There are many things that are very easy to say and roll of the tongue in times of trouble to give us comfort, call them cliches if you will, but oftentimes people forget or don’t give thought to the actual meaning behind what they’re saying (for the record, I’m not calling out anyone. I’m just speaking generally). “God is in control,” “Trust God,” “Do not fear,” are all easy things to say, but what’s the actual heart of the matter?
Whether we acknowledge it or not, each time we say one of the phrases above, we are giving credence to God’s sovereignty. In short, God’s sovereignty is his divine rule and orchestration (both passive and active) of all events to achieve his end goal: glorifying himself (Isaiah 42:8). What does this mean for us?
It means that no matter what comes to pass, 1) God knew it would happen from eternity past, 2) God ordained or allowed the event to take place from eternity past, 3) God will be glorified through the event because he cannot do something that will not bring him the most glory, which means 4) we should seek the plan and purpose of God to be glorified no matter how dire the situation seems.
There is one passage of Scripture I think addresses this topic perfectly. In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul is in Athens when he sees idols all around the city. Upon seeing this, he says to the Athenian people,
The God who made the world and everything in it, being the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling places, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.” (Acts 17:24-28)
There are so many things worth addressing in these verses, but I will just focus on the climax of this passage; where everything comes together, which is what I have italicized (“that they should seek God”). Everything Paul speaks of that God has done is done for the purpose of us seeking him. But why do we need to seek him? Because it is “in him we live and move and have our being.”
Our lives are utterly incomplete without God. It was St. Augustine who famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” This is what it means to be made in the image of God. It means that “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and created us with a desire for him that nothing else can satisfy but him.
This is what Christ meant when he said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will find it” (Mark 8:34-35). If ever there were perfect verses to sum up what it means to be a Christian, these would be it.
Truly following Christ is, without a doubt, the ultimate act of self-denial. It is a call to completely forsake everything this world has to offer, not just some of it. This includes forsaking yourself and your old desires you had before Christ. But while following Christ is the ultimate act of self-denial, it is simultaneously the ultimate act of self-fulfillment in which we find everything, namely, Christ. But even while it is the ultimate act of self-fulfillment, that’s not even the main point or focus. The main point or focus is what our self-fulfillment is in, which is God. Going back to Ecclesiastes 3:11, it is in God that we find ourselves because we were made for him.
So, to comes full circle from where we began with trusting God that he is in control, this is what it means; this is the heart of the matter: Trusting that God is in control means not just saying he is in control (God is not served by human hands, Acts 17:25), but it also means living a life of complete self-denial, knowing that you will find yourself in God, and then in that finding joy in God’s purpose (Matthew 13:44, in the man’s joy he sells all he has to acquire the treasure), which is his own glory (we should seek God, Acts 17:27).
The more we deny ourselves, the more we will find ourselves and our plans in God.