I started 2014 with such joy and excitement. There was an amazing anticipation that this year was going to be incredible! God very clearly gave me Joshua 3:5 as my verse for the year:
Then Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.”
God clearly gave me the word that he is faithful to fulfill all his promises, and he gave me this incredible sense of anticipation. He has told me that the time of fulfillment for his promises is near.
And yet, I am learning to expect the unexpected.
My sense of excitement began to fade when my dad was diagnosed with cancer (fortunately, it’s a very treatable form of cancer). Then, we have had some family issues to contend with. My promise from God vanished. My kids were forced to spend over half of their summer away from me—something neither they nor I wanted or were prepared for. Temptation to settle for less than God’s best weighs heavily on my mind as I find myself weary from waiting.
Even today, as I sit here typing, I am in the surgery waiting room at Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. Yes, my son—my first-born, my gentle giant, my comedian—is in the hands of a surgeon. It’s a small thing, but it’s never easy to place your child in the hands of another, no matter how skilled. Fortunately, he and I both know that he is actually in the hands of the Great Physician. Isn’t that a comforting thought?
As humans, I think it is the unexpected that gets us every time. I know I, personally, routinely try to tell God how to get from point A to point B. It would be so much easier if he would just listen to me! But instead, he wants to take me from point A to point B by way of points C, D, E, and Z! How frustrating it is sometimes! But, I am beginning to understand his point: the unexpected forces me to release control and learn to trust him.
I recently read Joshua 24 as I read through my Bible again. The Israelites have taken possession of the Promised Land, and Joshua is leading the people to renew their covenant with God. He reminds them about all of the unexpected things they experienced, good and bad. (Click here to read the chapter in its entirety at www.biblegateway.com.)
As Joshua recounts the amazing journey God has taken them on, he reminds them of the unexpected events. The ten plagues that decimated Egypt but left Israel untouched… Being trapped at the Red Sea until he caused the waters to part and then brought them crashing down on the Egyptians… The years of wandering in the wilderness where God provided manna, quail, water from the rock…
He reminds the people how they came into the land and the residents fought against them and God fought for them, decimating their enemies. He reminds them of how their obedience to walk around Jericho as God commanded caused the walls to crumble unexpectedly. He reminds them how Balak tried to pay Balaam to curse the Israelites, but Balaam could only bless them. If you remember, Balaam’s donkey even talked (Numbers 22). Talk about unexpected!
The Israelites had experienced so many unexpected events, and God had used them to teach faith and trust. He used the unexpected to teach the Israelites to expect God to step in and save them at just the right moment. He used the unexpected to teach them not to worry but to know that God is in control even when it seems life is spiraling wildly out of control. He used the unexpected to bring the Israelites to a place where they were able to put aside everything to experience YHWH.
“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
The people replied, “We would never abandon the Lord and serve other gods. For the Lord our God is the one who rescued us and our ancestors from slavery in the land of Egypt. He performed mighty miracles before our very eyes. As we traveled through the wilderness among our enemies, he preserved us. It was the Lord who drove out the Amorites and the other nations living here in the land. So we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.”
Then Joshua warned the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.”
But the people answered Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!”
“You are a witness to your own decision,” Joshua said. “You have chosen to serve the Lord.”
“Yes,” they replied, “we are witnesses to what we have said.”
“All right then,” Joshua said, “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone.” (Joshua 24:14-24)
The unexpected—mostly difficult unexpected—circumstances seem to be thrown at me day after day this year, but I am actually finding peace. I am learning to put away worry and trust that God has a final product in mind. I can’t see that product yet, but I must trust that he does. He has plans to prosper me and to give me a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). I can’t experience the abundant life he came to give me (John 10:10) if I am constantly fretting and worrying over circumstances. I refuse to let worry steal my joy, steal my abundance. I will choose—along with the Israelites—to serve the Lord, to trust him with this life.
I am choosing today to put away all idols: worry, fear, pride. I am choosing today to turn my eyes straight to him, to focus every ounce of attention to him. I am choosing to let the unexpected circumstances of this life teach me to let go of any control I think I might have and trust that the God of the universe is in control. I am choosing to trust that God is faithful to his word and will keep his promises to me. I am choosing to destroy all idols in my life and turn my heart fully to him.
Have you chosen to serve an idol—maybe the idol of worry or fear? Are you allowing the unexpected to control your life? Is it time to simply let go—throw caution to the wind and jump in with both feet to follow the path God is calling you to? Are you willing to choose this day whom you will serve: the gods of this world or YHWH, the God of the universe?
But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.