Waiting on God Doesn’t Mean Doing Nothing
Years ago, when we lived in Nashville, our church sponsored a family of refugees from Vietnam. They knew some English, but were a long way from being fluent in our language. We found an apartment for them as well as jobs for the mother and her son, Phuong who was about twenty years old at the time. Our congregation worked with this family of refugees in a number of ways to help them integrate into American society. I volunteered to teach Phuong how to drive. His mother assured me that her son already knew how to drive; everything from motorcycles to trucks.
Since Phuong had some experience, I thought we could skip the introductory lessons about how to drive. So, I directed Phuong to drive down the four-lane thoroughfare that would take him to his job. I told Phuong he would need to be in the left lane because he would be turning in that direction soon, but he cautiously remained in the right-hand lane. That was unfortunate, because that lane would soon become the entrance ramp to Interstate 24 West, which headed to downtown Music City. I instructed Phuong to signal a lane change, and to do it quickly. But Phuong either didn’t understand what I was saying, or he was too paralyzed with fear to act, or both. So, we found ourselves on the entrance ramp to the interstate. Certain death and destruction were waiting for us.
It had been dawning on me that Phuong had probably never sat behind the wheel of a car. And now here we were, being pushed onto the interstate, and into a seemingly unavoidable accident. But it was at this precise moment that something else was beginning to dawn on me; something that would bring both comfort and courage to me—the belief that God is sovereign over all things. The Lord could get us through this dangerous situation unscathed. And I believed He would. But if not, I had the assurance that I would be with the Lord in Heaven very soon.
In the 27th chapter of Acts, Luke records the fascinating account of Paul's voyage to Rome and of the shipwreck that occurred on the way. Paul’s experience on the stormy Mediterranean reminds me of my own experience on the interstate with an inexperienced driver sitting behind the wheel. But Paul’s experience was more frightening. Far more. It’s hard to imagine anything more harrowing than riding out a hurricane day and night for many days without the aid of the sun, the stars, or even a compass. The compass would not be in use in maritime navigation for at least a thousand years.
While the storm was raging, an angel came to Paul and assured him that he and all the passengers on board would be saved. Paul surely was encouraged by the presence of the angel and by his assuring words. God is in control. He will get you through. These are words of comfort and of courage. So, what does Paul do? Does he go below deck and settle into his hammock and wait for God to do something miraculous?
No. He goes out on deck, and sees the sailors trying to escape. Paul says to the soldiers, "Unless you stop them, we're all lost." Think of what he's saying. The Word of God is clear—everyone on board the ship will be saved. Absolutely. Unconditionally. But Paul says that in the next few seconds, the fate of everyone on board will depend upon what a human being will do or will not do.
When I found myself on the entrance ramp to the interstate with traffic flying be at 70+ miles per hour, I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing under the guise of waiting for God to intervene. I unbuckled my seat belt, reached my left foot over to the accelerator, grabbed the steering wheel with my left hand, and peeled rubber! It was an exhilarating experience, one that I hope to never have again.
I learned something valuable that day. God is sovereign, but that does not excuse us of responsibility. Comfort and courage come to those who believe that the outcome of every situation is in God’s hands, but speak and act as if the outcome is entirely in their hands. Is this a contradictory statement? I don’t think so. God’s sovereignty is precisely the springboard on which he nudges us to do in faith what we must do so that what God says will be done is done.