The God Who Is In Control
Summarizing what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty, The Westminster Confession of Faith declares: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF III, I). Translation: God is in control.
If this is true, does the manner in which you conduct yourself, day by day, reflect the conviction that God has everything under control?
Perhaps you don't believe God is in control. Perhaps you believe that you are entirely autonomous. If this describes you, I pray that this psalm may persuade you otherwise.
Psalm 33 is predominantly concerned with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, and yet, you wouldn't know that by the way the psalm begins, "Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy"(v.1-3).
Psalm 33 begins with praise. Psalm 33 begins with exhortations to make music. But why? Why should we sing? When we ask for a reason to praise God, the rest of Psalm 33 answers: we are to praise God because He is sovereign. We are to praise God because He is in control.
The first reason the psalmist gives, for why we should praise God, is "(because) the word of the Lord is upright"(v.4). 'And what does this have to do with God's sovereignty?', you ask. We learn in verse 6 that it is, "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host"(v.6). The connection here is important. We learn that God executes His power by His word. And this power, which is so infinite and so great, would strike terror into our hearts unless we knew that "the word of the Lord is upright".
What the Psalmist is doing then, is he is describing the moral character of God's sovereignty. This makes perfect sense. We don't want just anyone in control of all things. We don't want just anyone governing the universe. If God's sovereignty, if God's control over all things, is to be regarded as a good thing, we must have confidence that this God also "loves righteousness and justice"(v.5).
When we reach verses 10 and 11 of Psalm 33 we are engaged by, perhaps, the most explicit description of God's sovereignty in this psalm: "The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation."
You can clearly see in verse 10 that human beings possess the ability to counsel and plan, but we also see in the same verse that God possesses the ability to "nullify" and "frustrate" these plans. And, think about this: If God did not have the ability to nullify our plans, he wouldn’t be God—would he?
Imagine the commentary of God in heaven if he lacked the ability to trump our will: ‘Uh oh, look at what he’s doing . . . oh, don’t do that! That is going to ruin everything we are trying to do!’ A ridiculous scenario, I know, because for God to God, He must necessarily be in control of all things.
When I hear people talking about ‘free will’ I am always tempted to ask, 'What do you think our will is 'free' from?' Surely our will is not free from God. Admittedly, there is a sense in which we are free to choose certain things. Yet, at the same time, Psalm 33 clearly teaches us that, ultimately, only God has a free will. Our will can be thwarted. God’s will cannot.
The psalmist explains that the counsel of the Lord is sure to stand forever. God's plans, alone, are capable of lasting from generation to generation (v.11). This is precisely what Solomon says in Proverbs 19:21, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand".
Perhaps an example will help. The biblical book of Jonah provides an excellent example of God's will taking precedence over man's will. The book of Jonah begins with God telling Jonah to go minister in Nineveh (1:1,2). The very next verse, however, reports that "Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord"(1:3). It was God's will that Jonah go to Nineveh. It was Jonah's will to go to Tarshish.
Here we see that God's intervention is not always immediate. God allows Jonah's will to prevail, but only for a season. Jonah made it to the city of Joppa where he found a ship, paid the fare, and was on his way to fulfilling his plans to go to Tarshish.
Jonah most certainly had a will, but this will was not free. We all know how the story ends. God intervenes, first of all, with a storm (1:4). Jonah, recognizing that he is the cause of the storm, begs to be thrown overboard (1:12). Then we read that "the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah"(1:17), and finally, we read, "the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land"(2:10).
Jonah had plans to go to Tarshish, but the Lord nullified those plans. The Lord's plan was for Jonah to go to Nineveh and, as we can clearly see, the Lord's plan cannot be thwarted.
From an example closer to home, Allie and I often reflect upon the day we moved from Toronto to Beeton in January of 1998. We had been four years in Toronto, and as we drove our car north on highway 400, past highway 9, I turned to Allie and told her that I was determined to never take a ‘call’ from a congregation located south of highway 9. Again, you know how this story ends.
What I can tell you, from my own example, is that there are times when we are determined to choose that which is not best for us. I am not the least bit bothered that the Lord changed my will, and conformed my will to His—I rejoice in this!
