Has your life turned out the way you thought it would? Mine certainly hasn’t. In so many ways it hasn’t!
My family situation turned out different from how I had planned it. I don’t live where I’d thought I would live. I’m not working at the job I went to school for. My ministry is different from what I’d imagined it would be. I’ve gone through experiences I never dreamed I would go through.
Often I would pray fervently about something only to receive an answer quite different from what I had asked. I had wanted for my life to go a certain way, but God, it seemed, wasn’t always concerned with helping me make my plans happen.
I went through an especially hard time a few years ago. During that painful, extended season I was often bewildered by people who always seemed to get their prayers answered exactly the way they prayed them. To make things worse, it seemed that they were the ones who would announce most cheerfully and loudly that “God is good!” as they reported their wonderful answers to prayer.
Of course God is good. I didn’t doubt that. But I couldn’t help but wonder, “So, what does that imply for me? Is God not good because things do not seem to be turning out very well for my family and me?”
Recently I heard Ravi Zacharias recount an old Chinese folk tale that I think lends helpful perspective. It goes like this.
There was this man who lost his horse. After the horse ran away the neighbor came to him and said “Bad luck isn’t it, your horse is gone.”
The man said, “What do I know about these things?”
A few days later the horse came back with 20 other wild horses, and the neighbor said, “Amazing! It’s not bad luck—it’s good luck! Now you’ve got 20 more horses.”
But the man only said, “What do I know about these things?”
One day the man’s young son was taming one of the new horses when a young horse kicked him and broke his leg. The neighbor came and said, “Terrible isn’t it? Your son’s leg is broken. Bad luck that those horses came!”
However, the man only said, “What do I know about good luck and bad luck?
A few days went by and a gang of youths came looking for recruits to join their gang. They went house to house, looking for all the able-bodied young men. They were about to pick this young man but found out that his leg was broken. So they said, “We don’t want him!” and moved on to the next house.”
And the neighbor, predictably, came back and said, “Good luck isn’t it—your son’s leg is broken!”
The point of that little story, of course, is that I usually do not have enough perspective to distinguish “good” from “bad.” But there are some things that I do know:
If I truly know that God is sovereign, powerful, loving . . .
If I honestly believe that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him . . .
If I am fully convinced that His purposes for my life are entirely right and good . . .
If all these things are true, then I can say confidently that God is good. All the time. Whether He answers my prayers the way I prayed them or not.
I’m still working on this. I’m certainly not there yet. If I get difficult news, you still may not hear me shouting “God is good!” (Although He is, and always will be.)
But the longer I live, the more instructive and helpful my decades of doing life with Him are turning out to be. The years have taught me that God has a pretty amazing track record for turning bad-looking things into good. I can recount time after time when what I saw looking ahead through the windshield was unpleasant, but what I saw behind me in the rearview mirror was beautiful. And so, the older I get, the more able I am to say, How do I know what is “good” and what is “bad”?