I am spending this semester in Ireland, studying abroad at the University of Limerick. I am incredibly blessed and so thankful to have this opportunity. I came to Ireland, expecting to have the most amazing experiences of my life. Everyone who I had talked to or whose writings I had read convinced me this was the greatest thing that could happen in my life, or so it felt like.
When I got here, though, all I really wanted was to go home. I really struggled with everything being a little bit different, and I became extremely discontented. Through the discontent, I thought, it will be better once I get settled into my own room, or once classes start, I’ll be fine, or I’ll feel better once I fall into a routine. I kept waiting for circumstances to change rather than finding contentment in exactly where I was at.
Since then, I have settled in and adjusted to Ireland. I truly love being here. However, God taught me an important lesson in those first few weeks. I realized that God never promised for the experiences He gives us to be fun or enjoyable. In His graciousness, He often gives us good experiences, but He doesn’t always do that. He only promises to do what is good for those who love Him. When I remember this, the circumstances, whatever they may be at the time, fade away, and God’s promises become enough.
When circumstances don’t feel rosy, or when life is just plain hard, I find a lot of comfort in Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” He sees the big picture. He is God, after all. He knows everything that will happen to me in the rest of my life. He knows the people I will encounter in the next year. He knows the lessons I need to learn and the pain I need to experience. He knows these things because He is sovereign King, and He promises to do only good and always the best for His children because He is loving Father.
The chapter gets more comforting:
“ For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (vss. 10-11).
I love the way this is worded: as surely as the rain falls downward and not up towards heaven, His word will not return void but will accomplish and prosper in exactly what it was supposed to do. When God declares something for your life and for mine, it will happen the way He intended for it to happen. He sends these things to accomplish purposes in our lives.
Then, when we see that life is more than the circumstances surrounding us, we will see the promise of God’s purpose that will surely prosper. In light of that, we will “go out with joy, and be led forth with peace” (vs. 12). There is no remote possibility in heaven or in earth that God’s word will return to Him void. When life hurts and even when you feel like you just can’t take another breath, rest assured that the Lord will sustain you. “Cast you burden upon the LORD,” David writes in Psalm 55:22, “and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” In the middle of the storm, through the Refiner’s fire, and in hands of the Potter, whatever God is bringing you through and however He chooses to do it, He will never leave your side. He will accomplish everything in you that He set out to do, and He will not let you fall.
James goes a step further with this in the first chapter of his book. “Count it all joy when ye fall into diverse [trials]; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4). James also recognizes that God has specific purposes for the trials He sends. The general yet incredibly beautiful purpose is to make us perfect, entire, complete.
I studied that passage at a very timely point in my life, when I was going through one of the biggest trials in my life. Count my trials all joy, I thought, because they are God’s way of molding me into exactly who I need to be. In my mind, this was a picture of the Potter shaping the clay. The clay didn’t know why it needed a certain shape; it didn’t understand why it had to go through a difficult molding process and then through the fire. It needed all those things, though, to be perfect, entire, and complete for the purpose the Potter determined.
How can I be anything but content when I know I need what God sends my way? How could I doubt that these circumstances are necessary when God has promised and when God has never been anything but perfectly faithful? Circumstances are nothing but tools in God’s hands, although sometimes excruciatingly painful. Friends, remember through the circumstances that His ways are not your ways but are so much higher. Remember that He will not let you be moved in the difficult times. He can accomplish His purposes because He is Sovereign, Almighty God, and He will do it, without leaving you or forsaking you because He is our faithful Father.