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Why Isn’t God Showing Up? (How I Thought He Would)

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - How many times in life have you been forced to turn to Plan B due to a shattered dream, an unmet expectation, or a life-altering disappointment?  For most of us, the answer is more than we would like.

Author Pete Wilson wants to help people face these overwhelming situations.  While the process is not an easy one, Wilson’s hope is that people will surrender their plans and receive God’s blueprint for their lives instead.

In his new book, Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would”, Wilson guides readers through real life stories of disappointment along with biblical stories about David, Joseph, and Ruth to show that the Cross is the centerpiece of each of our individual stories with God. Program Director Chris Carpenter sat down with Wilson recently to discuss how God does his best work in what seems like hopeless situations, the key to putting fear in its proper place, and how surrender factors into God’s Plan for our lives.

What was your inspiration to write this book? What drove you to put pen to paper ... or shall I say fingers to the keyboard?

As a pastor, every day I'm running into people who are struggling with their life not turning out the way they thought their life was going to turn out. Almost every pastoral counseling situation that I've faced in 15 years has to do with this topic of somebody facing a Plan B, an unplanned circumstance where, whether it's their marriage is falling apart, they are battling with depression, they are struggling with their adult kids making poor choices. Over and over again, I spent so much time walking along side so many people who are just struggling with trying to figure out, "Hey I'm a Christian, I'm a follower of Christ but my life is not turning out in the way I thought it was going to turn out." Maybe even the bigger question for them, "God isn’t showing up for me in the way I thought God was going to show up." So I think helping people figure out where God is in the midst of their crisis is something as pastors, as a church, we have to do because everybody's there. Everybody I meet needs healing of some kind, so how can we do that? How can we meet them in the midst of that crisis?

What does that look like?

The reality is as Christians, even though we have faith, sometimes we have doubt. Even though we believe that God is with us, there are times that we feel like we've been completely abandoned. So I've tried to take a very just honest approach to crisis as a Christian and not try to give easy answers. In fact, the last chapter is called “The Bow.” I talk about as a pastor when we are planning out church services; we often talk about the bow in our programming: how are we going to wrap this service up? Or how do we wrap this series up so people walk away, and their like, "Oh, we got it, we get it, we totally understand it." As I approached this topic I just felt really impressed that there was no bow. There's no way, to easily wrap this up for every individual. Spiritual transformation happens in so many different ways, and God works in our lives in so many different ways in crisis. There are situations in the Bible where people's stories resolve in a very nice, neat "oh wow, that makes so much sense" kind of way. And then there are other people that it just doesn't end that way, and we can't explain that, and so I try and take a very balanced approach in the book.

The subtitle of your book is What do you do when God doesn't show up in the way you thought He would. Let me pose that question to you. What do you do?

I think that one of the greatest illusions in life is that illusion of control. We think that life's kind of like that little marionette puppet with all the little strings. We have the string that runs to our finances, and we have that string that runs to our marriage, and we have a string that runs to our kids, and a string that runs to our career and that we can kind of at will control all those different aspects of our life.  When crisis happens, when you experience that shattered dream, all of a sudden you realize, "Oh my. I don't have control in the way that I thought I had control." Most people assume in that moment, when life is not turning out the way they thought is was going to turn out, that God's abandoned them. What we tried to show them through just going through one scriptural story after another, whether it's David or Joseph, Paul, or whoever. That God is actually most positively present even when He seems to be most apparently absent.

Let's build on that a little bit. So how does God do His best work in what seems like an absolutely hopeless situation?

I think if any individual looks back over their past, if they can grasp their spiritual growth, if you look at the peaks, the moments that you really grew in your spiritual life and your personal time with God, it was in moments of crisis. It is in those moments where we realize we don't have control. That God's in control, and it comes down to one word, “surrender,” and we're actually willing to surrender the outcomes of our life to God, that He can mold us and shape us into the men and women He created us to be. So, it's realizing that God is most powerfully present when He seems most apparently absent. That He is there. So what I encourage people to do is, you can't base your faith on God just on your circumstances.  You base your faith on God, of His identity, and who He says that He is. So it comes down to, the cute way to say it, is you trust in God's identity, not in God's activity. You trust that God is who He says He is. You trust in His promises in His Word that He is with you even though it seems and feels as if He's not there.

