|THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD|
"Be still my soul – the waves and winds still know, His voice who ruled them when He dwelt below."
"…with God all things are possible.’" Matthew 19:26 (NKJV)
The word sovereign is used in relation to kings, because in bygone eras, many kings ruled with complete authority. They were not under the law, they were the law, and they put to death whom they pleased and promoted whom they pleased. The dictionary defines sovereign as, "one that exercises supreme, permanent authority".
God is sovereign. He is omnipresent, meaning He is everywhere at the same time, for we read:
"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there." Psalm 139:7-8 (NKJV)
He is omniscient, meaning He knows everything, past, present and future, for we read:
"…Lord, You know all things…"John 21:17 (NKJV)
And He is absolutely omnipotent, meaning all-powerful, for we read:
"…‘Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!" Revelation 19:6 (NKJV)
"Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?" Jeremiah 32:27 (NKJV)
Perhaps as we read this we think it is quite basic. Do not most Christians know this? The answer is yes, but with spiritual matters mental knowledge alone generally does not motivate us in our daily lives. It takes a revelation by the Holy Spirit to open our understanding. The truth is that most of us reveal by our actions that we lack a deep awareness of God’s sovereignty. We look and act and react to life much as the world does, because we fail to comprehend the profoundness of God’s absolute control.
If we lack this understanding, however, it may be for several good reasons. In the material realm, things occur which bewilder us. Moreover, we hear cries from worldly people excoriating God because some terrible event happened and He did not stop it. Many Jews still say that if God exists, how could He have allowed the Holocaust? A man loses his wife to cancer and blames God. A woman births a retarded child and considers herself cursed. Someone’s son is killed in an automobile accident and anger at God is kindled. And on and on it goes.
We even have some Bible teachers proclaiming that God can do nothing unless He uses us as His instruments. And there is a little poem one sometimes hears in which God says He has no hands or feet, so we must be them for Him. Is this true? Is God reliant on us to do His work, and is He unable to act without us?
God’s Working in the Old Testament
If God is unable to work without men helping Him, we should be able to determine this from the Scriptures. If men are His hands and feet, and He is disenfranchised without them, surely this will be revealed in the Biblical record. Let us then consider the reaction of God to the predicament that Hezekiah, King of Judah found himself in, which is recorded in Second Kings.
Assyria was the ruling empire of the world at that time, and they had already extorted tribute from Judah. But soon even the money they received did not placate them, and they decided to take Judah captive. The Assyrians had conquered every nation they had come against up to that point, and a battle between them and Judah might be compared to a military contest between the United States and Scotland. Everyone knew who would win if a battle ensued. Consequently, their emissary went to Judah to intimidate the Jews and threaten them so that they would surrender without a battle – and their threats were not hollow. Here is some of what the emissary said:
"Thus says the king: `Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he shall not be able to deliver you from his hand; 30`nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, "The Lord will surely deliver us; this city shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria." 32…But do not listen to Hezekiah, lest he persuade you, saying, "The Lord will deliver us." 33 `Has any of the gods of the nations at all delivered its land from the hand of the king of Assyria?…35 `Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their countries from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?' " 2Kings 18:29 (NKJV)
Hezekiah had previously stripped the gold from the temple doors and sent them to the Assyrians, and now they are at the gates of the city, making serious threats. Imagine being there, with the largest army in the world gathering outside the walls, ready to attack. And this army was known to be the cruelest in the world. They celebrated their victories by torturing the people they captured, and memorialized it with paintings and carved drawings that have been found in caves by archeologists. Any Jew in Israel would have been trembling at the prospect of them storming the city – and Hezekiah was fearful also. However, instead of trying to placate the Assyrians as he had in the past, this time he took the threatening letter they sent him into the temple and laid it down before the Lord and prayed:
"Truly, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands--wood and stone. Therefore they destroyed them. Now therefore, O Lord our God, I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God, You alone."2Kings 19:17-19 (NKJV)
What happened then? Did God say that He could not act because there was no man to help Him? Did He say that the world was out of control, and beyond His influence, because it was so evil? Did He say that this time there were just too many enemy soldiers, and He could not handle it? Or did he chastise Hezekiah for paying off the Assyrians in the past, and tell him the effrontery of ripping the gold from the sacred temple disqualified him from divine intervention?
