Read Matthew 26:36-46 NIV
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:39 NIV
I don’t love to talk about providence. The idea that God guides certain events in our lives and wills them into being is all well and good when the events are well and good, but when bad things happen—things that seem out of alignment with the goodness of God and God’s desire for wholeness, peace, and love—those bad things seem to break down the whole providential plan thing.
But there are those times when everything in your life seems to align. God seems to be making a way for events to unfold. You pray your way through a big decision and the doors open, huge, miraculous, mahogany doors swing wide open, and someone somewhere shouts, “THIS IS THE WAY, WALK IN IT.” Providence. God’s will.
And then God’s plan stinks. Just what God said would happen does, but it’s hard. People are difficult. It isn’t what you thought it would be. The reality of your newly God ordained existence doesn’t live up to your expectations.
Did you miss a sign? Was that peace that passeth all understanding just a mellow afternoon in the right kind of sunlight? Do you need to do a better job interpreting your gut reactions?
Jesus walked into the Garden of Gethsemane praying hard against what he knew he had to face. No one said it would be easy, least of all God the Father.
Like Moses before him, Jesus protested, please, don’t make me do it. When Moses finally obeyed and walked into Pharaoh’s court, nothing went the way he hoped. It was hard. Really hard. And when Jesus prayed three times only to be met with silence, he got up off his knees in Gethsemane to meet the soldiers by his sleeping disciples. We know what happened next.
It was hard. Really hard.
Sometimes God’s plan stinks. This is uncomfortable! I hate this! Why did you call me into this?! Our temporary frustrations and unmet expectations feel like a reversal of the peace God promised.
And yet God is at work, pruning dead branches, whittling down rough edges, sharpening iron against iron, taking apocalyptic steps to reveal the deeper truths of ourselves and shine light into darkness. All of those processes are painful and in essence not fun. But sometimes God’s stinky plan is bigger than my immediate comfort. Sometimes God’s plan for you is to benefit someone else, a sacrificial plan that contradicts every self-serving move you’ve made in your life.
Sometimes God’s peace is smack dab in the middle of my human suffering, suffering that will spin itself into perseverance, perseverance stumbling into character, and character tumbling over itself into hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because not even the darkest night could keep down the Light of the world.
Sometimes, what God really wants is for us to hold our noses, step into his stinky plan, and dig into the hard work he’s called us into. It might stink, and it might not even be for us, but out of that rotten fertilizer, amazing things grow. And that growth, that life, that light? That’s God’s providential hand, guiding all things—including us—ultimately to wholeness, restoration, and healing.
Points of Reflection
- Have you ever felt certain God called you into something? How did you know? Did it turn out the way you expected?
- How has God worked in unexpected ways during times of suffering and discomfort in your life?
For the Kids
- Why do you think Jesus asked his Father to take away his “cup” (the suffering of the cross) three times?
- Is it okay to ask God not to do something?
Pause to evaluate where you are in your life right now. What is happening in your life that feels hard, but good? How might the “good” suffering you are enduring in this moment be working to shape you closer to Christlikeness? Is there suffering happening around you that is hard and bad? How might you be able to step in and take action to ease someone else’s suffering, to make good trouble and make a difference through God’s love?
ReadingsKate Bowler is the author of Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. When Kate is faced with a stage IV colon cancer diagnosis and her own mortality, it forces her to reckon with the “can do” mentality of her spiritual life. “Kate is very sick, and no amount of positive thinking will shrink her tumors. What does it mean to die, she wonders, in a society that insists everything happens for a reason? Kate is stripped of this certainty only to discover that without it, life is hard but beautiful in a way it never has been before.” Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved digs at some deeply held roots in our spiritual lives. It’s worth getting that dirt under your fingernails.