God’s Good and Gracious Will
|Jubilate Sunday Sermon| June 7, 2017| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| Lamentations 3:22-33|
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silent, because God has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him, and be full of reproach. For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.
We must not base our faith on our experiences because what we experience often seems to contradict what God promises. God promises forgiveness of sins. Do we feel it? Or do we feel the guilt of sin in our conscience? God promises us eternal life and we face death. God promises us grace and every blessing and we experience sickness, loss, and pain. Clearly, our experience is a poor basis for our faith.
On the other hand, the Christian faith and life are experienced. It’s not as if Christianity is just an idea. We are Christians. Christ defines our lives. The Christian life begins with Holy Baptism. That’s an experience. The water that is poured over us is joined to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit enters into us, fills us, and seals to us the salvation that Jesus won for us on Calvary. Throughout our Christian lives, we experience God’s love. When God speaks his gospel to us, it’s never just words. Through the words he speaks God gives us what they promise. We experience being forgiven of our sins. We experience the peace and the hope that come from being forgiven. We experience the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives as he sustains us in our Christian faith and keeps us from falling away.
Sometimes it appears that God’s promises cannot be trusted, that he promises us things that we don’t experience. What do we do when it appears to us that the bad things we experience disprove God’s promises of good things? What we do is we listen to God. We listen to what he tells us in his written Word, the Holy Scriptures. Our gracious and loving and merciful God has not promised us that we will not suffer grief. In fact, he tells us we will.
Jeremiah, God’s prophet, tells us that God’s mercies are new every morning and that we can rely on his goodness and faithfulness. He also tells us God blesses us by making us wait for his help. God blesses us by laying us in the dust and causing us grief. We don’t know what he’s doing. We don’t have to know. He knows. God is blessing us when it looks like he’s not.
We must interpret our experiences in light of God’s word; we must not interpret God’s word in light of our experiences.
There are many false teachers out there, influencing Christians, leading them astray, teaching them to trust in promises God never made while keeping them from finding the genuine encouragement God gives us in his word. There is a particular false teaching that goes by many names and is promoted by many people. Norman Vincent Peale promoted it in the fifties and the sixties. He called it the power of positive thinking. Robert Schuller preached in in his Crystal Cathedral in the eighties. He called it possibility thinking. Today, it is the prosperity gospel taught by Joel Osteen and others.
On the surface these men appear to be quite different from each other. Schuller was an educated man who graduated from an accredited seminary. Osteen did not graduate from college and never attended a seminary. But they share the same teaching. It is the teaching of human empowerment. They will teach you how to get God to give you what you want in life. Their “gospel” is one of victory over whatever troubles you face in life. Where are you suffering? Follow their advice, and your suffering will be a thing of the past. Look at your life – your personal relationships, your job, your finances, your health, and whatever else pertains to your day to day living. If you follow the right spiritual formula for success, you can get God to turn your failures into success. Everything you touch will be golden.
Their preaching makes a certain kind of sense. If God is in charge of this world, and if God loves his children, then it stands to reason that God can give his children what they want. But what if what they want isn’t what’s best? St. Paul writes in Romans 8:28,
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Who decides what good is? The One who calls us according to his purpose decides. He decides what benefits us. We don’t. He doesn’t have to tell us what he is doing or why. Since his mercies keep us from being consumed, since they never fail, but are new every morning, we can wait for him to help us out of our troubles in his own time.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul. He is my treasure, my inheritance, my wealth. He is all I need. I put my hope in him. I entrust my future to him. When I must wait for his help, I wait. I pray to him, “Thy will be done.” He won’t be manipulated. Faith relies on the good and gracious will of our loving Father. Faith receives what God says. It doesn’t seek to conform God to human demands. It rests confident in God’s word. Jeremiah writes:
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silent, because God has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him, and be full of reproach.
But how can we confess that God’s will is good and gracious when we don’t know what it is?
When I was a freshman in college at the University of Missouri, I was invited by a fellow student to attend a meeting of a Christian student organization called Campus Crusade for Christ. Their theology was pretty much in tune with the mainstream of conservative American Protestantism. They taught some things good things: the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ and justification by faith. But some of their teaching was rather puzzling to me, and it remains puzzling some forty five years later. They placed an emphasis – one could even call it a fixation – on knowing God’s plan for your life. They had a tract they would share. The first assertion in it was, “God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life.” It was your job to find out what it was. You had to know, because only after you knew what God’s plan for you was could you conform your life to that plan and live within the will of God.
Now that is some very bad and harmful theology. Sincere Christians who are urged to find God’s plan for their life will try to find it. They assume they are rightly taught, so they will try to figure out what God intends for them. But how are they supposed to do it? I would suggest that a corny Doris Day song from an Alfred Hitchcock movie that features the refrain, “Whatever will be, will be” contains more wisdom than much of what passes as Christian theology.
You cannot know God’s plan for your life beyond what he clearly teaches you in his written Word. What is God’s plan for your life? It is that you obey the Ten Commandments. Not consider them, or see how to fit them into your lifestyle, but to obey them. Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do what God tells you to do. That’s God’s plan for your life.
What is God’s plan for your life? It is that he deliver you out of every trouble you face. It is that he protect you from danger. It is that he forgive you all your sins, fill you with the Holy Spirit, change your heart from desiring what is opposed to his holy will to desire what he wants for you. It is that he keep you in the true Christian faith and give you your inheritance in heaven where there is no sin or suffering or death.
It is perfectly true that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. But, beyond what God teaches us in the Bible, revealing his law that sets forth the kind of behavior he wants, and revealing his gospel that promises us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through Christ, we don’t know what God’s plan for our life is.
We know that it is good for us to bear the yoke in our youth. It is good to sit alone and be silent, to humble ourselves, and to submit without complaint to the burden God lays on us. It is good to bear up with patience under loss, disappointment, betrayal, sickness, and every kind of suffering. How do we do that?
We do it by interpreting our experiences in the light of God’s word. What does God promise us in our text for this morning?
For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.
Jesus puts it all into context for us when he says,
A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.
To see Christ is to see all our troubles disappear. This is what his resurrection from the dead shows us. He said, “I go to the Father.” That brought the Christians sorrow because it required him to bear the burden of the cross. He faced abandonment by God, the pangs of guilt of the damned, the burden of the whole world’s sin. This he faced. And he overcame it. This is how he can promise us joy. He gives us the joy for which his soul labored. When Jeremiah wrote about the multitude of God’s mercies, he was writing about Jesus going to the Father by way of the cross. The mercy God has planned for us is not a hit and miss kind of thing, here one day and gone the next. It is constant. It is eternal. It is grounded in the crucifixion of the Son of God where God’s plan for our lives was fulfilled. God plans that we live under him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as Christ is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.