No, instead God gave the prophet Isaiah a prophecy that the Assyrians would not even come into the city, and that there would be total victory for Judah. Let us read what happened after that:
"And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses--all dead." 2Kings 19:35 (NKJV)
Hallelujah! He can do anything. No matter how great the problem is, He is greater. Here we read of how God, not even using a man, destroyed a whole army with only one angel. Imagine the greatness of the power in the heavenlies, if one angel can destroy one hundred and eighty-five thousand humans. And yet, there is no question that God could have done it without even batting an eye if He wished to, because He is sovereign!
Deliverance in the New Testament
The biblical record is replete with miracles under the New Covenant also. Peter experienced God’s divine intervention while he was imprisoned for preaching.
"And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, ‘Arise quickly!’ And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, ‘Gird yourself and tie on your sandals’; and so he did. And he said to him, ‘Put on your garment and follow me.’ So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him." Acts 12:6-10 (NKJV)
Nevertheless, some teach that signs and wonders stopped after the Book of Acts, for they were only sign gifts, and nothing like them could ever happen again. This cannot be true, because we read in Malachi 3:6 "For I am the Lord, I do not change…" Also, nothing has changed since the Book of Acts, for we know that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Hebrews 13:8 (NKJV). Moreover, we read of great signs and wonders that will be prevalent in the last days in the Book of Revelation. How then can we presume that at some point they ended and then will start again, especially since the Bible says nothing like this? Moreover, shall we presumptuously say that He will not do the same things He did when the apostles walked the earth? Shall we not rather with fear and trembling declare that God can and will do anything He wishes to do, and we have no idea what He might do tomorrow? Is this not also part of the fascination of living for Christ – that He can do anything and might surprise us with a miracle when we least expect it?
His Ways Are Higher
We also see that He has in an inscrutable way allowed us to play a major role in some of His workings on earth, for we know that prayer and faith bring more of His power into the world. In fact, in the examples of Hezekiah and Peter, prayer preceded His intervention. Nevertheless, if He has decided to work in conjunction with us exercising our free will to serve Him, and if His power in the world is enhanced when we obey and have faith in Him, we still cannot suppose that He must involve us. Rather, we only can deduce that He has condescended to involve us, and made our participation exceedingly important. And if there are any boundaries God has self-imposed regarding His working with men, they are beyond our concise understanding, for we read:
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9" (NKJV)
Let us consider the woman from Canaan who came to Jesus in Matthew 15:22-28 and asked Him to heal her daughter, even though she was not a Jew. When Jesus demurred, by saying it was not right to throw the children’s food to the little dogs, meaning Israel’s portion to the Gentiles, she replied by saying, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children's crumbs." Jesus then answered, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. It appears that because of this woman’s persistence and faith her daughter was healed. But the fact that her faith was a spiritual stimulus does not mean that Christ’s divine ability was limited by it. Likewise, when Jesus performed only a few miracles because the people in His hometown lacked faith, the limitation of His working was due to God’s choosing. In other words, God’s only limits are the ones He sets for Himself, if He does set any, and man is not privy to this knowledge. We only know with certainty that He is omnipotent, and that more is accomplished on earth when we believe and obey, because He has ordained it to be so.
Rejoice in Knowing that His Power is Unlimited
What joy there is in meditating on the fact that God can do anything! What peace we have through knowing that He is in control – that nothing that happens to us is beyond Him. What confidence it gives us to be assured that we will not be tested beyond what we can endure (1st. Corinthians 10:13). What faith we can exercise, knowing that no matter what the trial or test is, He is controlling it and if we do not give up there will always be victory. In Proverbs 12:21 we read, "No grave trouble will overtake the righteous…". This does not mean that we will not have grave trouble – it could happen to any of us. But it does mean that it will not overtake us! Nothing has that power. God is in firm control of our lives.
True, today we may not be able to pass a certain trial, but when the time comes He will give us the grace to go through it with victory. Corrie Ten Boom’s father gave her an analogy that reminded her of this when she faced imprisonment in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. When she was a little girl he said that she would not get her ticket until just before she boarded the train. Years later when she was hiding the Jews, she had a vision of her family being taken captive by the Nazis. She knew she could not deal with such a trial at that moment, but she also remembered that she would "get the ticket" just before she needed it. Shall we then worry when storm clouds gather upon our world? No matter how difficult or unpleasant it may seem to others, we know that with our particular trial supernatural ability has been given to us to endure and gain from it. Moreover, if we persist, it will have in the center of it a secret joy, and a sense of spiritual fulfillment and accomplishment that is more precious than the finest pure gold.
In Psalm 37:8 He tells us, "Do not fret – it only causes harm." Why then are we worrying? Either He is on the throne, in charge of everything, or He is not – and He is. Although His movements are oftentimes subtle, He does reveal some of them to us if we are spiritually astute. We will not make a mistake if we truly want His guidance and are not being stiff-necked, because He promises us, "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:6 (NKJV). Do we believe this to be a true statement? If so, how can we complain about uncertainty of His guidance? Before we must take the step, if we wait on Him, will He not lead us? For we also have the promise that "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way." Psalm 37:23 (NKJV).
This is not to say that our first inclination will not be of the flesh (meaning our worldly, carnal nature) – especially in our reaction to calamity, for we also read, "However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual." 1Corinthians 15:46. (NKJV) But after we have worked through our initial emotions, and consider His sovereignty, and that He is causing all things to work together for our benefit (Romans 8:28), the peace only He can give will envelope us.
Why Do Tragedies Occur?
The world thinks that if God is in control He is to blame for not preventing tragedies. What they fail to understand is that God established the world with freedom. Man was not created as a robot, and the results of his choices to sin have deep and far-reaching effects. God can do anything but go back on His word; therefore, He will not change the free will that He has given man for a certain period of time. Christ will return some day when that time is up, but things will not be different until then. In Psalm 15:4 we find the key, where we read about the type of person God honors. It says:
"But he honors those who fear the Lord; he who swears to his own hurt and does not change."
All of us have made promises that we have regretted. We have then either weaseled our way out of the agreement or honored it even though we were damaged by it. God does not breech His promises, nor will He violate the free will he has given to men while they live on this planet – even though He may hate how they act. Moreover, the seriousness of sin, and our need for salvation are revealed by the fact that our personal actions can have such devastating effects on those around us. If He limited this, we could never see our true nature, nor the destruction that can result from our rebellion against God.
Each one of us has come into the kingdom, even as Esther did, for such a time as this. We do not have to worry about what we will face, or what our children or grandchildren will face, because they were created for their particular time. He has plans for us and they are good. He tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, "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." Every incident, every person we meet, every situation we are in are all prescribed for us by the One of whom it is said "Behold, God is exalted by His power; who teaches like Him?" Job 36:22 (NKJV).
No One Teaches Like Him
He is the ultimate, perfect, unerring teacher. There is no instructor more wonderful – He wastes absolutely nothing in our lives. Everything has been arranged by His sovereign hand to mature us spiritually, to make us fit for His Kingdom and to purify us. Let us open our spiritual eyes and begin to see His almighty hand in our lives. We receive His leading and teaching as we surrender to Him and believe in His benevolent guidance. We read:
"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye." Psalm 32:8 (NKJV)
What a wonderful promise! Have we not had parents who would give us a look of admonition when we were misbehaving? Not a word was spoken, but we knew that we were supposed to straighten up before punishment would befall us. On the other hand, most of us have also experienced the proud look from a parent when we accomplished something worthwhile. This direction was given without a word – and this is the manner by which God desires to guide us. The next verse says,
"Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you." Psalm 32:9 (NKJV)
Shall we act as pagans toward God and not acknowledge His sovereign guidance in our lives? If we believe in Christ, how can we not also believe these other promises for our lives? Are we to continue as dull as animals that must be forced to obedience? Shall we give up simply because we do not seem to get this guidance as quickly as we would like? Have we not figured out by now that the promises are inherited through faith and patience (Hebrews 6:12)? Are we not finally to the point that we realize that He will deliver, but will also work perseverance and a multitude of other character-building traits in us by not giving us the instant answers our impertinent impatience craves? When shall we stop pining for what we know will come if we are patient and obedient? He knows the future, and He is trying to direct us on a course that will benefit us, our families and the whole world. He knows what we will choose, but that does not violate our free will to choose. He sometimes allows smaller troubles to draw us to Him so we can hear Him and avoid serious troubles. He allows us to make mistakes when it does not matter so that we can learn to avoid these same mistakes when it does matter.
All of us are equally important to His Kingdom, if we are willing to participate. We can be part of furthering His grand cause – the restoration of men to God, if we will stop our self-obsession and worry. We have different callings, but they all lead to His will being performed on earth. Does He have us pray "thy kingdom come, thy will be done," for no reason? Are we not praying this so that He will act in our lives? And can we not in faith believe that He will act? If, however, we are dissatisfied and constantly complain, are we not like Israel in the wilderness – doubting that God has a destination for us, and that He will prepare us for it as we travel? And are we not also missing the point of the journey – that it is the process that is so valuable, rather than just the destination? Can we not see that along life’s road we constantly interact with others – and this is the great process? Even the prisoner in solitary confinement interacts to some extent, and at that point of contact he influences others. Oh, the awesome responsibility this carries with it – the tremendous importance of it! We may have our minds set on some worldly goal or success, but what matters to Him is how we mature and treat others as we profess to know Christ. And yet, even when we fail in our dealings with others, if we pray in repentance and humility for our wrong behavior He can erase it from their memories and give us a second chance.
Today is the Day
Every day is an opportunity to be part of His magnificent plan. Even as God wastes nothing in our lives, He does not waste our lives. But, we protest, we feel so inconsequential. Surely the drudgery of the repetition of life reveals little spiritual brightness. Surely the daily routine is not very important and has little effect on the world. What does our being here have to do with what happens in China, or with Christians being persecuted in the Sudan, or with the evangelists who preach to millions? The answer is everything. From the prayer we engage in, to the way we live our lives daily, to the way we raise our children, to the temptations we resist – we are changing the world. Relatively few Christians are well-known, and the weight of Christian progress is not borne only on their shoulders. It rather rests with all of us, the complete "body of Christ," because God has ordained it to be so.
In a battle there are very few generals who win high honors for bravery. Look at the list of Medal of Honor recipients, and you will find that most were enlisted men of lower rank – for it is the foot soldier who bears the brunt of the battle. Generals are needed, but they are few, and rarely win the medals. Nevertheless, the soldier who does his or her job excellently – the one who relishes being part of the team and works for its progress, to the benefit of the whole force, is handsomely rewarded. That person also sets an example which makes others take notice. He or she inspires less dedicated soldiers to press on and do their best. Years ago, an unknown man saved an airline stewardess who was drowning after a jet crashed in Florida. The President of the United States honored this man with a medal, and the media broadcast his face all over the world. We have a similar mission – to rescue those facing an eternity in hell. The man who saved the stewardess risked his life to do so, and God is calling us to give up our lives for His rescue mission. It is different in that the stewardess knew she was drowning, but most of the people we come into contact with do not know they are in danger. Nevertheless, will God not honor the rescuer of spiritual life at least as much as the world honored the man in Florida? Clearly He has given us a mission of great importance.