Now, I recognize, that if God is constantly intervening in our lives, it begs us to ask a question. If God is ultimately in control, how do we account for pain and suffering? Admittedly, I could preach ten sermons in an attempt to answer this question and not adequately do so. What I can do, however, is refer you to some key passages of Scripture. And what we find, throughout the Bible, is God working in the midst of painful situations in order to bring about a righteous end.
Many of us are familiar with the story of Joseph. Joseph, after being sold to foreigners by his own brothers, endured many trials—including imprisonment—before ascending to the position of Pharaoh's right hand man. When famine struck the land, Joseph's brothers needed to buy food from him or else they perish. Joseph's reply to them clearly demonstrates God's control over the situation, "what you meant for evil, God meant for good in order to . . . preserve many people"(Gen. 50:20). Along those same lines, the apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 8:28 that, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God".
Such passages provide us with a glimpse of what a blessing it is to have God in control. No amount sin and evil in the world is capable of frustrating God's plans. You may be the victim of someone else's sin, you may be suffering terribly, yet the Bible confirms that God will not waste your suffering. Our sovereign and most righteous God is indeed causing all things to work together for good.
Another inference we can make as we consider God's sovereignty is that our God is an active God. One cannot be sovereign without being active. We read about this activity of God in verses 13 and 14, "The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; from His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth."
Admittedly, the image of "looking from heaven" does not seem like much activity, but we must keep in mind that we are talking about a God who created the heavens with a word. Surely, when the psalmist writes that God "looks" he means to tell us about God's intervention in the lives of His creation. We know this because, in verse 18, when we are told that "the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him" the psalmist equates this with God's deliverance and help (v.19,20).
God's activity is also implied in verses 16 and 17, "The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength." What is implied, of course, is that the king is saved by God. The warrior is delivered because of God.
This truth should profoundly affect how we do ministry here. Allow me to rewrite those two verses for our context, "The church is not advanced by strategic programs; a Sunday school is not made great by a special curriculum. A minister is a false hope for church growth; nor does a minister help anyone by his own strength."
One of the messages of Psalm 33 is that God is taking care of all the things we are incapable of looking after. This is why the apostle Paul tells us to "Be anxious for nothing"(Phil. 4:6). This is why Jesus can say, "do not worry about tomorrow"(Mt. 6:34). Even in the dark valley, God is with us, and He has everything under control.
If God is in control, how shall we respond? First, let us respond by living lives free of fear and anxiety. Because, when we are fearful; when we are anxious, we demonstrate a lack of faith in God’s sovereign wisdom and power.
I recently read a story about a young boy who was at sea during a dangerous storm. The passengers were frightened and at wits' end, but the boy was not disturbed at all. In fact, he was even cheerful. The others asked him how he could be cheerful when they seemed in danger of losing their lives. The boy replied that the captain of the ship was his father, and he knew his father would take care of him.
O that we might recover our child-like trust in the providence of God! This does not mean that we become careless, or entirely without concern. This does not mean that we abandon any notion of thoughtful planning. However, if God is ultimately in control, the outcome lies with Him. Thankfully, if God is for you, His control of things will ultimately benefit you. For this reason our lives must be marked by an absence of fear and anxiety.
How else shall we respond to God’s sovereign wisdom? If God exercises His sovereign wisdom for, both, our good and His glory, it is befitting for us to respond with praise and thanksgiving.
This is why we are here. As we sing our hymns, as we pray, and as we bring our financial contributions, we do so—I hope—out of a spirit that longs to praise God; out of a spirit that longs to thank God for what He has done.
When we do this, we will likely rediscover that Sunday worship is not so much about us, and our preferences, as it is about God. And if we listen closely to our hymns, you will hear the hymn writers praising God for His sovereign wisdom:
All the way my Saviour leads me, what have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy who through life has been my guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell;
For I know, what e’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.
May we be ever thankful knowing that whatever befalls us, the Lord Jesus Christ is in control, and Jesus doeth all things well. Amen.