that questioned how one could tell somebody who would later perish in a terrorist attack that God has a wonderful plan for his life.

First, God is not looking to shorten people’s lives. Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” I’ve heard numerous testimonies of people who escaped tragedies like 9/11 because they listened to the leading of the Lord.

Opponents of the “good plan” doctrine will cite examples of Christians who have been imprisoned, tortured, or killed for their faith. It’s true that 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Forerunners like the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther certainly experienced a lot of that. Except for John, all of the original apostles were martyred.

Still. that doesn’t negate the fact that God wants us to have blessed lives here on earth. Jesus points out in Mark 10:29-30 that persecution comes alongside the blessings he wants to give us…

“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Regardless of the present state of the world, a person totally submitted to the Lord can literally have “heaven on earth.” Other Scriptures promising a good plan from God include…

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” - Jeremiah 29:11

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” - Ephesians 3:20

“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’” - 1 Corinthians 2:9

Verse 12 from this same chapter says, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” The New Living Translation of this verse reads, “And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.”

Here’s a question for the “wonderful plan” critics out there; you wouldn’t like it if you saw one of your kids suffer or being persecuted? Why would our heavenly father be any different? Jesus takes it personally when one of the brethren is persecuted (see Matthew 25:40 and Acts 9:4-5).

God does allow challenging situations to occur in our lives so that we might grow in faith and mature in Christian character. Back in October 1996, the Lord led me to move from Minnesota to Toronto, Canada. I left the Midwest with $120 and had no idea where I was going to live. After staying in a hostel for four nights, I found myself one day out of money and my gas tank low on fuel. Rather than panicking, I sat in my car and meditated on James 1:2-4…

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."

Later that day someone offered to buy me dinner and also gave me some money. Eventually I found a place to live.

In 2001, I briefly lived in Pensacola, Florida with a professing Christian who had many personal issues. A few times the devil used this man to make harassing comments at me. I responded by singing songs about the blood of Jesus and the man left me alone. One night I politely asked my roommate to turn down the TV since I was trying to sleep. He suddenly got angry and ordered me to move out of his house. Not having a car, I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, a mutual friend of ours showed up at the door. The Lord had directed this woman to drive to the man’s house. She was able to calm him down but he still insisted I find another place to live. So this woman drove me to a friend of hers who agreed to let me temporary stay at his house until I returned to Virginia. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

Is it necessary to tell someone you’re ministering to about suffering for the faith? Perhaps that would be advisable if one were in a nation where preaching the gospel is illegal. On the other hand, there are many people in so-called Christian nations who have suffered enough through drug addictions, health issues, and financial problems. They need to hear about a God that wants to deliver them from their bondages so they can live a long victorious life here on earth. Look at Psalm 91:14-16…

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation.”

This is not meant to criticize Christian martyrs. There is a special reward available for individuals who lay down their lives for the gospel’s sake. Revelation 2:10 says, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” But if you know your authority in Christ Jesus, God can deliver you from even the most impossible situations. The Apostle Paul overcame various calamities until he declared in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Despite whatever tests and trials that may come up, God has a good (and wonderful) plan for whoever submits their entire lives to Him. But remember: it’s His plan, not ours.

“‘If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword’; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” - Isaiah 1:19-20

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