That’s Not the Whole Story

For the past two years, I have asked God to restore my marriage. I’ve pleaded, I’ve bargained. And last Thursday, my divorce was final, leaving me with the reality of disappointed expectations.

The next day, we commemorated Christ’s death on Good Friday. And then celebrated His resurrection on Easter. The timing got me thinking. On the day Jesus was crucified, His disciples didn’t have the privilege of knowing the end of the story as we do. All they knew was that their friend, the man for whom many of them had given up so much to follow, was dead. In their minds, it was a defeat. If only they knew the whole story.

I bet you, that’s what God would say to us. When life hands us what seems like a defeat, I wonder if He’s thinking, “If only they knew the whole story…” First Corinthians 2:9 says, “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him'” (NKJV).

I don’t know yet what my whole story is. But I continue to hold on to the promises the Father has given me. I continue to cling to Jeremiah 29:11, which reminds me that He has “hope and a good future” planned for me and my family. I am excited to see how God puts all of the pieces together to make the wonderful masterpiece that only He can.

As much as the enemy of our souls would like us to believe it, our circumstances are never the whole story. What looks like a defeat is just a set up for a greater victory! So let’s take our victory lap now and rejoice for what God is doing, even if we can’t quite see it clearly.

Hope and a Good Future

“‘I say this because I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have good plans for you. I don’t plan to hurt you. I plan to give you hope and a good future‘” (Jeremiah 29:11 ICB, emphasis mine).

My son handed me a 3″ x 5″ card with the above words written in my own handwriting. I didn’t even remember writing it. But there it was. At the time, I had been asking God for a guiding theme for our family in 2019. Our church was planning “New Beginnings” as a theme for the new year. And I so wanted that to be for us too. It sounded so nice–it sounded exactly like what I needed. But I knew in my heart God had something different in mind for us. So when Journey casually handed me this card, with this verse in an obscure translation, I didn’t just brush it off…well, I almost did.

For me, Jeremiah 29:11 was an overused verse. I categorized it under  my “cliche verses” file, along with Philippians 4:13. You know, the verses that are printed on coffee mugs and T-shirts. And because it is so often used, I tended to discount its truth, as if somehow its popularity made it less true. But God’s word is true no matter how many farmhouse-style signs are printed with it. So after I got over my snobbery, I allowed God to begin to speak to me the truth of this verse.

In its context, it’s part of a letter the prophet Jeremiah sent to the Babylonian exiles. In this letter, he’s basically giving them some less than thrilling news and some instructions:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: ‘Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.’ This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Do not let your prophets and fortunetellers who are with you in the land of Babylon trick you. Do not listen to their dreams, because they are telling lies in my name. I have not sent them,’ says the Lord. This is what the Lord says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years'” (Jeremiah 29:4-10a NLT).

The exiles believed that their time in Babylon was going to be short. They thought they would be returning home soon. But this letter from Jeremiah breaks the news that they would be there for 70 years, so they might as well unpack and get to living. I can imagine how disappointed they felt. I’ve been there. It’s that moment when you realize there’s no quick fix to the mess you’re in, no “special prayer” to make it all go away. And God surely knows too and that’s where we get to this beautiful promise of a future and a hope:

“‘But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope'” (Jeremiah 29:10b-11 NLT).

During the past year and a half, I’ve felt like an exile. I’m in a place I never intended to be–living in a “land” that feels foreign and scary. But I’ve had to make my home here and allow myself to grow. It can be dark and frightening here. But God has promised “hope and a good future.” How exciting and reassuring is that?!

So I embrace Jeremiah 29:11 as a promise and a guiding theme for my family this year. As we move into and through 2019, this promise will lead us. When fear and doubt creep in, as they will, we can point back to the promise of “hope and a good future.” And we can remind ourselves that God is a promise keeper and that His word does not return to him void (Isaiah 55:11).

Trusting the Dream Giver

A few days ago, a friend and I were talking about how we walk through difficult times without always knowing why or what the end of the story will be. She pointed out that the people of the Bible also walked through hard times not knowing the why or seeing the end of the story–which got me thinking about some of them.

Joseph was one of those people. As we find him in Genesis 37, his life was on track. Sure his brothers weren’t huge fans, but he was deeply loved by his father. On top of that, God spoke to him through dreams. And they were good dreams:

“‘Listen to this dream,’ he said. ‘We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!'” (Genesis 37:6-7 NLT).

“Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. ‘Listen, I have had another dream,’ he said. ‘The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!'” (Genesis 37:9 NLT).

Then his life took a dramatic turn. His brothers, jealous because of the favor he received from his father and these dreams that foretold of them bowing to him, sold him into slavery. Suddenly, his life was very different than the one he had envisioned. He found himself in a foreign country, working as a slave. But the Lord blessed him, “The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master” (Genesis 39:2 NLT). However, despite finding success, this wasn’t exactly the fulfillment of his dreams. He was still off track somehow.

Once again, things took an unfortunate turn. He was falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison (Genesis 39:6-20). I can only imagine how Joseph felt. On that first night, I wonder if he cried out to God in frustration and desperation, “There must be some mistake! This can’t be right! What about the dreams you gave me?! How will they be fulfilled from here?!” In that moment, I believe Joseph had a choice–he could bemoan the unfulfilled dreams and become bitter. Or he could keep his eyes on the Dream Giver and trust Him to do what He said He would do. I think the story shows that he chose to trust God because, once again, God blessed him, even in prison: “But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him His faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden” (Genesis 39:21 NLT).

But I’m sure this was a choice he had to make over and over again–in moments of fear or loneliness. Or when he successfully interpreted the cup bearers dream. I’m sure he thought this was the moment when all things would be set right. But the cup bearer forgot about him. And he was stuck in prison for two more years! I can imagine how hard it was for him to pull himself back up and say, “I will trust you Lord, no matter what!” But I believe that’s exactly what he did.

We all know the conclusion of the story. He was released from prison and saw the fulfillment of his dreams (Genesis 41-45). But none of it would have happened if Joseph hadn’t chosen to trust God–over and over again.

“God is not a man, so He doesn’t lie. He is not human, so He doesn’t change His mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” – Number 23:19 NLT

I’ve been given this choice too. I can choose to focus on the dream that is unfulfilled or the promise that has been unmet. Or I can keep my eyes on the Dream Giver and Promise Keeper. God’s Word says, “God is not a man, so He doesn’t lie. He is not human, so He doesn’t change His mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Number 23:19 NLT).

So I will choose to trust the Lord, no matter how many detours life seems to take. I will choose to trust Him, no matter how many times I get my hopes up that this will be the moment that all things are set right, only to be disappointed in people again. I will “hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise” (Hebrews 10:23 NLT).

I can’t see the end of my story, but I know that God does. So I choose to trust Him, no matter what!

Hope for the Future

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
– Corrie Ten Boom

I used to feel so secure in my future. I had things planned out so far in advance–to the point that I stopped asking God what His thoughts were. Then my future became uncertain, and I was forced to trust God with it. Or at least that’s what I’ve told myself. I use Matthew 6:34 almost as an excuse for why I’m not planning anything beyond the next few minutes: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (NLT).

The truth is, the future frightens me. From one day to the next, I honestly don’t know what new pain or challenge I will face. I’ve told myself that by not planning for tomorrow I’m not worrying about it. But the reality is, I am so worried about tomorrow that I refuse to think about or plan for it. I’ve even trained my kids not to ask about anything beyond today. “Mom, can I have carrots in my lunch tomorrow?” Journey would ask. Then I’d hear Faith reply, “Remember Journey, don’t worry about tomorrow!” It sounds so spiritually stupid now as I write it. But I thought I was protecting them, along with myself, from unmet expectations of the future. If I don’t plan for it or hope for it, I won’t be disappointed.

But the other day, as I was dropping the kids off to school, Journey asked about plans for next summer. My first inclination was to give my usual caution: “We’re not going to worry about things that far in advance.” But I stopped myself before I said it. I felt so strongly that instead of shutting it down, I should encourage a hope for the future, not only for him and his sister, but for me too.

James 4:13-16 says, “Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil” (NLT). This was another verse I used to keep myself safe. But the point of it isn’t to tell me not to plan for the future. It’s to warn me not to make my plans without God’s direct involvement. After all, He said in Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope'” (NLT).

Just as the Corrie Ten Boom quote above says, I can trust God with my future. I can remember that He’s the one in control and He has good things planned for me. And in my trust of God, I can teach my kids to embrace the future and not be afraid of it.

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