The old hymn says:
“God is working his purpose out,
As year succeeds to year;
God is working His purpose out,
And the time is drawing near…”
Or is he?
“Nearer and nearer draws the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth shall be filled
With the glory of God,
As the waters cover the sea.”
Or will it?
I have a T-shirt on which are written the words: “At my age I’ve done it all, seen it all, forgotten it all”
And I have to say that a lot of things over the decades haven’t seemed to be working God’s purpose out. Far from it – just the opposite. Sometimes, to quote the cynic, it has seemed that “Life is nasty, brutish and short.”
Our reading today seems to illustrate what I mean. God brought about the incarnation of his son through the virgin birth in Bethlehem, attended by a heavenly choir, and the subsequent visit of the Magi from the East. Then King Herod hears of it and acts to destroy the infant Jesus, slaughtering other small boys in the process. On the face of it, is God really in control? It is a relevant question.
However this story gives us answers. Firstly:
GOD DOES NOT PREVENT THREATS TO HIS PURPOSE:
These may be threats from wicked people and from human selfishness. But because he has allowed human beings free will, he allows them to have their way. Hence Herod was allowed to threaten the very life of Jesus and therefore the eternal divine plan of salvation being achieved through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus.
GOD PURPOSES SOMETIMES PROVOKE SUCH THREATS.
Sometimes we might experience that, after God works in a special way in our lives, or calls us to a special task, everything goes wrong. It seems meaningless and unfair.
However it is also true, thirdly, that:
GOD FORESEES ALL SUCH THREATS AND WORKS OUT HIS PURPOSES ANYWAY
God provides a way through the opposition and the problems. We need to remember that nothing takes God by surprise. He foresees everything that will happen. This story illustrates that:
Because of Herod’s jealousy and violent selfishness, Jesus and his family had to flee to Egypt. But, says Matthew: “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Even the very distress of the Bethlehem families was foreseen by the prophets. “Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Recently I came across the concept of Typoglycemia, which I think illustrates the point I am making. Here is an example of Typoglycemia. I’m sure that you will find you can read it fairly easily.
“I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulacity uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch taem at Cmabrigd Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht order the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Such a cdonition is arppoiately cllaed Typoglycemia. Amzanig? Yaeh and yuo awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt.”
How is it that we can read such gobbledegook? As it said, the secret is that the beginning and end of each word (the first and last letters) are accurate and the mind compensates for the meaningless confusion in between them.
That can be applied to life. Sometimes the beginning is clear but what happens then is confused and apparently meaningless. However, God sees to it that the end will be meaningful. He will also help us to understand the apparently meaningless times.
sus is always available. He’s never too busy to respond. He’s never out. He’s always there.
Jesus multiplies our good deeds
Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish and gives some 10,000 people a good, filling picnic, with plenty of food left over for later. “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (verse 20). That is a wonderful picture of what Jesus does with us.
He takes our little prayers and multiples their effect. God does act in response to prayer. We might sometimes ask: “Why doesn’t the government do something about this?” or “Why doesn’t the United Nations do something about that?”
But our prayers can release the greatest power imaginable, far more than governments and world leaders.
Jesus takes our little words and multiplies their effect. A short comment from us can, in God’s hand, be life-transforming for someone else. I remember one such incident. I was about to enter my final year at college and wondered what God wanted me to do with my life. I had thought it would be overseas missionary work, perhaps teaching. But God had made it clear that wasn’t right.
One afternoon my future father in law said to me out of the blue: “Have you ever considered going into the Church of England ministry?” I certainly hadn’t because I wasn’t a member of the Church of England! But those words had a profound effect on me. I realised it was God speaking to me. And now look where I am!
Jesus takes our little deeds and multiples their effect. A little act of kindness can have a profound effect on another person’s life. People normally need to take a number of steps towards Jesus before they commit themselves to him in faith. And your little act of kindness, as a Christian, can move them a step closer, maybe even the final step.
So I often pray that God will do that with my prayers, words and deeds. Why don’t you?
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction