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"What am I supposed to do?"

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(10/1) Remember, God Has a Plan, Even When I don't Understand!

Nearly 15 years ago, a friend of ours was dying from colon cancer. This man and his wife were instrumental in our adopting our daughter. I visited with him one day and we had a good talk as He asked me what Heaven would be like and I tried to tell him as best as I could. I then asked him, what he would like to say to the people who would be at his funeral. By the way, that is a good question for you. If all of your family and acquaintences were gathered together and you had a chance to say one or two things as parting wisdom to these, whom you love, what would it be? Write it down and put it in your disaster file.

Well, He told me 3 things and they were great and I used them at his funeral. I prayed with Him and then left his room and talked with his wife for a few moments. During that conversation, she said to me, "What am I supposed to do?" "Do you mean for the funeral, or after the funeral, are there things that you need help with?" I asked. "No, what am I supposed to do now, while I watch my husband die?" she asked.

A short time later I was asked that question a second time from a husband whose wife was dying with brain cancer, "What am I supposed to do?" That question has haunted me these last 15 years. I have read many books that talk about the reality of suffering and trials in our lives and found that most of them try to tell us what God is doing in our trials, but few have answered my question, "What do you do when you don't know what to do?" I did a sermon and, in fact, I have preached it several times, with that title. But I have wanted to do a deeper series and take a more detailed look at what God has prescribed when we go through difficult seasons of life.

These last two years have been just that kind of a season for Debbie and I as well as for many of you. The mental, spiritual, and emotional exhaustion has been beyond our ability to describe, all of which has led to a constant fatigue. We find ourselves continually saying, "I'm just tired." Our constant prayer is, "God, what do you want us to do?" I don't have the full answers yet, but I do want to walk with you through the things God has taught me. I hope you will find this series beneficial. Our journey must begin by going back to the beginning.

Paradise Lost

Most of us have at one time or another looked for the secret to paradise or happiness. If I get a good education, work hard, obey my parents and teachers, treat everyone with respect, obey the 10 commandments, meet the right person, I will achieve whatever I want and make lots of money and get married and have good children and live happily ever after. Right? Isn't that the thought process? If that doesn't work, maybe being selfish, and sinful, and with the help of drugs, alcohol, work, or other things to get lost in, I can drift through life and be happy.

Sadly, paradise was lost for everyone when our first parents turned away from God and bought into Satan's lies and all of life has been a struggle ever since though we keep looking for the secret to paradise. And while it is true that there are seasons and moments of joy and happiness, they seldom last for a long time. Job, who we will get well acquainted with, said, "Man who is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble." (Job 14:1) and, "Man is born to trouble as sparks fly upward." (5:1). Solomon, who had it all, said, "it is all empty." It didn't satisfy his deepest longings. That is one of the main points of his book, Ecclesiastes; It is all vanity.

Now, Paradise will be regained, but not until the future when God remakes the heavens and the earth or when God receives us into His home. Until then there will be moments when we weep and moments when we laugh, seasons of mourning and seasons of dancing (Eccl. 3), so said Solomon.

Promise of Tough Times

But the hope of Paradise still remains in our souls and some have capitalized on it by telling us that God wants us to be Healthy and Wealthy and have our best lives now. Somehow, though, in our subconscience, we have this thought that If I give my life to follow Jesus, God will protect me and my heart. That God has this wonderful plan for my life and my Father will not let my ememies triumph over me. He is going to shelter me in times of the storm.

But let me remind you that our Blessed Lord told us these two truths among many; First, Following Him means there is a cross to bear (Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23). Crosses are heavy, painful, humiliating, and end in a slow death. Secondly, He said that in this world we will have tribulation, but be of good cheer He has overcome the world and has given us His peace (John 16:33). Tribulation is a painful squeezing, it's immense pressure to wring you dry, like squeezing juice from oranges or apples. That's what the word, tribulation, means.

Even the Apostle Paul said, "We must through many tribulations, enter the kingdom of God," (Acts 14:22). In Philippians 1:29, he said, "that it has been granted to us, not only to believe in Jesus but to suffer for His sake." Peter says that some of our, suffering is according to the will of God (1 Pet. 4:19).

The Purpose of God

In all of this there is a verse in the book of Romans that tries to make sense of all that we go through in this life. It says, "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," (8:28). We Know. We don't hope, think, wish, or pray; we know! And the word, "all," means, all, and that's all, all means. God is at work in all the details of our lives. That includes the blessings, the good times, the boring details, and the pain we experience, the mistakes we have made, and the circumstances that we have no control over. He is working it all together, the stuff He allows to happen to us; the stuff He allows us to do, and the stuff that He intentionally brings into our lives, all have a well intentioned purpose. In fact, I have in my study of this, listed 12 things God may be doing in your life and mine. While each of these may be worthy of a whole sermon, I will just mention them this morning in hope that you will see what God may be doing in your life individually, or in us as a church. Then we will begin looking at our respose or what we should do when we don't know what to do.

To Purge, Purify, or Prune us (John 15:1-3; 1 Peter 1:7). Flowers, fruit trees, grape vines, shubs and more, all need to be pruned in order to produce the best fruit or flowers, other wise the plant can put its energy in the stalk and not in the fruit (like mums). But if plants could talk, they would wonder why they have to go through all this pain. But the keeper knows what the plant is capable of us and wants to bring out the best in it. Peter says this is necessary. God knows what we are capable of and wants us to bring it our of us. Do you understand this?

