Last Fall, I was invited to speak at a meeting in Winchester, KY. The meeting is tomorrow night. It will be attended mainly by Pastors and their spouses. It’s called “Pastor’s Fellowship.” It is an annual gathering of Church of God Pastors who have a focus on doctrinal preaching and have a commitment to stay to true the biblical text regardless of cultural pressure or shifts. I would appreciate your prayers for me as I carry out that assignment. Part of last week’s message on how we might contribute to anxiety in our lives is part of the message I will deliver. The other part of my message for tomorrow night deals with the doctrine of The Sovereignty of God. I want to share some of that emphasis with you this morning. Sovereign means, “supreme power or authority.” So, the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God means that God is the supreme power, the supreme authority. Let me try to unpack why learning to rest in the Sovereignty of God is really important as I believe it can be a major antidote for the anxiety that many are wrestling with, and it can be a convincing witness for a world in turmoil that God is Who He says He is.
Jesus is still the answer for the world today! Jesus is still speaking into a culture that often favors darkness over light. Jesus is still speaking into chaos to bring order, even as He did from the beginning of time. Jesus is still affecting change where people desire to surrender to His Lordship. He is still releasing His power on the earth as His people exercise faith in Who He is, in what He has said, and in what He has revealed He can do. Jesus is still the Sovereign Lord, and who He is and what He offers has never been more relevant than it is in this moment.
We live in a time when peace is eluding many and fear is driving even more. What could be more relevant than a relationship with the Ultimate Peace Giver? What could be more stabilizing than the protection of the Rock of Ages? Would could be more reassuring than knowing and walking daily with the God who cannot fail?
Never, in my lifetime, have I seen so many people living cut off from a sense of hope and a future. Many have been detrimentally impacted by the Covid chaos that has sort of woven into the fabric of our society. In addition, the political turbulence that pervades our democracy, added to the constant barrage of news reports that are laced with rhetoric, manipulative agendas, constant bickering, and false reports have created so much noise around us that it has been difficult to hear much of anything but the clamor.
The halls of our educational institutions have been plagued with anxious students, many feeling behind and uncertain about their educational pursuits. Uncertainties about the future of our economy, rising prices, recent wars and more have been like a tsunami of epic proportions that have knocked many off center, have crushed people’s dreams, have created a culture of isolation, and have shaken the faith of even committed believers. People are understandably anxious. We are used to having a track to run on. We are used to being able to predict what our day will look like. We are used to being able to make plans and know that when we book a flight, we’ll be able to board a plane and actually get where we intend to go. That kind of stability has been suspended. If the last two years have taught us anything, they have pointed to the reality that we are not in control. Could God be issuing a spiritual wake-up call?
The good news is there is Someone who is in control of all things, and we can know Him! Not only can we know Him, but we can rest as we trust in His sovereign plan. Church, we have an awesome opportunity in these anxious times to point people to the God who is in control. Anxiety gains an upper hand in the life of the person who doesn’t know that God is in control, that Someone is in control. Those people are free-falling, grasping at anything that seems to offer stability. People who don’t know that God is in control are just left to their own instincts to do what seems best, and how many of us agree that just adds to the chaos.
But what about those of us who do know that God is in control? How are we doing with the chaos? Are we spiraling along with the world or are we living confidently in response to the things that happen around us and to the things that happen to us? Can people see the Sovereign God because we are revealing that His power and authority are guarding our lives? The truth is anxiety can also overtake the Christ-follower who little by little begins to trust in self over the Sovereignty of God. Little by little, fear and doubt can undermine faith and soon even believers may be looking to earthly solutions instead of to a Sovereign God to help them stay on solid footing. And earthly solutions have no lasting power, no lasting help, no lasting peace. Drugs and alcohol, pornography and gambling, another purse or pair of shoes, the escape mechanisms of the world don’t give us peace or security.
When anxieties rise, when worry wells up inside of us, we must not trust what we feel, but we must trust what God has revealed about His Sovereignty. Let’s explore what the Bible says.
God existed before anything else. Ps. 90:2-“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Look at your neighbor and say, “God’s been around awhile.” There has never been a time when God has not been Who He is, when He has not been active, when He has not been Sovereign. He is not the “Great I Was.” He is the Great I Am in every generation.
God created all things. John 1:3 says-“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” He is the Designer, the Architect of the Universe. He knows how things are to run. The sun comes up at His bidding. It sets according to His plan. One season follows the next. He set the Laws of the Universe into motion. Everything we can see and know about our world, about our universe points us back to God’s Sovereignty.
