Today, I’m writing this on the first day without classes for spring break. I’m sitting at home in Bondurant, Iowa on a nice spring day. But I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be 8,283 miles away from here. Or so I thought. Let me explain.
As some of you may already know, I played on the basketball team at Moody Bible Institute this year and being apart of this team entails a lot more than just playing basketball. Every other year, our coaches leads a trip to a different country for the guys on the team and this year we were planning to go to Nairobi, Kenya. We had the dates planned, the details coming together, the funds beginning to be raised, and then it was cancelled. Due to turmoil in the country because of radical Muslims, most missionaries have left the field and almost all tourists have returned home because of safety. With all of this in mind, and after much prayer and consideration, our coaches thought it best to cancel the trip for this year.
This came as a big surprise to me as I was preparing to go on this trip and had been praying and telling people about our plans for the past few months. At first, I was disappointed and found myself asking why? to God. But since I found out about this in the early parts of this semester, God has given me a new outlook on His plans and my response to them.
The question that I want to ask is this: what do we do when God closes the door on our plans? I was very excited to go to Kenya, experience Africa, minister to lost and needy souls, and grow in unity with my teammates and coaches. Why would God close the door on such a great opportunity and what should be my response to His plans when they’re contrary to mine? I want to share three truths regarding God’s plans that have comforted me and encouraged me these past few months.
We must rejoice in our sufferings. Now I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s not easy. And that might be one of the biggest oxymorons if you ask me. But Romans 5:3-5 reminds us why. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” God uses the disappointments, trials, and struggles in our lives to produce the endurance and hope of God for His greater plans. But how do we rejoice in our sufferings when things don’t go the way we plan?
We must find our joy in Christ; not in our circumstances. A basic truth of life is that things are bound to go contrary to our plans every now and again. But our response is just as important as is what happens. If we find our joy in the items we own, the gifts we possess, or the relationships we have, we are bound to become joyless when we find that everything in life will at one point or another let us down. But if we place our joy in the fact that we are God’s children that have been saved by His grace, we will realize that the pleasures of this world are fleeting and the joy that Christ offers is of endless worth. When we focus on Christ instead of the things He has given us, we respond to trials in acknowledgment that God is working in ways that might not be our own, but are for our good.
The Apostle Paul was one who people would say surely had the excuse to not rejoice. 2 Corinthians 11:24-29 tell of all the suffering he went through for the cause of Christ. He was beaten to the point of death five times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, and endured much more under persecution and personal setbacks. But still, Paul realized this point about joy when he wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Paul found his joy in Christ, not in his circumstances, and thus was able to rejoice.
We must take control of our mind. We live in a pessimistic world and it doesn’t take long for this to influence how we think about God’s plans for our lives. When we face trials, it’s easy to think, what did I do wrong? or, is this God’s punishment? or is God angry with me? My basketball coach always reminds us players that we can’t listen to ourselves, but we have to talk to ourselves. We must speak the truths of God into our lives and cut out thoughts that question His plans. James 1:6 says, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” We must not doubt God’s goodness, but fill ourselves with the reminder that He will work all things out for our good.
Two weekends ago I was at a hotel in Michigan. I was sitting down in the lobby reading the Bible when a mailman came into the hotel. He dropped off a handful of letters with a kind greeting to the worker behind the desk and turned back to leave. On his way out he glanced over and saw me reading the Bible. He immediately came over, introduced himself, and proceeded to share how he was a Christian, too. Hearing that I am a Moody student and am studying to serve God in ministry, he went on to give me a challenge from God’s word. “You’re going to face a lot of opposition in life. Choosing to serve God in ministry will mean that there will be much heartache and pain. And it’s easy to become discouraged and have doubts of God’s goodness in your life, but you have to remind yourself of one verse.” He then told me that there was one verse that he said I had to memorize and that was 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Soon after this, I memorized this verse. The encouragement and reminder that this stranger gave to me was something that will carry with me for a very, very long time.
So, as I sit here at home, nearly 3,000 miles away from where I thought God’s plans were taking me, I’m encouraged being reminded of the truths of God’s word. God never closes a good door without opening a better door and in this I rest content. I’m excited to enjoy this break at home with my family and friends and look forward to seeing how God will use this detour in my plan to reveal His greater plans for my life.