Come now, you who say, “Today of tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”James 4:13-15
This hymn came to me while I was awake in the early morning hours the other day. It suddenly showed up to interrupt a line of thought that shouldn’t have been there. It was obviously God-sent because it was exactly the message I needed to hear. The words are as follows:
- Prince of peace, control my will,
Bid the struggling heart be still;
Bid my fears and doubtings cease,
Hush my spirit into peace.
- Thou hast bought me with Thy blood,
Opened wide the gate to God;
Peace I ask—but peace must be,
Lord, in being one with Thee.
- May Thy will, not mine, be done,
May Thy will and mine be one;
Chase these doubtings from my heart,
Now Thy perfect peace impart.
- Savior, at Thy feet I fall,
Thou my life, my God, my all!
Let Thy happy servant be
One forevermore with Thee!
You must understand wintertime in northern Michigan is no joke. It seems to last forever. Most of us love it in November and December, because we know two of our favorite holidays are on the way, plus it tends to be very beautiful with the snow covering everything. By January the thrill is beginning to wear a little thin. Unfortunately, it goes on for at least three more months after that. It’s common for people who live in northern climes to suffer what’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, caused by a significant lack of sunshine and vitamin D. It makes you want to crawl into a cave and hibernate until warm weather finally arrives. This year has been an especially LONG winter, with us trapped in the house for the most part. Being back on my prostate cancer medications just makes the experience more miserable. It’s been Seasonal Affective Disorder, literally on steroids.
I took my wife Monday to Traverse City in snow, rain, and slop to see her oncology nurse practitioner. To the question of why her weight had increased since the last visit, my wife recited the list of what living through late winter does to a person: you’re stuck in the house with nothing to do, which makes you want to eat all the time, and eventually causes you to be a little depressed. After offering an antidepressant and checking for suicidal tendencies, the practitioner gave her prescription: have your husband take you somewhere warm for a week or two sometime during the winter.
My wife has been talking about wanting to go someplace warmer for the past several months, but on a more permanent basis. Feeling the way I do, I was ready to consider the possibility. However, we both remain under conviction that God brought us here for a purpose, one we still don’t completely understand but are sure is still in effect. After we got home from the doctor’s office we continued to discuss the possibility of moving south at a future time. This was running through my mind as I lie awake at four o’clock in the morning. My mind was running scenarios and considering possibilities, and even building a defense for why it was a good idea. Then I started remembering the words to this hymn. I realized Satan was trying to drive a wedge between me and my promise to God to follow His way instead of my own, and I prayed God would prevent that from happening.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with setting goals and making plans for the future. But as I’ve learned the hard way over the years, doing so without considering God’s plans does not lead to peace and contentment. It may not even lead to long-term success; in fact, it may be doomed to fail from the start, because it was most likely built on discontentment with your present situation spawned by your own selfish desires. If Satan can once entice you into discontentment, he can lead you most anywhere. You have the choice to follow through on your plans, but if you began with discontentment there’s a good chance that you’ll eventually become discontented with your “perfect” plan if it doesn’t work out exactly as you’d imagined.
The problem with our daydreaming about wanting to return to the south wasn’t necessarily that it was wrong. There may come a time when it becomes evident that’s what we need to do, with God’s blessing and sanction. What made it wrong were two things. We were thinking only about ourselves and what WE wanted. And we were thinking about it because we were discontented with our present situation instead of focusing on the multitude of blessings we enjoy here every day, and God’s purposes for us here and now. We were on the verge of making the same mistake as Adam and Eve; we wanted to control the narrative.
If we say we want to be in a right relationship with God and be like Jesus, we must constantly remember what He calls us to be and to do. We are to walk in Jesus’ footsteps-follow Him. In every action, in every decision, in every thought we are to do exactly as He would do. It has to be more than the rather trite “What Would Jesus Do?” level of thinking and acting. It has to be Christ acting and speaking through us, not just us trying to imitate the actions of someone we don’t really know. If you read the account in the Gospels of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, you’ll see Him praying, “Father, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.” Jesus had the choice as Son of Man to refuse the Cross. But He had surrendered His will to God and His purposes, and He humbly accepted that God’s will is to be obeyed first and foremost.
This hymn powerfully summarizes that struggle. When we first come to Christ, and unless we are fully committed to surrendering our will to Him, we continue to struggle with discontentment, with wanting our own way, and with the anxiety and fear that accompanies the struggle. By remembering the price that was paid for our reconciliation we may pray for peace and contentment in our lives, but we need to remember it can only be received by our will and desires being perfectly and aligned with those of Christ. The way we achieve that is by surrendering our will to His; “May Your will, not mine, be done.” Our sinful, imperfect desires must be given up in favor of the perfect will of God.
When we are completely surrendered to Jesus, when our only desire is to serve and worship Him, our greatest pleasure will be in being perfectly attuned with His designs and purposes. We become images of God’s glory, reflections of Jesus Christ. And in whatever plans and goals we may make, we can rest in the contentment that God’s blessing is upon them because He has guided us in making them. Only in allowing God to work in us can we experience true peace.