God sustains all things. Colossians 1:17-“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” You are here today not because you made a decision to put on some clothes, comb your hair, go out to your car, put the key in the ignition, drive here, park your car in the lot, and walk yourself into this building. Oh, I applaud you for making that decision and for putting forth that effort, but you are literally here because God is at work in your life, holding your cells together and has given you the breath of life and physical strength so that you had what was needed to do what was in your heart to do. God sustains all things, including you. Perhaps we sometimes deal with anxiety because we have put ourselves on the throne and have concluded it’s our job to keep it all together. He’s got it covered, Friends. You can resign from the job of having to hold it all together.
God is above all things. Ephesians 4:6-“There is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” God cannot be subdued or restrained by anyone. His authority supersedes every other authority. Even Satan is no match for our God. “Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.” (I John 4:4) What do we have to fear when the One who is above every authority and power lives in us? God has the final say about EVERYTHING that concerns you.
God knows all things. I John 3:20 God’s knowledge is described as infinite and exhaustive. No one can stump God. No one can hide anything from Him. He knows the end from the beginning. And not only does God know the end from the beginning, but He is working out the end from that beginning in your life. He isn’t pivoting to a plan B in response to some earthly happening. He has been working His Sovereign plan in this world and in His children’s lives from the very beginning. He knows why He allows certain things. God truly knows what He is doing. He knows how long our trials will last and what we are to take away from them. He knows what it will take to endure each difficulty. He knows what we need in detail, and He promises to give us all we need according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Because of His perfect knowledge, He is perfectly equipped to handle any challenge we face.
God can do whatever He wants to do. Psalm 115:3-“Our God is in heaven. He does whatever pleases Him.” He answers to no one. He doesn’t seek input from anyone. God doesn’t have a Life Coach. He isn’t limited by time and space, by pandemics or political uprisings. He will do what He wills whenever He wills it to be done. Isaiah 14:24-“Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will happen.”
God is in control of all things, including shifts in earthly power. Daniel 4:17-“The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.” Or how about Romans 13:1-“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
Our Sovereign God knows what is best. Just because someone we oppose or don’t care for is in office at a given moment doesn’t mean that person is in control. That person is still under God’s Sovereign authority. That doesn’t mean we don’t work or pray for change when we see things out of alignment with Kingdom purposes, but it means we don’t allow an earthly leader’s term of office create anxiety in us or render us ineffective for the Kingdom purposes to which we have been called. If we aren’t careful, we can make an idol out of people in politics to the point where our peace of mind is dependent upon them being elected. No earthly leader is sovereign. The Prince of Peace has never left the throne, Church. We are subjects in His Kingdom. He alone should have that kind of place in our hearts.
God is even sovereign over calamity. Amos 3:6-“When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” That’s a tough thought to wrap our minds around. We know God has the power to stop hurricanes, tsunami’s, tornadoes, earthquakes and the like, but to read that there are moments when He is the One responsible for sending calamity, it can be hard to take in. Yet, we know that God’s Sovereignty will never undermine His righteousness or goodness. God has a righteous plan that He is fulfilling, even when disaster strikes. The Psalms tell us lightning, hail, snow, cloud, and wind all do His bidding. Perhaps those moments reveal glimpses of the judgment of God and are meant to help people not turn away in anger toward God, but in repentance to Him. Maybe they are to invoke a holy reverence for Him. Or perhaps they are an invitation to believers to be involved in the mercy ministry of Jesus as efforts to rebuild from the rubble take place. Maybe it is in the midst of calamity that the compassion of Christ is best seen by the world through His church. Maybe disasters are just simple reminders of what I have already said. We are not in charge!
“God’s thoughts aren’t our thoughts. His ways aren’t our ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts.”-Isaiah 55:8-9
I suppose where the rubber meets the road, what you and I must wrestle with, is do we trust God as Sovereign or not? God’s going to be Sovereign whether we trust Him or not, but our faith or lack of faith in His Sovereignty will determine if we have perfect peace or if we live with crippling anxiety. It will determine if others see God at work in us or if we will add to the anxiety of the world around us by responding chaotically to the chaos. Those who truly trust God to be God are those who live convinced that “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28
Cultural shifts that have crowded out the truth about God have left people clamoring for anything that looks like a life raft, even if what they are grasping for and holding onto can’t float. I understand why the world is anxious. I get why unbelievers are wrestling with fear and worry, but why does anxiety seem to have a grip on many Christ-followers? There should be a marked difference between the way believers and unbelievers deal with difficult circumstances. We need to behave according to the belief that God is Sovereign and is in control.
Especially during the last two years, I have observed many believers acting as if God is now in over His head. Many Christians seem very worried about the “success” of God’s purposes on planet earth. Hear me clearly. God isn’t scrambling for a game plan. He isn’t in Heaven playing some kind of chess game with the powers of earth and saying to Himself, “Uh oh, I didn’t see that move coming.” God isn’t anxious about any of this world’s turmoil. He is in control!
What if the believer’s current struggle with anxiety isn’t so much a commentary on current culture or painful personal circumstances, but what if it is a commentary on the condition of his or her faith? What if anxiety isn’t a symptom of something gone wrong, but is a signal that we don’t trust God the Sovereignty of God? What if, we too, have been looking for security in the things of this world, a world that is always changing, is always in chaos, rather than to the Sovereign God?
I would say to you that my adulthood journey has been a series of moments during which I have had to assess what I was called to carry and what I was called to turn over and trust to the Sovereign hand of God. Oh, God’s sovereignty doesn’t absolve us of personal responsibility. We can’t just say, “Well, God’s going to do what God’s going to do, so it doesn’t matter if I take on a challenge or it doesn’t matter if I show up for some task.” No. God expects us to obey Him, to take responsibility, to work hard, and to be responsive to the leading of His Spirit. But He doesn’t expect us to carry the weight of the world or to work in our flesh to “make things happen” in our lives. If we are submitted to His Lordship, we will acknowledge His Sovereignty with our actions. Closed doors are often disappointing, changes of plans can be beyond frustrating, unwanted difficulties can feel unbearable, having to wait when we can’t understand the purpose for it, those all are real moments that test our faith, but ultimately, our ability to pray as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but Yours be done,” will not only determine how long we have to endure the intensity of those situations, but those refining moments become defining moments for our faith as others watch how we handle them.
I’ve only cussed once that I remember. Don’t be too impressed. I just didn’t grow up around that kind of talk, and it never became a go-to. But I do remember swearing in front of my high school peers once. It was my junior year. I had led a Bible study in my high school that year. Many of my friends had become Christians as a result of attending the Bible study. It was my last year at that school. We would be moving before my senior year. Not a great time for a high school transition. On my way out, that Spring, I was going to make my mark. I just knew I was destined to play Maria Von Trapp in the school’s production of the Sound of Music. It was a small high school. I had a supporting role my sophomore year in the Spring Musical. I had waited my turn. This was my last shot at Defiance High School, and that part was mine.
Then, out of nowhere, this girl…a freshman…announced she was trying out for the role of Maria Von Trapp. She had been the Drama teacher’s assistant in the Fall play. Y’all, she wasn’t even on my radar. I didn’t even know she could sing. Well, a few weeks before the tryouts, she got a haircut. She got her hair cut to look just like Julie Andrews, the original Maria Von Trapp. For real! I remember being kind of snarky with her until the tryouts.
Not only did I not get the part, but I got stuck with the role of a generic nun, a nun with no lines. I was devastated, and I was angry. And that’s when, in the company of friends, as we were all looking at the cast list together, the “D” word, followed by the word, “it” came out of my mouth like a freight train. And it was loud. I shocked myself, and when I heard myself say it, I was immediately sorry. I couldn’t understand why God didn’t know how awesome I would have been as Maria Von Trapp, but I was so embarrassed at the way I had compromised my witness to my friends. I was so charged up in that split second that I decided I wasn’t taking the part of a generic nun. They could forget it. Well, after God dealt with my heart and after some humble pie, I was the best generic nun Defiance High School had ever seen!
Fast-forward to my senior year. It was a much bigger school. Four times the size. How would I ever stand out in that crowd? They didn’t know me. They didn’t know what I could do. They didn’t know I was “made for the stage!” My high school career was “over.” Do you know, that as I moved into that big school with almost 2000 students, God opened amazing doors for me in a hurry? I was a soloist with the show choir. I was the section leader in the marching band for the saxophone section. I was a decorated Speech and Debate competitor in the Duet Acting category. I was the piano player for the jazz band. I had a lead in the Fall production of Cinderella. (I was one of the ugly stepsisters. Watch it!) AND I had one of the two female leads in the Spring musical. I couldn’t see what God had in store for my senior year when I was a junior, but it was a WOW. Had I been able to know in advance how many opportunities I would have to excel in that one year, I could have probably dealt with the generic nun situation a little more gracefully, but I didn’t know. I just knew how I felt in that very disappointing moment.
I love what the late Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
Now, I really didn’t need to go all the way back to high school in my life to illustrate what I’m trying to say because I have had plenty of opportunities to be in a position where I could choose to trust in self or just be angry about a situation that didn’t pan out or I could fully trust God because His plan is always be bigger and better and tailored for me. It was just safest to take you to my high school years this morning. Y’all know what I am talking about, though don’t you?
God is surely who He says He is. I don’t think any believer here today would dispute that. But could we live like we believe God is who He claims to be? Can we trust His Sovereignty in the midst of the struggle? Can we take our hands off the distressing situations we face and fully transfer the weight of our lives into His everlasting arms?