Scripture: Romans 9:1-23
Observation: Paul begins expressing his frustration at the Jewish people who do not yet believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation. He shows how deeply hurt he is by this reality, saying that he would be “forever cursed” if it allowed them to believe. He begins to talk about the people of Israel, those whom God had a covenant relationship with. (Because of this relationship, the Israelites received God’s blessings, but not necessarily salvation.) He traces the lineage of the Israelite people to show God’s sovereignty and that ultimately, God is in control. Paul ends with a metaphor of God as the potter and people as the clay; it’s up to the potter to decide how to shape the clay, and it’s up to God to decide how to shape and design our lives.
Application: I loved being the line leader in elementary school. Here are just a few (of hundreds) reasons that being the line leader was the best:
- You got to eat lunch first. My 10-year-old self just couldn’t wait to eat chicken nuggets and drink white milk out of a little blue carton. (Gag me.)
- You got to ring the bell. I’m pretty sure that this was just a weird thing my little Catholic school did, but we didn’t have a real bell system in our school, so we used this huge old school bell that you physically rang to signify recess was over, class was over, lunch was over, etc. Line leaders always got to ring the bell.
- You got to tell people what to do.
- You were in control.
- You were IN CHARGE.
There are hundreds of other reasons, but we’ll stop there :-)
Sometimes, I like to think I’m the line leader of my own life. I decide who/what/where/when/why. I decipher when it’s time to move on to the next thing, what’s good, what’s bad. I think I’m the “potter” in life, molding and shaping things around me, making things happen. I believe that I can control what’s going to happen to me, which of my relationships will survive, where I’ll live and work.
And simply put, I’m way out of line.
There’s only one person who should be leading the line of my life, and that’s God. Every time I think that I’m in charge, that I’m in control, I quickly learn that I am so, so wrong.
Paul reminds us of God’s sovereignty and power all throughout today’s scripture. We could debate the second part of this passage (specifically verses 14-21) forever and ever. It tells us that “God decides to show mercy – we can neither choose it nor work for it” in verse 16. A few verses later, we read that “God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.” Finally, it refutes the claim that we should blame God when people don’t respond to the message of salvation through Christ Jesus, even though we just read that God hardens the hearts of some people.
Phew. That’s heavy theological stuff for sure. This is the pre-destination vs. free will debate at its finest. So, what’s the answer? Does God determine in advance if we’ll believe in Jesus or not? Or do we have a free will to believe the message of Jesus or not? This is a worthy debate. But, I’m actually not sure it’s the best one right now. Because in addition to these competing ideas, there’s one theme that’s true no matter what, and that’s need to understand the overwhelming power and sovereignty of God. Here’s how my study bible puts it (I love this!):
“We human beings always want to think that we are in charge. We think that we are the ‘captain of our souls’ and that by our decisions and actions we can determine what will happen. However, Scripture confronts us with quite a different scenario. Although human decisions and actions are significant, the will of God is vastly more important.”
We’re not the line leader. Not even close.
For me, there’s always been a lot of pride associated with being the line leader. I can go around confidently yelling, “I got this!”
But I also find there’s a lot of shame with being the line leader. Because there comes a moment when my “I got this!” turns into “I can’t do this” or “I don’t understand what’s wrong with me” or “I don’t know why this is happening.”
I go from pride to shame to the only thing left: surrender. Surrender to the almighty God who really is in control, the God who is faithful and powerful and glorious. Surrender to the real line leader of my life.
Is it time for you to surrender, too? What part of your life are you trying to control right now? What are you holding on to that you need to let go? Which relationship are you trying to control? Where do you need to take a leap of faith and jump towards what God has for you rather than stand still?
Let him lead. He’s a God of provision, so don’t worry, he’ll make sure you get to eat your chicken nuggets and drink your white milk…and sometimes, he’ll probably even let you ring the bell, too.
Prayer: God, I too often forget who is really in control of my life. I open my hands and my heart to you today and ask you to be in charge. My life is yours. I pray I’ll allow you to lead and that you’ll give me an obedient, servant’s heart to follow.