We also have our equally important parts to play. The airline pilot may make more money and seem to have a more glamorous job than the truck driver, but without truck drivers transportation would grind to a halt. Mothers raising children may no longer get respect from the world, but when mothering is neglected, societies crumble. The pastor may get more attention than someone in the congregation, but without the congregation there would be no pastor. There is nothing we have been given to do in life that is a small job, and there is nothing one does for God that is little. He has no unimportant assignments – they are all vital. We are here to bring life to the world, even as Jesus brought it, and if we do our business in the way He desires, much will be accomplished.
The Power for Wealth
Money seems to preoccupy many Christians. Some have great financial concerns which not only restrict their generosity, but also restrict their peace of mind. They question if they will have enough for whatever they are planning. Some have even stopped tithing because they think they need the money and cannot afford to give it to God. Others tithe as if they were under some legalistic constraint, resenting it, and would not give an offering in addition to the tithe. They see the money going out of their checking account and wish they could keep it.
Let us consider why all of this is absolute foolishness. First of all, God is in control of what money we are able to make. No matter how clever we are (and even that cleverness comes from God), it is God and only God who allows us material prosperity. We read this clearly in Deuteronomy 8:18: "And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth…". Now if God is in control of everything, and we are stingy, will we not have less than if we were generous? Who would we, even being fallen people, reward – the stingy or the generous? Would it not be our delight to reward the generous soul?
Let us also consider the reasons why Christians want wealth. Normally we do not want money, but what it can buy. We desire some joy or ease or freedom that we hope it will bring into our lives. And the generous Christian will find that if God does not bring financial reimbursement, He will bring the contentment that comes only as a godly gift. In other words, the desire of humans is met only by God – money can never bring the joy we think it will – and one reason for this is that God will not let it. He will never allow money to usurp His gift of peace.
God tries to explain one aspect of this to us in Proverbs 13:11, where we read, "Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, but he who gathers by labor will increase." The understanding here is directly related to the sovereignty of God. A person comes to buy a used car from us, and we know that there are some mechanical problems – but we hide the truth for an easier sale. However, whatever we gain from this deceptive transaction will be diminished according to the Scripture above, because we were dishonest. In another situation, perhaps we go out of our way to be friendly with someone at work because we know that person has the power to promote us. Again, we miss the understanding that our conniving will lack God’s blessing. If God wants us to be promoted, we read clearly that, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes." Proverbs 21:1 (NKJV) (See also Psalm 75:6-7).
We have all been made a steward of something, no matter how poor we are. It is not the amount that counts, for we know that the widow with two mites (Mark 12:42) gave all she had. Did God then let her starve because she was so generous? If we understand He is sovereign, we will stop hoarding what we have, for we will realize the purse strings are controlled by Him, and Him only. (See Malachi 3:10) Does that mean then that we will not have more money if we hoard? Not necessarily, we might have more money, but it will not give us our desires – it will not accomplish what we ultimately hoped it would, as we read in Haggai 1:9 and 1:6: "You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away." "…he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes."
If we neglect our children for more money, we will be the losers. If we sell things and are not completely honest, we are denying that He is sovereign. If we plan out ways of doing business which involve manipulation and deceit, we have lost His blessing and those plans will never achieve what we desire. If we cheat on our taxes, we will not save what we believe we will save – we will not benefit. You see, God honors honesty, and He does not honor deceit. We must turn from our wicked and foolish way of thinking, and believe in His complete authority over events in our lives. If we take the high road of honesty, and it costs us something, are we so dull to think that He cannot make it up to us elsewhere – if that is such a concern to us?
The Centurion Understood It
"The centurion answered and said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, "Go," and he goes; and to another, "Come," and he comes; and to my servant, "Do this," and he does it.’ When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!’" Matthew 8:8-10 (NKJV)
When we get the revelation that God is in control of the world as this man did, our faith will permit God to work more wonderfully in our lives. What ease there is, what rest from worry and strife when we truly understand it. How free we become – no longer can we be held captive by the things of this world, or by greed. Rather we can rest in the understanding that came to Job at the end of his trial, when he declared:
"I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You." Job 42:2 (NKJV).