by Jason M. Karampatsos, PhD
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Although that may hold true for two-dimensional objects, life has taught many of us that you can’t always get where you are going by following a straight line. As we look through the stories in the Bible, we find that very rarely do any of the stories in both the Old and New Testament include any straight lines. Sometimes the detours and chaos that ensue are due to sin, disobedience, or the lack of faith—think the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years for a trip they should have been able to complete in under 40 days—and sometimes there seems to be no easy explanation on why things had to turn out the way that they did.
Recently, my family has seen our entire world turned upside down. Ours has been a rather exciting journey that has come as the answer to many, many, many prayers, but it has turned our world upside down none the less. Perhaps I should be a little more specific for those of you who have not been following our journey on my blog (june3rd.com) or on Facebook (facebook.com/DrJasonKarampatsos). My wife, Jennifer, and I have not been praying that God would turn our world upside down, but knowing that is how God often works, it should not have come as a surprise when He chose to answer our prayers exactly that way.
Sure, it would have been simpler if God answered our prayers precisely as we prayed them. After all, who would know better than us what we need? Of course I joke, because so often we haven’t the faintest clue about what we need when we are asking God to meet our needs. Scripture reminds us that God’s perspective is so far above our understanding that we can’t even begin to comprehend it.
Why did Abraham and Sara have to wait so long to have children? Why did Joseph have to go through Potiphar’s house and prison to deliver his family during the great famine? Why did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have to be tossed into a fiery furnace if they were going to walk out unscathed? Why did Daniel have to spend a night in the lion’s den when even the king did not want him there? Great questions to which theologians can posit logical sounding and possibly even valid answers (see Gen 50:20), but remember, even after all of Job’s questioning, God’s response was, ‘Who are you to even be asking?’ While you and I may be able to offer God some suggestions and remind Him that there are shorter distances between two points, He would remind us that our ways are not His ways (Isaiah 55:8).
In addition to serving as a counselor and clinical supervisor for Safe Harbor Christian Counseling for close to a decade, I am an ordained minister and have served in the greater Baltimore/Washington D.C. area since 2005. It was about a year and a half ago that I felt that God was calling me to prepare for a ministerial transition and my wife and I began to prayerfully walk through that process with some trusted colleagues and friends. We had our ideas on how the transition should go and we diligently offered them to God in our daily prayer time. God, on the other hand, must have felt that our timeline was too neat and tidy and felt that we could use a little turning upside down.
There were several moments along the way, as we crisscrossed the country for interviews, that we felt the pressures of uncertainty concerning where we would be a year from now and when the transition might take place. We served at an amazing church located between the two beltways that was gracious and supportive during this season, but it was hard planning for what God had next when no one knew where we would be and when we would be transitioning. Once we shared what we were sensing from God with our children, then they too felt their world begin to turn upside down as they didn’t know when (or how) they would say good-bye to so many great friends. Our hearts and minds were torn between what God has for us and what God had for us.
I believe that Jesus can, and often does, turn your world upside down to put things in place. I believe that Jesus loves us so much that He spares no expense for His children, and out of that abundance of love and compassion He knows what is best for us. Sure, it is easier to never spend a day on unemployment or to never spend an evening in an oncology ward, but sometimes God truly has greater purposes that we just do not see. Are there things within us that God needs to remove, or is there a powerful testimony or another life that we will come in contact with only if we are where God wants us at a particular place and point in time (see Esther 4:14)? Do you want to know the honest truth? Nobody knows, and we may never know this side of eternity.
It is still too soon to tell why God threw us a few curveballs along the way and made the “along the way” as long as He did, but there are a few things that we believe that we have learned along the way that might bring comfort, guidance, and peace for you the next time you find your world turned upside down for a season. I share these with you, not as one who has figured it all out, but as a fellow traveler who desperately wants to honor and please God with his life and to help others whom God has cross my path along the way.
God knows best. We have to believe this and never doubt it. I know how I like to order my hot chocolate at Starbucks, and I know what temperature I like the thermostat set at, but when it comes to what matters most we need to simply have faith that God knows best.
God knows you better. Again, you and I are capable of ordering our favorite drink, but God knows you in deep intimate ways that we will never comprehend during our short time here on earth. He made you, loves you, isn’t fooled by facades, and truly knows us for who we are.
God loves you. Not only does God know best, knows you the best, but He also loves you—might I add that He loves you the best too! Many of us have come to a realization that God has sent His one and only Son to die on the cross for us, but His love for us did not end there. He loves you today with an everlasting and unconditional love.
God has given you free will. This one is a bit tricky to understand. Why would someone who knows best hand over the decision-making process to someone who does not know best? Although I struggle to fully grasp this one at times, I do defer to principle #1: God knows best. With free will comes the chance to make mistakes, but it also gives us the chance to seek God’s will for our life. Thomas Merton once wrote, “…I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to authentically strive to find God’s will for our lives and please Him in all of our decisions (including the decision to find His will for our lives).
God is not always to blame. Sometimes God turns our world upside down, and sometimes we do a fine job causing that all by ourselves. We need to be careful not to blame God for our mistakes. Perhaps you have heard the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “He reminds me of the man who murdered both his parents, and then when sentence was about to be pronounced pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.” Perhaps this one point deserves its own blog entry, but suffice to say that we need discernment to know when we have gotten ourselves into trouble by our own actions and decisions.
God is a God of order. The natural state of the universe is towards decay and disorder, and the natural—or should that be supernatural—state of God is towards order and reconciliation. God is not going to turn your world upside down because He prefers chaos, but He will use the chaos to bring about order. I personally do not enjoy omelets, but if God wants an omelet in our lives then we need to be prepared for a few cracked eggs.
God will never leave you, nor forsake you. No matter how upside down your life becomes, or how long things remain upside done, you must remember at all times that God is still right there beside you. Save your energy from wondering where God is and focus on what He desires to do in and through you during this turbulent season.
The truth is we need to live by faith (Romans 1:17), we need to be obedient to God (1 Samuel 15:22), and we need to embrace God’s will and plan for our lives not because it makes sense but often in spite of it making any sense at all. As the aptly named hymn reminds us, ‘Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
My family is finally seeing life settle down a bit. We have sold our home, I was elected as the new lead pastor of New Life Assembly of God (nlag.net) in beautiful Janesville, Wisconsin, we have said farewell to the church family that has been such a part of our lives during this past season of ministry, and we bought a new home just down the street from the church. Well, more accurately, our offer on a new home has been accepted.
Technically, today as I write this blog entry we are enjoying 30 days of homelessness. As beautiful as the Outer Banks are, and as much as we are looking forward to spending some time visiting family, we all long for the steady rhythm of life to resume once we settle into our new home. Selling a home is ranked up there as one of the most stressful events in one’s life, add to that buying a home and living out of suitcases for a month and we are daily praying for God’s grace. We are learning to enjoy the journey and appreciate that God is not done with us yet. We marvel at His grace and unmerited favor and are prayerfully anticipating the next curveball that God will throw our way as he turns our life upside down to put things right in place.
Despite moving from the east coast for the first time in our lives and 20 plus years of marriage, I will continue to write for Safe Harbor’s blog and bi-weekly newsletter from Wisconsin. If this is your first newsletter, I invite you to subscribe and share this with someone you know who might be feeling their world turned upside down. In the meantime, I leave you with this short prayer.
PRAYER: “Oh lord, today may be easy, or it may be not. Today may make sense or feel like utter chaos. Give me discernment to know when it is an attack of the enemy or your perfect plan and to trust that my feet will land precisely where you desire them to as I trust and obey.”