I think a lot of people experience fear. People are afraid they’re going to lose their job, and they’re afraid their marriage isn’t going well; their finances aren’t right; their kid’s going to grow up to be an ax murderer.  What’s the key to putting fear in its proper place?

We talk a lot about fear being this paralyzing thing, that fear establishes the limits of your life. So if you’re afraid of heights, you’ll stay low. If you’re afraid of the outside, you’ll stay inside. If you’re afraid of people, you’ll be alone. And so it’s understanding that fear in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear without faith is a very destructive thing. Fear is very normal; we’re going to face fears in our life. It’s understanding that in the midst of our fear, we have to have faith. We cannot allow that fear to paralyze us. So I allow my faith in God, my trust in God, to be greater than that fear and actually let the fear kind of become this fuel that pushes me forward to trust God in ways that I have never trusted Him before. That’s the beauty of crisis is that it almost forces our hand where we have to trust Him, because again, all other options have been exhausted, and we completely surrender before Him.

You just mentioned complete surrender.  How does surrender factor into being more receptive of God’s plan for our lives?

I think that at the end of the day, this is what the Christian faith is all about, that God and his Son, Jesus Christ, is not only our salvation, He is our Lord, that understanding that Jesus, besides obviously being our Savior who died on the cross for our sins, also wants to be the leader of our life, that He has wisdom, that He knows more about relationships than we do.  He knows more about of your life.  And so until you get to that place where you surrender, you’re not really allowing Him to be the Lord of your life, to again form you and shape you. It seems so silly, but we’re willing to trust Jesus with our eternity, but we’re often not willing to trust him with our life.

For Christians struggling through difficult situations. For those who say, “Oh, I’m a Christian now. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I’m supposed to be able to handle these situations better. Then why do they still seem so hard?”  What do you say to those people?

As the Church and as Christian leaders, we have to come back around and say, listen, in John 16:33, Jesus said very clearly that in this world, in this life you are going to have troubles. He’s saying here is the seven-day forecast for your life. It’s trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble. It’s coming. As a believer, you are going to face trouble, but then He says but take heart for I have overcome the world. In other words, don’t give in to despair. Don’t let go of hope, because I’ve overcome the world. But He never promises that we’re not going to have trouble. So, in John 16:33, when He makes that promise, in essence, He’s saying, ‘Hey, you’re going to have trouble, and this is going to be hard, and because it’s going to be hard, I want to remind you to take heart, to have hope, because I’ve overcome this world.’ So, I don’t think Jesus ever had this expectation of us that it wasn’t going to be difficult. It was difficult for Him when Lazarus passed away, even though He knew He was going to resurrect him. So I think that this is part of this broken world, that there is pain and there are tears, and God knows about every one of those tears in the same way He knows about every hair that’s on your head. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not going to experience the pain. This is not Heaven. And so, until Heaven we’re going to deal with those human feelings of despair and hopelessness and pain and regret. There’s nothing as believers that we can do to escape that. But we have a tool, a very powerful tool in the hope of Jesus Christ that those who are not believers do not have. And that’s what should separate our grief from those who are not followers of Christ.

Is there any right or wrong way to turn to “Plan B?”

Yes, I believe that there is. And I think that at the end of the day, the answer to all of this is the cross of Jesus Christ. I think that the cross is the best example of how God can take the worst thing that could happen in your life and make it absolutely glorious. The cross is a reminder that we worship a God that specializes in resurrections. You know, we were talking about John 16:33 and Jesus saying, “In this world you will have trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world,” and the cross is the best example. It’s where the “in this world you will have trouble” meets up with the glory of “but I have overcome. I have defeated the world.” And the cross is just an incredible reminder to us that God can work through our worst circumstances and actually create something that’s very beautiful and brings glory and honor to him. So I think at the end of the day, for every single believer, regardless of what the crisis is, how big, how small it might be, the cross ultimately is the answer for how we deal and how we answer the Plan B’s that we face in life.

To purchase "Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn't Show Up The Way You Thought He Would"

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