Yesterday I shared that I have been learning that God can be very, very sneaky. I certainly don’t mean that in a pejorative way. I love God’s sneakiness. I admire it. It is something to be praised. God’s omniscience, transcendence, and sovereignty provide the means for God to work in unexpected but divinely powerful ways that often go unseen and overlooked. What makes God’s sneaky, subtle, and subversive actions praiseworthy is the motive behind them: love. God loves Himself, and He loves His people. Everything God does is to show us why He is worthy to be loved with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), and that He loves His people as He loves Himself (Mark 12:31, John 17:23).
So let’s unpack a little of what I mean. I have been learning, for instance, that God is producing great good even when things are going very wrong. I don’t know about you, but my experience leads me to believe that we expect the opposite. If things are going wrong, they can’t be going right. We must be being disciplined, we must be at fault, we must have missed something, and when we figure that out the blessing spout will turn on again. Or to put it another way, we are told “be good, work hard, be faithful and things will go well for you.” Only that is a lie isn’t it? All of us know people who are lousy, cheating, self-serving people who seem to have it all, and we all know faithful, good, hard-working Christians who seem to have nothing but trouble in their life. That is one of the big takeaways from the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 and the book of Job. Both Joseph and Job show that living a faithful, moral, God-centered life does not mean things can go all wrong.
But God is sneaky. God was moving behind all the family dysfunction, hate, accusations, and broken promises in Joseph’s life to move Him into the place God needed Him to be at just the right time; and God used all those hard times, all that sweat and tears to mold him into the person who God could graciously use to save His people from famine.
God was moving behind all the violence, natural disasters, loss, and judgmental criticism of his friends so that He could bring Job into a deeper relationship with Him. Everything leads to a personal encounter with God Almighty who gives Job a close up look at His omnipotence, transcendence, and sovereignty for the purpose of showing Him that He was worthy of Job’s love and trust—even when Job did not (even could not)—understand what was happening and why.
God was sneaky then, and He is sneaky now. Let me share a personal illustration. Before I graduated high-school I knew that God was calling me into pastoral ministry and or teaching. Immediately out of seminary I was hired to teach Bible and World history at a private Christian school. I thought it was perfect. I love youth ministry, and part of my job was to create a comprehensive Bible curriculum that went from grade 6 through grade 12; so I was going to get to be academic and creative. However, halfway through the year the headmaster who hired me took another job. His replacement was a retiring college prof who had a very different style and vision of things. While my contract was renewed for the next year, it was substantially less compensation, so I left.
And that was the beginning of several years of everything going wrong. I was having trouble meeting all the ordination requirements the denomination I was with at the time so I could not seek pastoral work yet. So I ended up working at a national telecom company in their accounts receivable department. Cubical life. I have lived it. I did not like it. I am not built for it. While I am good with computers and have lots of common sense, I am more of a relator. My skills and passions center around people and relationships.
I did the work. I did the work because I had to work. After two years went by, I began to wonder if God really had called me to Church ministry. Had I misunderstood? Had I misheard? Why was I running into road block after road black with my denomination? God seemed distant. Quiet. Gone.
But God is sneaky, graciously sneaky. During that time was teaching me a lot about people. He was teaching me a lot about leadership and teamwork. Through seminars and workshops I attended in those years, I gained a lot of skills that are crucial for effective ministry but are not taught in seminary. My years of work in the corporate cubicle farms of America help me to connect with people and understand the problems, stresses, and challenges of work life in ways I never could without that personal experience. God was giving me an education that I could not have gotten any other way.
Looking back, I would not trade those lessons for anything. At the time I would have traded them for anything! God it turns out was never gone, I was never forgotten, and I was not on the wrong track—though it certainly looked that way. Yes, God is sneaky…in a very good, very loving, very gracious way.