My footsteps seemed to echo so loudly on the cement floor. The building had long since been abandoned by students, fans, and teachers alike. It was late and my feet hurt from working for over 10 hours already, but there was still more to do. I was seriously regretting this late night again, and was mentally calculating how many hours of sleep I could squeeze out before having to come back the next morning. Either way, it wasn’t going to be pretty.
As the broom led me around the school, I starting thinking—once again—about how I had gotten here. Of all places, here I was in the middle-of-nowhere-northwestern-Nebraska working as a janitor at the local high school. It wasn’t that jobs were hard to come by, but the town only had a population of 250 so a variety of options was certainly limited. Being a janitor wasn’t a dream job. I wasn’t even looking for it as an option, but when there was an opening, I still needed a job and it seemed to fit the bill. At first, I almost dreaded each time someone asked me, “So what do you do?”. I felt like each answer needed to begin with this long description, starting with my education background (because I’m a janitor with a Master’s degree) and finishing with the recognition that this is where God has me right now. Why of all things, was I working as a janitor? What was God doing?
I almost couldn’t believe my ears. The job description was sitting in front of me with the title “CEO Executive Assistant” right at the top, and my boss was going over some of the fine points of the job offer. It had been just over two months before that I started my job at City Union Mission. After two years in northwestern Nebraska working as a janitor, I had moved back to Kansas City for this opportunity and was really enjoying the chance to use my gifts and education to serve the poor and homeless. In other moments where co-workers teased about the move up, I had denied it, stating that I liked what I was doing and didn’t want and “Admin” job. But here a job offer—once again—and it was right in front of me.
As I went back to my desk to start thinking and praying about all I had just heard, I started thinking how I had gotten to this place. When I started the end of June, I never imagined that the boss I was working for (boss 1) would be transitioning in leadership, I would get another boss (boss 2). Then after a couple of months, boss 1 would offer me this new position. Why was this happening when I liked what I was doing, felt like I was making a difference and really helping people? A wide variety of emotions pressed in upon me. What was God doing?
These two instances are completely true. I’ve lived them out over the last two and half years of my life. The change was massive, yet not disruptive. Behind these examples of my recent jobs are a vital story of God’s faithful and providential work in my life. It doesn’t make sense in many aspects, but standing on this side, there is a lot of joy to recount and blessings that God brought in very unexpected places. To the outsider, the connection might not be so plain; or maybe it’s glaringly obvious, but just so strange as to think about how it all works together.
Thinking about God’s providence is putting together His sovereign work in the world and the lives of people. It begins with a recognition of God’s work and an understanding of God’s word. There are lots of instances in the Bible that demonstrate God’s work in this way. The story of Scripture points to a God providentially moving in the creation He has made toward the end He has already planned. One of my favorite Bible characters that helps paint this picture is Queen Esther. She was living in the “right” place at the “right” time and God used her as an instrument to save the Jewish people from annihilation at the hands of the Persians. She might not have thought about herself as a key to this plan, but then got this reminder from her uncle when faced with a hard decision:
“…[f]or if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
“For such a time as this…”, here was the acknowledgment that God had put her in that place at that time for a reason. God was in control of her life and the lives of those around her. Nothing was outside of His control or not working toward His ultimate plan and purpose for the world.
Another example comes from the apostle Paul when he joined other New Testament authors in writing about God’s providence in one of the letters to the church in Corinth.
“…Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say ‘Yes, yes’, and ‘No, no’ at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you…was not Yes and No, but in Him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory.” (2 Corinthians 1:17-20)
In desiring to go back to that group of believers, but being hindered at different times, Paul was encouraging them that he was not willfully neglecting them or anything. As a servant, or rather, slave of Christ Jesus, he was bound to a different calling. This calling in Jesus Christ was one which did not make decisions on its own whim, but followed and obeyed God in order to glorify Him. It was not as if he was vacillating between two good things, saying “yes” and “no” at the same time. All the promises of God are “yes”; the door is wide open and full of good things. What may have seemed like a “yes” and “no” to this group, was simply Paul’s walking by faith and following God’s will for his life.
In the past two and a half years, I’ve been faced with some big questions about life, where to go, and what to do. The connection grows in my life as a Christian when I keep two things in perspective. This has helped to deepen my understanding of God’s work in my life, in other’s lives, and in the world.
First of all, God is sovereign. Everything falls into place when you understand (or grow in understanding) that God is in control of everything. Scripture speaks of God and shouts His ultimate authority over all things. He is the King over everything. Since this is true, it means that He is also in control of me. This sovereign work in my little life brings first, humility and then, purpose. It is a humble thing to know that the God of the universe has also written the story of my life and is working out that story. It bring purpose in that, since He is in control of my life, then I want to live in such a way that glorifies Him. My life isn’t my own.
Second, living by faith is walking with Jesus. When your life isn’t your own, this next statement makes sense. Our lives are filled with purpose, but we don’t see the end result yet. We are called to walk by faith. Faith is trust or reliance on things we can’t see and the assurance that God exists, He is real. Walking by faith is the same as walking with Jesus. This is the daily living out of what God has worked and is working in us. Each day which brings decisions, schedules, plans, goals, and opportunities, is the point to look to Jesus and rely on His Spirit to do what is right and pleasing to Him. The end goal is that we will look like Jesus
Connecting the Dots
It is these two things—God’s sovereignty and walking with Jesus—that provide the connection for me to see God’s providence. When I wrestle through hard things and decisions, like what job am I going to get? or where should I move to? or what should I do in my life?, the peace comes from knowing that God is in control. He knows the answers to the questions, even the ones that press to keep me up at night and bring sorrow and tears. In the knowing of the answers, He is also working in and through them to lead me to what He wants. And while the answers aren’t usually (or in my life, almost never) written on the wall, God still knows. In each faithful step living as a Christian, God moves and opens the doors.
I am, by no means, the ultimate example of walking by faith or anything, yet I do have a story to tell which speaks of God’s work in my life. He saved me from my sin when I was a young girl, putting me in a family with loving, godly parents. God’s Spirit has been at work in me to reveal God’s word through consistent study, reading, and prayer, and show me more of Christ. He has put me in a spiritual family for fellowship and encouragement centered in and on God’s word. I am fully convinced that God knows what is best and is working out His will which will glorify Himself and be for my ultimate good. Yet, this needs to be an almost daily reminder, because I so quickly forget. The fallen world around me strives to take my attention from the God who is in control, to myself as one who needs to take control of my life. This doesn’t end in a happy or satisfied life, rather the result is drinking from a firehose of emptiness which only leaves me thirsty. Therefore, each day I need to continue to go to God, recognizing that He is in control of all things and then do the things that glorify Him.
My story doesn’t end with the comparison of these two recent job opportunities. I know I am young and have a lot of life ahead of me, if the Lord wills. But this reflection helps me to grow in faith, because I have seen God work in the past; He is going to work in the future for His glory and my good.
I pray the Lord will continue to grow your faith as well as you trust God in your season of life. In that season, stay in God’s word so that you can see His sovereign work over and in and through all things. Pray for grace to keep moving forward even when you can’t see the road ahead. In the stepping, trust God’s work in you, His plan to glorify Himself and make you look more like Jesus. It will be for your good and His glory. There is no better recipe for a happy and fulfilled life than this.
“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will act.…The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in His way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” (Psalm 37: 3-5, 23-25)