To Keep Us Focused (Phil. 1:20-21, Heb, 12:1-3). Sometimes, we lose our focus and we pour all of our lives into a world of stuff that we work and slave to get and then maintain. Stuff that we can not keep instead of laying up treasure in heaven, where our permanent home is. This is not our home, we are just passing through. But sometimes we lose sight of that. Trials remind us that our real joy lies ahead of us. The pain we endure now, like an athlete in training, is for the prize that is before us. Do you understand this?

To Remind us that we are Partners with Christ (Phil. 1:29: 3:10). Jesus suffered in His desire to bring people to God and teach them the truth, because the world loves darkness more than light. To believe in Jesus and follow Him is to enter a partnership with Him to bring light to the world, and as He said in John 15:18, if the world hated Him it will also hate us. Satan and a lost world will hate you and your righteousness in Christ. Do you undertand this?

To Create Opportunities to Tell about Jesus (Phil 1:12-13; 1 Peter 3:14-17). Paul was in Jail to tell others about God's grace. Peter says that, when we trust God in our trials, people will ask why we cling to our hope and we can tell them about Jesus. It was from the cross that a centurian came to faith and from the cross that a thief was saved. Some may say to you as Job's wife, "why not curse God and die?" You can say, because God has given me hope in Jesus.

To Encourage Others to be Bold in their Witness (Phil. 1:12-14). Paul's trust and courage in the face of his trials gave others the courage to stand up and speak for Christ. People are watching you. Christians are watching you to see how you respond and your faith in your trials is encouraging to others to also be faithful.

To Help Us to Mature by Producing Patience (James 1:2-4; Rom. 5:3-5). Impatience is a mark of Immaturity. God's ultimate goal for you is that you grow up to be like Jesus in your character and your conduct (Rom. 8:28-29). To be patient is to bear up under the load while waiting on God. Will you wait on God, will you trust God when you don't understand?

To Strengthen Our Faith (Deut 8:1-5; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 2 Chron. 32:31). Sometimes God allows us to experience tough times so He can show us that He will meet our needs and take care of us as He promised He would do. The end result is that when tough times come, we can rest knowing God will take care of us.

To Prepare Us for Ministry (2 Cor. 1:3-5) Because God knows our hearts and He knows the needs that are out there, He sometimes allows us to experience heartaches and trials so that He can prove Himself faithful to us, and we in turn can come along side of others who are going through what we have gone through and we can, as one who has been there, show them that they can make it with God's help. Our Care for Pastors counselor told us that if he hadn't gone through a difficult time in his church, he couldn't sit across from us and tell us that our Father still has a plan for our lives.

To Correct Us (Heb. 12:5-11). There are times when whether it is intentional or unintentional we drift from God and sometimes back into the old lifestyle and if we don't realize it on our own, God uses trials and difficulties to get our attention and get us to turn back to Him, but He does so because He loves us so much. God's discipline flows from His heart. He loves you to much to let you continue to go astray without trying to turn you around. Do you understand this?

To Prepare Us for Promotion (Moses, Joseph, David, Daniel) These men all went through difficult trials, and long seasons of not understanding what God was doing but God was preparing them in their circumstances for what He was going to do in promoting them to be leaders.

To Bring Unity to the Body of Christ (2 Cor. 1:9-11). Trials have a way of stripping away the things that are aren't really essential and to bring us together on what we have in common. When you are in a fox hole and people are shooting at you, it doesn't matter if your allies are republicans or democrats, baptists or presbyterians. The same is true when you are in trouble, faith in Christ and fervent prayers of God's people are unifying as people work together to achieve victory.

To Demonstrate to You and to the World, the Sustaining Grace of God (2 Cor. 12:7-10, Job). Even when I don't understand, I know that my Father is going to get me through this one way or another, and even if my situation never improves here, I know I am forgiven and I have a home in glory land that outshines the sun.

So here is what we know, "that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." All 12 of these can be put into one grand purpose and that is to conform or to make you like Jesus. That is the ultimate point of Romans 8:29. I may not understand, but this I know, God is doing something good in my trials and troubles and no matter what I go through, He loves me very much (Romans 8:35-39). Do you understand this?

Perhaps there is one more that pertains to some of you. Sometimes He allows some of you to go through tough times so that you will come to Him and receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord and only hope for paradise.

What is God doing in your life specifically? Only He knows. But let me close with one of my favorite illustrations. Your life is like a jigsaw puzzle. Everyday of your life, a new piece is placed in the right spot in that puzzle. Somedays, you don't know how your circumstances can possibly be used for good, but remember there are only two ways to know what a jigsaw puzzle will look like. One, is to finish the puzzle. Two, is to look at the box top. Well, your life isn't finished yet, and only God can see the box top as He puts your puzzle together.

When the author of Hebrews wrote to encourage these dear believers who were going through tough days, He said this, "Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise" (10:35-36). Our very first thing to do when we don't know what to do is simply this, Look up and remember, God has a plan even when we don't understand.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman