Is God Really in Charge in Life?
Am I willing to have my plans changed by God? Am I ready to have my expectations and my hopes dashed to be replaced with something better? If I don’t get what I want in life, how do I respond?
These questions came to mind for me recently while pondering the ministry that God has given me. I love teaching the Bible and leading the people of our church. I enjoy every moment of serving our church as a pastor. I never expected to do it and had my life planned differently. Now that I have been a pastor for a few years, though, I cannot imagine doing anything else. But what if God’s plan for me is different? How do I react if my plan for serving the Lord is not His path for me? Though my preferences are good and satisfying to me, what if they conflict what God lays out for me?
Can I trust God and submit my plans to Him? Can you? Are you in a season where a cherished goal or hope is slipping away and you are fighting it at every step?
It can be hard to remember to simply trust the Father’s plans over my own.
Philip and the Ethiopian – An Answer in the Desert
I found my answer in the story of Philip meeting the Ethiopian Eunuch from the Book of Acts. It is just a great moment from a book filled with them. The most memorable part of the account is when Philip is placed in the path of the Eunuch. He is a man from a far country who has come to Israel to seek God. Philip is standing by the road when the Eunuch’s chariot passes by. Philip sees the man reading from the scroll of Isaiah and God tells Philip to go and speak with him. Philip explains the Gospel to the Ethiopian and the man is saved and then immediately baptized by Philip. Just an awesome testimony.
But you have to rewind the account just a bit to get to my point. If you do you may arrive at challenging issues is you like control of your own life. The great salvation moment of the Ethiopian Eunuch is only made possible through the simple faithfulness of Philip. It requires Philip to give up his own plan and totally trust the Lord in order for it to come to fruition. Logic and likely emotions clash with God’s plan for Philip, yet he simply does what God says.
A Foundation of Trust
Just before the encounter with the Ethiopian, Philip was in Samaria doing amazing things. He has been leading a revival and seeing God work in dramatic ways. Thousands of Samaritans were coming to Jesus and Philip was right in the thick of it. He was building on the foundation placed by Jesus Himself and His encounter with the Woman by the Well. There was a great church springing up among Israel’s traditional enemies and Philip was in just the right the place to lead it. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful place to minister?
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city. Acts 8
Philip had also landed in Samaria after being driven out of Jerusalem due to persecution. He had suffered and lost greatly from the opposition of the enemy in Jerusalem. He was now seeing a great work of God after all the pain and loss. He had to be praising the Lord for placing him there. It just made sense that Philip suffered faithfully and now was getting his reward. “The hard days are over and this is the reward”, is what I would be thinking. Yes, victory!
Then in a moment everything changed.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went.
God sends an angel to tell Philip that his time in Samaria had ended and he should leave. No explanation of why or where he was going, just go. What? Why?
Because God says go!
Would you be willing to just go?
Philip Trusted God
Philip simply trusted God. He told Philip to go so he rose and went. Phillip was not the one making the plan, he was just the servant. It is a simple sort of trust that can be so hard to put in place in life.
Knowing Philip was just a person, like you and I, it had to be harder to leave than just that, right? After a time of great pain and loss, he was in the middle of an exciting work of God. Why would God have him leave?
Did Philip ever cry to God “Lord, I suffered so much to get here, I gave so much to these people…they need me!” Perhaps that is just the rationalization that I would make. Would you argue with God or try to bargain? My flesh certainly would want to.
Not Philip, no he rose up and left simply following God’s direction…and it only got worse from a human perspective. Philip’s route was the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This seems straightforward until you understand the geography. That road would have sent Philip into the middle of the desert. It is referred to as the Desert Road. God has called Philip from a revival into the driest place on earth. He has called Philip away from people experiencing the awesome love and joy of Jesus for the first time to empty land. He has called Philip away to go out into the middle of a desert and wait.
Does this idea challenge you as much as me? Why leave people who need him and go to a dry and barren place? Why, why, why? It doesn’t make sense to my eyes!
God will Leave 99 to Reach One Lost Sheep
Philip is walking through the desert perhaps pondering some of these thoughts when God provides His answer in His time.
It is all for one man in need of help understanding the Savior – the Ethiopian Eunuch. There is one lost sheep looking for a shepherd. He needs help desperately. God never fails men in this state. If they are searching, God will send help even if it seems to be in an unlikely way. Gods need to show love and extend mercy to the Ethiopian is so much greater than Philip’s desire to stay in Samaria.
Think also of the context. The Ethiopian is searching for God, right? He has spent tons of money, effort and time to get to Jerusalem, the center of God’s world, in order to find God. A chariot ride in the ancient world over thousands of miles was a huge task. The Ethiopian gave all he could to get to Jerusalem.
Yet he is on his way back with a scroll of Isaiah that he doesn’t even understand. This is the worst place to be!
God’s chosen people failed to reach him. The Jews of Jesus’ time were not a friendly bunch. God will never fail, even if it takes sending Philip into a desert. God never wants a man to go away without what he really came for. God loves the man too much to let that happen.
So God inserts Philip into the picture. He is alone in the desert but trusting God completely. God perfectly places Philip to lead this very lost man of Ethiopia into an eternal relationship with God. Philip loses his time in Samaria but another lost sheep is brought home.
Was the one man worth more than all the believers in Samaria? No, certainly not and the man’s prominence in Ethiopia has no bearing on the issue. But one lost man was not worth less than all the believers in Samaria. God’s math is just different from man’s. God is still caring for the Samaritans, He simply has someone else take Philip’s place there.
I can pray to the Lord that He bless my endeavors and keep me on my current path. Wanting to continue a ministry for the Lord is a good thing. Joy in service can be hard to find. But the work is always for the Lord. He is Master and I am servant. He is loving perfect Father and I am a flawed but beloved child. Simple trust in that relationship involves also being willing leave my plans behind in a moment when called to do so by God
We can follow God’s lead confident that the plan is better than ours simply because it is God doing the calling. We can trust that His love for His people and His lost sheep is so much greater than our plan for our lives and our ministries.
Love to all,
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