In the Best of Hands
In the Best of Hands
One of the abilities that we have as human beings (and it’s one that distinguishes us from all the other creatures), is our ability to ponder the future – to wonder, to imagine, to look forward to, to fear what lies before us. And we all do it! Our minds are often turning to the future and what that future might hold for us.
For all our pondering, however, there is not a single one of us who can penetrate the future. The wisest of all Jewish kings, King Solomon, once said, “we do not know what a day may bring forth”, and that as just as true today as it was when Solomon first said it millennia ago. Gazing into the future is like gazing into the blue of a cloudless sky. No matter how hard we strain our eyes we cannot see the wonderful array of stars that we know lies beyond. So it is with respect to the future. We cannot see what lies beyond the present. It is not a mystery to God! He knows what is before us down to the smallest detail. But it is a mystery to us and will never cease to be a mystery until the end of life.
If we were exempt from sorrows and difficulties, the unknownness of the future would be something we could easily live with. It would actually add to our happiness. There would be all the excitement of discovery as each day’s events unfolded themselves. The questions, “I wonder what will happen tomorrow…next week…next month…next year?” would be asked in a spirit of happy anticipation for we would know that whatever took place, it would be something good and joy-giving.
But life is not like that. We haven’t been exempted from sorrows and difficulties in the past and it is simply a fact that we will not be exempt from them in the future. And that is something that can make the prospect of the future hard to cope with. Many believers – if they are honest – will admit to anxiety and fear as they contemplate what might be ahead.
In Psalm 31.15 we have a text that addresses itself directly to all such anxieties and fears. Addressing the LORD, the Psalmist says, “My times are in your hand”. Here is something gloriously certain that we can carry with us into all our unknown future days: our times are in God’s hand.
By times, the Psalmist simply means events and circumstances. The events of life, the circumstances of life, past, present, and future, are in God’s hand. And what he means by that is that they are all under God’s control and direction; they all take place in accordance with his sovereign will. There is nothing that happens by chance; we are not in the grip of a blind fate; we are not at the mercy of the evil one; nor we helplessly in the hands of other people and the influence they have over our lives. Our times are in God’s hand. It is he who is at the helm from beginning to end, directing everything by his sure, wise, loving, all-powerful hand.
In exploring this delightful theme I want to begin by posing a one word question and then suggest five answers that can be given to it. The question is this: Which? Which of our times are in God’s hand?
I. The first of our times
When you think about it, there is nothing over which an individual has less control than over the time, the place, the circumstances, of his birth. Which of us chose our parents? Or the day, the month, the year that we were born? Or the place where we were born or the place where we were brought up? None of us! These are all things over which we had no control whatsoever. They were entirely out of our hands. But they were not out of God’s hands. Quite the opposite!
Ponder these words, for example: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139.13&14). David is tracing himself back to his ‘roots’ and is telling us that his true or ultimate origin is God. Not his parents, not nature, but God. God certainly worked by means. David was created and formed by God through the natural processes that were at work as his parents came together and as he developed in his mother’s womb. But the key point is that God was the one who made him. That is the ultimate explanation for his existence. And it is the ultimate explanation for our existence too. God created us. He knit us together in our mother’s womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
The implications of this are profound and far-reaching. It means that parents, place and time of birth, and the homes in which we were reared, did not just happen to be what they were. They were determined by our Maker. When he made us, he made us children of particular parents. He ordained that such and such a man should be our father, such and such a woman should be our mother, and that as a consequence we should be born in such and such a place and reared in such and such a home. God was behind it all!
That is why we can say that the first of our times were in God’s hand. The events and circumstances surrounding both our entrance into the world and our early childhood were under the control and direction of God. Everything was arranged by him.
There is much food for thought in that for all of us who are believers, but especially, I want to suggest, for believers born to godly parents and brought up in a godly home. Christians like ourselves, when giving our testimony, will often begin by saying, “It was my privilege to grow up in a Christian home”. It was a privilege, and a very great one at that. We were prayed for constantly by parents who had our highest interests at heart. We were taught from earliest childhood about Jesus and his love. We were taken along to church and Sunday School and had our outlook shaped by Christian truth and principles; – our privileges were great!
And none of it happened by accident! The first of our times were in God’s hand. It was God in his sovereign mercy and goodness who ordained that we should have a Christian upbringing with all the blessings that that has brought. He has certainly been kind to others from the very beginning and many from non-Christian homes have much for which to thank God as they reflect back on the blessings of their childhood. But none have known more of the Lord’s goodness than those to whom he has given a Christian upbringing. It is something for which we ought often to give the most heartfelt thanks.
II The best of our times
We noted earlier that we have not been exempted from sorrows and difficulties in the past and that we will not be exempted from in the future. But that is only one side of our experience. Many of the things that happen to us in life are pleasant. It is often the case that we find ourselves in circumstances that are the very reverse of sorrowful. Even in dark times there are good things that we enjoy and which make those dark times all the easier to bear.
Let’s think then about may undeniably be regarded as the best of our times: gaining success in an important exam; securing a good job; falling in love and getting married to a lovely Christian; years of good health; the birth of our children; their conversion to Christ; the enjoyment of a biblical ministry; a well-earned holiday; a season of great blessing in the church; the settlement of a new pastor; answered prayer with regard to a loved one; recovery from an illness; – these are events and circumstances that give us pleasure; that bring happiness into our lives. They constitute the best of our times. And just like the first of our times they are in God’s hand. They have come from him. God is the master weaver who has woven these gold and silver threads into the tapestry of our lives.
This is something that is everywhere recognised in Holy Scripture. “Every good and perfect gift”, says James, “is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Ch.1:17). Even Satan himself acknowledges it. Speaking to God about Job he says, “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land” (v.10). Satan is the worst of liars. Jesus calls him “the father of lies” (John 8.44). But here for once he speaks the truth. God was the source of every good thing in Job’s life.
And so of every good thing in our lives. Every event and circumstance that gives us pleasure, that brings happiness into our lives, is to be traced to the decision and action of God. It is he who has ordained the best of our times. That is why it is so important that the pleasure and happiness we find in these things be constantly expressed in praise and thanksgiving. James 5.13: “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise”, for by doing so we are recognising and adoring the hand of God in the best of our times. There are many in our world who never give thanks. They congratulate themselves on their good luck or pride themselves on their achievements and never lift heart and voice to God in praise. How different we who are Christians should be! Day after day we should be tracing the good things we enjoy to the hand of a loving God and humbly and feelingly giving thanks to him.
III The worst of our times
Reference has been made twice to the sorrows and difficulties of the past and to the impossibility of escaping them in the future. The question that needs now to be faced is, ‘Where do these sorrows come from?’ Ought we to see them as coming to us in the overruling providence of God as surely as the best of our times? Or are we to confine ourselves to less remote, more immediate, causes; – to someone’s carelessness or malice for example, or to the prevalence of a particular virus, or to the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
The response of the patriarch Job to his sufferings reflects the testimony of the Bible throughout: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the Name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1.21). Job knew full well that his sufferings had had visible and immediate causes. But he saw behind and beyond them to God himself. His times were in God’s hand – the worst as well as the best. And how movingly he expresses it: “The LORD gave”; – there was his hand in the best of his times. “The LORD has taken away”; – there was his hand in the worst.
To someone who does not know God it may well seem a horrible and frightening thing that God should ordain sorrows and difficulties for the very people whom he claims are so special to him; the people whom he has chosen and made his own. But that is not how those who do know him look at it. We understand that there are reasons. Our God is love and does not, cannot, afflict his loved ones willingly. It gives him no pleasure to see us suffering. Without doubt he looks forward eagerly to the time when it will no longer be necessary and he can wipe away all our tears. But for now our suffering is necessary. There are gracious and wise purposes to be served by it, purposes that involve both our good and his glory.
Christian, you are not at the mercy of men or of circumstances or of the elements or of Satan! You are not at the mercy of anything! The worst of our times are in God’s hand and since God is loving and wise and faithful and all-powerful and good we can be absolutely sure that in everything he ordains he has our highest interests at heart. Hasn’t he engaged to work all things together for our good? We are entitled to be at peace in the midst of their troubles. And it is not because we understand everything or because we see the end from the beginning or because God has revealed the whole of his purpose! Far from it. It is rather because we know in whose gracious hand lies the worst of our times: God’s hand.
IV The last of our times
Directing his words to God Job said on one occasion: “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set times he cannot exceed” (Ch.14.5). Every person has an allotted span. A certain number of days and months and years have been assigned to us and when we have lived them out we shall die. We cannot proceed beyond them. The God who has determined the day of our birth has also determined the day of our death. And that teaches us that the last of our times are in God’s hand too. He who sovereignly ordained that at such and such a time we should enter the world has in the same way ordained that at such and such a time we should depart from this world.
This means for one thing that, as it has often been put, we are immortal till our work is done:
Plagues and deaths around me fly,
Till he bids I cannot die.
Not a single shaft can hit,
Till the God of love sees fit.
Because the last of our times are in God’s hand we may be sure that he will protect and keep us until our work on earth is done. Only then will we leave this world for heaven.
Again, the truth that God is in complete control of the end of our lives has power to quieten a very common fear – the fear of how things will be when we come to die. Will there be much suffering? Will it be hard for us to die? We cannot answer such questions in advance. But we do know in whose hand the whole situation will be – a God who is most wise and most loving, a God who is committed to carrying us through, a God who will give dying grace for a dying hour, a God whose strength is made perfect in our weakness, a God who has good purposes to serve in any pain that he ordains for us.
Believers, therefore, may once again be at peace. Our times are in God’s hand. They have been up until now and shall be till the end. And as we come to the close of our days there is just no better hand to be in than the infinitely loving and tender hand of a Heavenly Father who has been with us all our life long and who is committed to caring for us till our final breath is drawn.
V The entirety of our times
Here we gather all the strands together. When he says, “My times are in your hand”, the Psalmist is excepting nothing. He is speaking about life as a whole. Our great God, who has a whole universe to care for, is taking time, as it were, to superintend the entirety of our individual lives. We are never out of his thoughts, never out of his sight. Moment by moment he is sleeplessly watching over us, shaping our whole existence, and doing so as one who is “too wise to be mistaken, too good to be unkind”.
All our past times have been in God’s hand. Nothing has ever happened; no event has ever affected us; no joy, no sorrow has ever entered our lives apart from the decree of our all-wise, most merciful God. He has been in complete control from the first day until now.
All our present times are in God’s hand. You know the details of your own life, the things that are giving you pleasure, the things that are giving you pain. They are not there by chance. It hasn’t simply happened that your life circumstances are as they are. God is bringing to pass what in love he has planned for you from eternity.
Our future times are in God’s hand as well. Here we come right back to where we started. We all ponder the future, wondering what will be in days to come. And we cannot pierce the darkness! We cannot penetrate the veil! It is all a great mystery to us. But here is an infinitely precious thing that we do know. Just as it has been in the past and just as it is at the present so it will be in the future. Our times will be in God’s hand. We do not know what will happen as the days and weeks of this new year unfold. We cannot tell the circumstances of joy or sorrow in which we will find ourselves. But of this we can be sure – God will be at the helm directing everything by his sure, wise, loving, all-powerful hand.
Isn’t our text peculiarly fitted to address the fears and anxieties we often feel in regard to coming days? Think about King David. It is obvious from Psalm 31 that he was facing very adverse circumstances. He can say in v.13, “I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life”. But then he goes on to say this: “But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God’. My times are in your hand”. God was the one in control, not his enemies, and David knew it and took consolation from it.
And we are to do the same. Perhaps there is someone for whom this is very especially a word from the Lord. You can identify very readily with fears and anxieties about the future because they are there in your heart. And they are a burden to you. What is God’s word to you? Surely it is to trust and not be afraid! Your times are in God’s hand and he will take care of both you and yours. He loves you with an everlasting love and is ordering your life with infinite care. You may trust him completely. He knows what he is doing. He is incapable of acting cruelly or unwisely. You may be in darkness but he is most certainly not in darkness. Everything is light to him and under his control. And therefore you may trust him. The entirety of your times are in his hand. All will ultimately be well.
My final word is to those of you who are not yet Christians. Becoming a Christian is a very radical step to take. It means placing your life in the hands of God. It is saying to him, “I give myself to you, to be saved by you, to be taught by you, to be guided by you, to be governed by you”. Nothing less than that! You cease to be your own. Through Jesus you become God’s man, God’s woman, God’s boy, God’s girl.
Does that sound too radical a thing to do? Here is something to put into the mix: the God into whose hands you will place your all – your life, your soul, your will, your future destiny – is a God who will love you, take care of you, protect you, and carry you through everything you will ever have to face. He is a God most wise, most loving, all-powerful and unchangeably good. He will ordain hard times for you. I won’t hide that from you. The Christian life is not an easy life. But he will be with you all the way and will make everything to turn out at last for your eternal good and for his eternal glory. You have nothing to fear. You will be in the best of hands for ever and ever. Let me therefore urge you to place yourself unreservedly in those hands! Come to him, holding nothing back, and say to him, “I take you to be my God and Saviour. From this time on I am wholly yours – to be saved by you, taught by you, guided by you, governed by you just as you will”. It will be far and away the best thing you ever do and will secure for you God’s endless blessing. May he himself kindly help you.