Spiritual Life
Reasons to Believe
Religions & Sects
Church History
In the News
Faith & Reason Press Speaker's Forum Links Resources About Us

The Effective Ambassador

Paul E. Little

Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1946, 1952, 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.

[Suppose] you had been on the coast, either one—West or East—or anywhere for that matter, swimming at the seashore and suddenly found yourself knocked down by the waves, and suddenly you’re in trouble. Do you remember how that happens—a big wave comes and knocks you down, and you go in over your head? You begin to flail and thrash around and gasp for breath and you’re afraid and everything is out of perspective. There isn’t a great deal that matters to you at that particular point—in terms of world politics or the economy or anything else—except getting your feet and getting your breath back again.

Sometimes it happens very suddenly, unexpectedly. Other times it’s sort of a gradual thing, and you’re overtaken without your realizing what’s happened. You know, life is like that. Sometimes we’re going along and suddenly we’re knocked down in the surf of life by some circumstance that is totally unexpected. And we begin spiritually to flail around: everything is out of focus, we’re gasping for breath, we don’t understand, we’re panicked. A great deal doesn’t matter to us that ordinarily does.

Sometimes we get knocked down like that gradually, sometimes very suddenly. It may be some tragedy. It may be a physical illness that hits us overnight (and none of us knows whenever that may happen). It may be that we flunk an exam; it may be that there’s a relationship that breaks up; it may be that we have family troubles (difficulty with children or in our marriage); it may be that our finances are in very difficult shape and what we anticipated we could do, we couldn’t do. It could be any one of a hundred things that we flail around.

It may be that there are some of us here this morning and some of us who are listening who are in that situation in life at this very moment. If you’re not in that situation at the moment, be thankful for it, but the time will sooner or later come when the surf of life will knock you down, and the important thing is to try to find out how we can regain our footing and regain our spiritual breath. The only sure footing we have in the Word of God is related to God himself: the awareness of and the confidence of the providential sovereignty of God. It’s the theme that runs through the whole of Scripture—through the Old Testament and into the New Testament—the fact that God our Creator has a loving purpose of good for each of us, and that nothing happens in your life and mine by accident. I would suggest this morning—and I want to elaborate on this theme from the Word of God—that that’s the only way to get our feet back on terra firma; that’s the only way to catch our spiritual breath with the swirling surf all around us in life. But as we lay hold of that, we regain confidence and comfort and peace and joy. There is no other way.

This is a theme that runs, as I say, from Genesis to Revelation. Joseph knew it. You remember the story of Joseph—literally sold down the river by his brothers. He was in all kinds of difficulty for standing for righteousness’ sake and so on. He had every reason for bitterness (legitimately!) and for all kinds of hostility, but in that classic statement in Genesis 50:20 when his brothers finally are discovering who he is and they fear for their lives, he says to them not to worry. He says, “You meant it to me for evil, but God meant it for me for good.” And all during those years that was the anchor that held Joseph. That was the sure ground that he had in the swirling surf of life.

We find it reflected in Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. In Daniel 3:17-18, you remember, it’s put to them (right to the wall, literally) by Nebuchadnezzar as to whether they’re going to bow down and worship, and the alternative is the fiery furnace. And they say to him, “Look, we don’t know what God’s plan is, but we believe in his providential sovereignty.” They didn’t put it in those words, but that’s obviously what was behind what they said. And they said, “If God delivers us, fine. If he doesn’t, that’s fine. But in any case, we’re not bowing down, so go ahead and do what you please.” That’s what kept them in that situation.

And then there was David—David, who was God’s anointed but who was having a terrible time because Saul was out to kill him. And David had a lot of friends who wanted to help God out. Numbers of them said, “We’ll take care of him for you. You don’t even have to get your hands dirty. The blood won’t be on your hands.” Joab at one point said, “Look, just one throw of the spear and that’s it, and we’ll take care of the whole thing.” And he no doubt gave very plausible reasons to David (since David had already been anointed) why this might be appropriate. But David, knowing God’s providence and his care and his love, says in 1 Samuel 26:11, “God forbid that I should touch the Lord’s anointed.” And David didn’t try to do God’s work for him, even though there was a lot about it that must have been swirling surf.

This morning I’d like to think with you about how this principle operated i