For one who grew up with the well-deserved nickname "Worrywart Ruthie," I find living in today's world can be pretty scary. It's hard not to feel anxious while watching the nightly news. What will the repercussions be from America's war with Iraq and Afghanistan? When or where might Al Qaeda or some other terrorists strike again?
Sometimes my worries become more personal. Could I, or someone I love, become the victim of some sniper attack while going about our daily routines? Can I keep my grandchildren safe from the child abductors who seem to lurk everywhere?
Life that once seemed relatively safe now appears up for grabs, making me wonder: How can I live God's way in a world that often feels not only out of my control, but out of control, period?
I've come to believe there is a way to live with confidence—but it's not a confidence based on the worldly arrogance that somehow I can control my own destiny. Rather, it's a Christ-centered confidence, the kind the Bible calls "an anchor for our souls" (, NAS).
The apostle Paul wrote from prison to his dear but struggling friends at Philippi: "Being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus" (, AV, emphasis added).
In that passage, Paul revealed three reasons why he could live with absolute confidence. They're the same reasons we can be confident, too—no matter what our personal, national, or global circumstances are.
We can live confidently because we know who God is.
Paul's entire reason for confidence is rooted in the character of God himself—not what Paul did or didn't see going on around him. He's absolutely certain of one thing: God is in control. Period.
This, of course, is a great mystery to us. How does God take into account Satan's fierce, evil opposition, along with the free will he gave humans, and still promise he can work everything together for good?
I have no idea. God never promises I'll understand him, but he does ask me to trust him. Believing that God is sovereign is vital for confident living. It means that when I've begged him to spare the life of a 24-year-old single mom struggling with Hodgkin's disease and she dies, or when he appears so horribly silent as suicide bombers attack once more in the Middle East, God's still in control. And he already knows how he's going to use these evil situations for his own purposes—even if it looks as though Satan's victorious now.
We know from all his writings that Paul trusted not only that God is sovereign, but also that his character is faithful and good (). It's critical for Christians to believe this too. Why?
Because without these additional attributes, we could view an absolutely sovereign God as a potential big bully. If I can't trust that God is always good and faithful, then God goes on trial with each particular circumstance of my life. I become the doubter who's like the waves of the sea, always being tossed about ().
Of course, it's easy to say I'm confident God's faithful when I've escaped a negative situation, but is he still faithful when the friend I've lifted up in prayer for more than 30 years has never returned to faith in Jesus? Or when I was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago and had to face chemotherapy? The truth is, either God is faithful and good in all these situations, or he's faithful and good in none. How we decide between these opposite choices determines whether we live with confidence (and peace) or anxiety.
We can live confidently because God knows us personally.
Sometimes it's easier to trust in God's sovereignty when we consider the mega-events of life rather than the small but challenging moments we experience every day. Is he in those as well?
A comforting, confidence-building truth is that the same creator God who controls the flow of history also knows how many hairs I have on my head (). When God says I'm his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that he's already planned for me to do (), that means every event of my life is part of his plan to shape me for the role he's designed for me to fill—even those events or situations I don't understand.
All my life, I planned to be a nurse. In fact, I became one. Yet, through a series of events, many of which confused me at the time, I've ended up spending most of my time helping internationally mobile families deal with issues they face while raising children cross-culturally. I couldn't have prepared for this because I didn't even know it was a topic! Yet through the circumstances of my life—growing up as a missionary kid, then becoming a missionary myself as an adult and raising my children abroad—God prepared me perfectly for this one tiny niche in his kingdom.
This is why I can be confident for others I love as well. All the unlikely twists and turns of their particular journeys are part of God's shaping and directing of them. I know he'll work with them until the day of Christ's return, just as he has and does with me. That confidence allows me to walk with others through difficulties because I know God's at work, even when I have no idea how a particular situation may turn out.
We can live confidently because we know the end of the story.
Paul had no doubt about the end of the story. Whatever God allowed to happen to the New Testament church or allows to happen to us—persecutions, false teachers in the church, adverse political situations, conflict between fellow Christians, or personal tragedies—his work never will be left undone in or through us. If we never understand the circumstances of our lives before then, things will make sense at last when we see Jesus face to face.
Because there's no question about the grand finale of our lives or even history itself, Paul gives his final, practical instructions for how we are to live God's way—even in a world that feels out of control: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! … Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (, NAS).
The result of living this way? "The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (, NAS).
Ruth E. Van Reken is a speaker and coauthor of Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds (Nicholas Brealey/Intercultural Press).
Copyright 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.