Dealing With Change In the Light of the One Who Doesn’t
“The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
Change is difficult. For those who are excited by it and for those who are terrified of it. There is always a part of change, even good change, that is painful. It’s different. Even if a change is for the better, many still resist or avoid it. The fear of the unknown keeps them entrenched in the known. And change is always more difficult when it is not our choice. A change in health, the loss of a relationship through death or divorce. But life is change. And how we react to change; easy or hard, chosen or imposed, will either glorify and honor God or it won’t. The change itself may not be our choice, but our reaction to it is always our choice.
I am a planner, all about my daily “To-Do” list; all about taking care of the items on that list and checking them off. I relish the feeling of accomplishment that accompanies the checkmark. But nearly every day, life breaks in and changes my plans. Most days it’s just a small hiccup or two, easy to deal with and get back to my schedule. Other times the changes are bigger, and I spend the day taking care of them ending the day without making even one of those satisfying checkmarks. Then, as in everyone’s life, there come those times when a major life-altering change happens. The pattern of my reactions is consistent. Small change? No problem. Bigger change? Sure, I can do that (with varying degrees of irritation). Life altering? Forget it! The larger the change, the more I fight it and the less apt I am to accept that just because I establish my plans I am not guaranteed that they will come to pass. In other words, I feel entitled to be upset that the God of the universe has dared to interrupt my agenda.
As our church is potentially facing a huge change, God has been graciously walking me, a person who intensely avoids change, through my fears, anger, and sorrow. And throughout this walk, he has gently been helping me to see what a gospel-driven response to changed plans looks like.
A gospel-driven response to change means letting go of my agenda and trusting Jesus.
Paul was no stranger to disrupted plans and unforeseen troubles. In a letter to the church at Thessalonica he wrote about how his desire to re-visit them was hindered by Satan. How did Paul respond to the change? “Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith.” (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2) No matter how strong his desire was to be with the church, it was clear that, for him, the journey was not going to happen. Instead of stomping his feet and complaining, Paul submits to the change in plans by being willing to be left behind. His response to changing plans reveals his trust in the purposeful rule of Christ over all circumstances.
A gospel-driven response to change means willingness to create an alternate plan in accordance with God’s will, trusting in Christ’s power to overcome all odds.
When plans don’t unfold your way, is the inclination of your heart to submit to God’s plan? Or do you resist, complain and take matters into your own hands? Paul didn’t. Earlier in his travels, Paul had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go into Asia to speak the word (Acts16:6), so he faithfully went where he was led. But because he knew that it was God’s will for the churches to be nurtured, and because it was Satan who was hindering him from returning to Thessalonica, he went with Plan B. He sent Timothy instead. He acted in faith in accordance with God’s will by sending Timothy to follow up with the church.
A gospel-driven response to change means being thankful and prayerful in every circumstance.
Timothy was sent to exhort and establish the faith of the church and ensure that their faith was not being shaken by persecution. And Paul was rewarded with Timothy’s report:
“But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you—for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?” (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10)
The Lord used this change of plans to comfort Paul and to fill him with thanksgiving. The faith of the Thessalonians was thriving, despite Paul’s absence and the persecution occurring. Only God could produce such faith and do so for Paul’s good.
The work of Christ behind the scenes in our lives may be unknown to us for now. But becoming a disciple of Jesus requires a change in plans. Jesus himself told us that, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Denying myself means relinquishing the desire to insist on my way as I daily surrender my life to Jesus. I may never completely lose my fear of change this side of heaven. But instead of reacting with fear, I can choose to react in a gospel-driven way, knowing that that Author of change is the God who promises that he never changes (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8). The pain of change is very real, but God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9) to bring us through the pain and to fulfill his purposes and prosper us for his glory and for our good.