God’s Plan When Our Plans Fail

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Audio Transcript

God can prevent every trial from entering our lives. He can. And he doesn’t. Why not? That’s the question every believer must eventually answer, especially if you believe God is all-powerful. If God is all-powerful, why does he allow trials into our lives? Why does he let the car break down in the middle of nowhere?

To that end, we have a fascinating clip to address this very point, a clip from a 1996 sermon that marked the 125th anniversary of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Pastor John was preaching Jeremiah 32:36–42. To introduce the text, he shared a poem and a personal story. Have a listen.

Our aim is to celebrate the sustaining grace of God for 125 years, and my first question is, What is that? What is sustaining grace? And I want to put it in a four-line poem that I took about an hour to figure out yesterday, and I want to say it over and over again, because when I take the time to put truth in a rhyme, it just helps me. It helps me. So you have to tolerate this. What is sustaining grace?

Not grace to bar what is not bliss,
     Nor flight from all distress, but this:
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
     And then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.

“Grace does not prevent pain, but orders it, arranges it, measures it out, and then, in the darkness of it, sustains us.”

Now, the reason I stress this is that if we were to celebrate a grace this morning that bars us from what is not bliss, and that gives flight from all distress, and that does not order our pain, it would be biblically false and experientially unrealistic. Our experience and the Bible teach us that grace does not prevent pain, but orders it, arranges it, measures it out, and then in the darkness of it sustains us.

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Car Accident and an Air Tube

For example, yesterday, Bob — I’m going to borrow your story. (You go to him and get it corrected afterward if I’ve missed anything.) He told us in that other room over there that God ordains that the people of the Lord, from time to time, take stones and make memorials out of them, so that when they look at them and children say, “What’s that?” parents and others can say, “That’s because God did that.”

And then he told the story of how, a little less than ten years ago, their daughter was in a very serious automobile accident — so serious that she would have died. But the car behind, providentially, had a doctor in it. The doctor, providentially, had in his pocket an air tube. He also had the presence of mind, and got to her just as she was turning blue, to force this into her throat, and she lived. And he did her wedding here in 1992. And as he looked at her, doing the wedding as the pastor, and saw these little scars that remained, he said to her, “Those are a memorial of sustaining grace.”

“God ordains that the people of the Lord, from time to time, take stones and make memorials out of them.”

Now, Bob is not naive. He knows that if God can manage a doctor in the car behind, and if God can manage a little air tube in his pocket, and if God can manage to put him on the scene with the presence of mind and the saving action to save her life, he could have stopped the accident in the first place.

Not grace to bar what is not bliss,
     Nor flight from all distress, but this:
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
     And then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.

A Radiator and a Catfish

Another story, a little lighter this time. Noël, Abraham, Barnabas, and Talitha are in the car, two Saturdays ago, driving from here to Georgia. The car breaks down three times, and Daddy is at home, comfortable. The third time it broke down was about an hour outside of Indianapolis on a lonely stretch on Saturday afternoon. And the radiator crumbles to pieces, basically. The car overheats. They’re off on the side of the road — a baby, two kids, a mom, and no daddy. What do you do on Saturday afternoon?

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A 67-year-old farmer stops and says, “Can I help?”

And Noël says, “Well, we just need a motel and a garage somewhere on Monday morning. Where are we?”

And he says, “Well, would you be willing to come stay with us, my wife and me?”

Pause.

“Well, I’m not sure we would want to impose.”

And he says, “You know, the Lord says that when you serve people in need, it’s like serving the Lord.”

And she says, “Well, can we go to church with you tomorrow morning?”

And he says, “Can you take a Baptist church?”

Not only is he a farmer, but he is also a retired aviation mechanic, and he sets them up. Monday morning, he drives to Indianapolis at 6 a.m., buys the radiator, puts it in, will not charge her for the labor, and they’re on their way mid-morning on Monday. And the icing on the cake is that he has a pond on his farm, and Abraham catches a nineteen-inch catfish.

Now, if God can manage a farmer on the scene who happens to be a Christian — and a Baptist to boot — and an aviation mechanic, and an open home, and a heart for the hurting, and a fishpond, he could have saved the radiator. And he didn’t because sustaining grace is

Not grace to bar what is not bliss,
     Nor flight from all distress, but this:
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
     And then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.

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