From This Point Forward
God Is In Control
by David Jeremiah
Here's a driving quiz to set the stage for this article: In which European country does one turn right in order to go left? And in which European country does one turn left to go right? (There are more countries where this driving paradox occurs, but I've chosen two European countries to make it easy.)
The answer to the first question is France and the answer to the second is England. (Reasons to follow.) And the basic cause is the number of traffic roundabouts in each country. Indeed, France has more roundabouts (30,000+) than any other country in the world.
A roundabout is a circular intersection in which all the traffic flows in one direction around an island in the middle. Drivers approaching from any direction must merge into that flow, circling the island, and then exit the flow onto a new street at the appropriate point. We have relatively few roundabouts in America, but Europe—especially England and France—has tens of thousands of them.
The "trick" in the questions I asked above has to do with which side of the road one drives on. In England, where cars travel on the left side of the street, a driver who wants to turn right at an intersection must first veer left, go (clockwise) three-quarters of the way around a roundabout, then exit in their new direction. Likewise, in France, where cars travel on the right side of the road, a driver approaching an intersection and desiring to turn left must veer right and go around (counterclockwise) the roundabout before merging onto the new street. Confused yet? (In England, it would be even more confusing for us Yanks since the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car—but that's a story for another article!)
Roundabouts on the Road of Life
For most of us, life seems to be lived approaching, entering, navigating, or exiting a spiritual, emotional, or logistical roundabout.
Approaching. If you've ever approached a roundabout at a major intersection, you know there are no traffic lights—everything is in motion! If you are a passenger in a car in London for instance, as I have been, approaching a busy roundabout can be a white-knuckle experience. Life can be that way as well. We look ahead to a situation on the horizon—new job, marriage, move to a new city, a crisis of some sort—and the closer we get, the more intimidating the situation becomes. We're tempted to turn down one of life's side streets to gather our thoughts, all the while knowing that our destination demands entering the fray. (In Scripture, think how young Mary felt as she approached being the mother of our Lord.)
Entering. There are no lights or stop signs governing traffic that enters a roundabout. It's every driver for him—or herself! You have to pick an opening, beep your horn, give it the gas, and enter the flow—hopefully without crashing into another car. Entering a roundabout is a step of faith, much like the choices we make in our daily life. (Think how the apostle Paul felt as he entered the realm of Christ's church as a hated man.)
Navigating. If you're the kind of person who likes the bumper car ride at the county fair, then you love driving in a large roundabout. There are no lanes and everyone has 15-30 seconds to survive and prepare for the exit. In life, once we've committed to a decision, there can be bumps and starts and stops along the way, and we wonder if we'll survive. (Think how Job felt as he tried to navigate the period of his own suffering and loss.)
Exit. Assuming we have navigated the roundabout correctly, we are positioned to exit and continue on our way. But sometimes, the traffic is so dense we can't get in the proper lane to exit and we're stuck, going around for a second or third time as we try to maneuver into the right lane. The refrain, "How long, O Lord?" is not only a familiar one in Scripture, but in our lives as well. We find ourselves going round and round in one of life's roundabouts, wondering why God doesn't step in, stop the traffic, and wave us safely to our exit.
The Purpose of Life's Roundabouts
The late, long-time pastor of Philadelphia's historic Tenth Presbyterian Church, Dr. James M. Boice, recounted this story about the complexity of life's moments:
"Years ago I had a watch that my father had given me when I graduated from high school. It was an unusual watch in that its back was transparent. You could look into it and see the mechanism working and the wheels turning. Some wheels went forward. Some went backward. Some turned quickly, others slowly. There was a large mainspring and a few small hairsprings. There were levers that were popping up and down.
"The Christian life is like the parts of that watch. At times the events of our lives move forward quickly and we sense that we are making fat progress in being made like Jesus Christ. At other times events move slowly, and we seem to be going slowly ourselves or even slipping backward . . . ." (James Montgomery Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary, Vol. 2: The Reign of Grace: Romans 5-8 (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids: 1992, p. 909).
In spite of all the complexity of a timepiece, little of which we actually understand, when we turn it over and look at its face it accomplishes its intended purpose: It tells us the time. Life's roundabouts are like the gears and levers in a finely built watch. Fast, slow, backward, forward, ups and downs—but the purpose is always accomplished.
No passage of Scripture better explains the process and purpose of life's roundabouts than Romans 8:28-29.
The Purpose and Process of Life's Roundabouts
Most Christians are familiar with 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." But not as many are as familiar with the context of that verse—and a verse out of context becomes a pretext for something God didn't intend.
The word "know" forms a three-step outline in Romans 8 leading to verse 28:
- Verse 22: "For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now."
- Verse 26: "For we do not know what we should pray for" [in the midst of life's 'groans and labors'].
- Verse 28: "And we know that all things work together for good . . . "
Isn't that beautiful? We know that life can be difficult. We often don't know how to respond or even pray. But we know that all things—even the difficult things—work together for good to those who love God, to those He has called to fulfill His purpose.
Those verses describe the process of life in a roundabout: scary, difficult, perplexing, even dangerous! Sometimes we're caught in the flow in life, unable to control what's happening around us, being carried along by circumstances we are powerless to change. But we can know with confidence that God is in control of "all things" in our life, causing them to work together for our good. The process has lots of moving parts that we don't understand—like a roundabout or the inside of a watch—but God is in control of them all.
Why does He control them? Because He has a purpose; there is a method to the madness of the roundabout. God's purpose is to conform us "to the image of His Son, that [Christ] might be the firstborn among many brethren" (verse 29). Therefore, "all things" (verse 28) in our life are being used by God to get us to the other side of the roundabout: to allow us to exit into eternity in the very image of Jesus Christ. How God does it is not always clear. That He is doing it is crystal clear from Scripture.
The next time you are approaching, entering, navigating, or trying to exit one of life's roundabouts, remember what we know: God is using "all things" for His purpose of making you more and more like Christ.