Altered Course

by Bill Matthess

When I think back upon my life as a child, I can't remember having many concerns about the future. Wherever my family lived, that was where I wanted to be. I may have entertained a few fanciful notions of what I wanted to do in life, but for the most part, I possessed very little sense of direction. It is when we grow older that we form ideas of our career path, where we want to live and whom we want to marry. It is not always easy to decide how to pursue our objectives. Sometimes even the objectives are not clear in our own minds. But I think it is fair to say that we all have some sort of idea as to what we are living and working toward. It may be that we desire to settle down and have a family or develop skills in something we enjoy, and then to make a living employing those skills. However we start out in life, we are all on a course.

Our experiences quickly confirm that as we go along in life, the unexpected occurs. We can be sailing along smoothly and events will cross our path and cause us to change direction. Sometimes these changes can be very painful and can even change our intended direction permanently.

For people who are not true Christians and do not have any interest in God, the circumstances of life are perplexing to them and seem to have no purpose. Although there are changes in their circumstances, it can be said that, in a sense, no change has happened to them because their spiritual state toward God remains unaltered. Psalm 55:19 says of unbelievers, "Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God." Matthew Henry comments: "They are impious and profane, and stand in no awe of God, of his authority or wrath. Because they have no changes (no afflictions, no interruption to the constant course of their prosperity, no crosses to empty them from vessel to vessel) therefore they fear not God; they live in a constant neglect and contempt of God and religion, which is the cause of all their other wickedness, and by which they are certainly marked for destruction." See also Jer. 48:11 in this regard.

Whilst we see that God sends rain alike upon the believer and unbeliever, the unbeliever does not have a loving heavenly Father who is concerned and involved in the course of his life. Thank God that He does save the ungodly, but those that God does not choose to eternal life, He gives over to a reprobate mind and leaves them to themselves (Rom. 1:28). They remain unchanged.

A Change for the Good For the Christian, changes in life most certainly have a glorious purpose; to alter our spiritual course. No doubt the plans we lay down for our lives will differ from those plans God has for us. As God's children we need to be purified like gold in the fire, to be made more like our Saviour as each day passes. This is the work of sanctification. We do not always gladly submit to this in practice. We may recognise that we need to be more humble, to follow Christ more closely or to be better students of God's word, but because of the sinful nature that is still a part of us, we do not see our sin as God sees it and the sometimes drastic measures that need to be applied to us. As John Newton has put it in his hymn:

I asked the Lord that I might grow In faith, and love, and every grace, Might more of His salvation know, And seek more earnestly His face.

'Twas He who taught me thus to pray, And He, I trust, has answered prayer; But it has been in such a way As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favoured hour At once He'd answer my request; And, by His love's constraining power, Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel The hidden evils of my heart, And let the angry powers of hell Assault my soul in every part.

Yea, more, with His own hand He seemed Intent to aggravate my woe, Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

"Lord, why is this?" I trembling cried, "Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?" "'Tis in this way", the Lord replied, "I answer prayer for grace and faith.

"These inward trials I employ, From self and pride to set thee free, And break thy schemes of earthly joy, That thou mayest seek thy all in Me." John Newton, 1725-1807

If we are the Lord's people, God loves us and He will chasten us (Heb. 12:8). God often chastens us by bringing unexpected change into our lives. At first sight those changes can seem alarming and harsh, and we may question why they are happening to us. We may ask, "Have we sinned that these things are happening?" We may have planned some other course, but as Proverbs 16:9 says: "A man's heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps."

Our Lot in Life We all have a "lot" in life; that is, a pre-defined path that is mapped out and set. God does not change our lot mid-stream. He lays down his plans and they do not alter. Although things happen that seem like changes to us, they are not changes in God's course for us because they are preordained by Him.

One example can be seen when the Lord took the Israelites to "Marah", which means a place of bitterness. There was no question about God's leading them there. They had not made some horrible mistake in going to Marah; the cloud by day and the fire by night had led them directly to that spot. Why would God lead them to a place in which there was no water? All those thousands of men, women and children were taken to a dry howling wilderness with flocks and herds to feed. Their survival in such a place would have been very doubtful. Yet they needed a large quantity of water for such a vast multitude. The situation was deparate indeed. This change in events challenged their faith in God. A.W. Pink in his commentary on Exodus says: "Moses did what Israel ought to have done - he took the matter to God in prayer. This is what our "Marah's" are for, to drive us to the Lord....It is sad and solemn, yet nevertheless true, that it takes a "Marah" to make us cry unto God in earnest."

"Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." 1 Cor. 10:11-12.

Our Response How should we deal with these changes? In the words of Thomas Boston: "Seek for the spiritual fruits of the crook in the lot (that thing which has made your life seem crooked). We see the way in the world is, when one trade fails, to fall on and drive another trade; so should we, when there is a crook in the lot, making our earthly comforts low, set ourselves the more for spiritual attainments. If our trade with the world sinks, let us seek to drive a trade with heaven more vigorously; see, if by means of the crook, we can obtain more faith, love, heavenly-mindedness, contempt of the world, humility, self-denial, etc. So while we lose at one hand we shall gain at another."

When facing the change of moving from one country to another to become the president of Princeton College after the death of the previous president in 1766, John Witherspoon, a minister at Paisley, near Glasgow, said in his first sermon in the college at New Jersey: "Could we but think as we ought of the great removal which we are making from time to time into an eternal state, the removal of our bodies, and the change of our scene of service from Europe to America, would appear altogether unworthy of notice."

The time we spend here is nothing compared to eternity in heaven. How we need to allow the seeming alterations brought by God's providence to our course in life to further prepare us for the life to come!

Copyright © Family Matters 1997