“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life . . .” (Psalm 23:6)
It is easy to say this when life hands us roses, but what about those thorns? How can I think God is being merciful and good to me when my circumstances feel anything but? Do I have to be some sort of Pollyanna to see the bright side? Is this a ‘hope so’ statement from the Psalm? Or is it a ‘know so’ statement of faith? One thing God is teaching me (I’m a slow learner) is that faith requires a shift in perspective and a new value system. Faith means seeing life’s circumstances as God sees them.
Yesterday someone told us that African people all say, “The Christians come in, convert them, start churches, then leave.” They were not happy about being left on their own. But I’ve learned why missionaries do that. The new Christians and new churches need to be self-sustaining, depending on God and not on the resources of believers from countries that have “more” than they do. They also do not need these outsiders to control how they should live in their culture, but learn from God what He wants them to do. This perspective surprised the person whose opinion had been somewhat one-sided.
The Bible is filled with more examples of good coming out of what seems negative. Paul was in prison and the church at Philippi was concerned about him. However, he wrote them saying, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” (Philippians 1:12–13) Being in jail gave Paul opportunities to share Christ that he would not otherwise have had. Goodness was in the mind of God, not hardship, and Paul could see that.
It was the same when Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He wound up a leader in Egypt and saved his entire family during a famine. After he moved them to Egypt they became anxious that he would retaliate, so they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.”
However, Joseph had a different perspective. He “wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.’” (Genesis 50:16–20)
Often the goodness of God is seen only in hindsight. When I suffer or struggle, I wonder where God is, but He is with me in goodness and mercy anyway, always working “all things together for good” and always conforming my life “to the image of his Son” because this is His good and merciful plan.
He also says, “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” and we have to respond, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:28–32)
The past year has been one of great struggle and great blessing. I’m still not able to fully see the plan of God in it. I’ve often wondered where His goodness and mercy is in all this. But because this is what the Good Shepherd promised for His sheep, I persevere. Rather than give up or despair, far better to cling to the One who persists in saying goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.