Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Confusion - It's not all bad!

Confused boy

by Dennis Pollock

Many Christians are confused about confusion! Having heard that God is not the author of confusion, they assume anyone who is in a position of being uncertain about what to do, or what God may be doing, must be missing it somehow. As a result they add guilt to their confusion and dare not mention their confused state for fear of being rebuked with the standard "confusion is not of God" line we hear so often.

The truth is God often permits and even creates times of confusion and uncertainty in our lives. If we believe that, since giving our lives to Jesus, we shall never again experience uncertainty, that we shall always know exactly what to do and what God is up to in His dealings with us, we are greatly in error. If we study the lives of the heroes of the Bible and the great leaders of the Christian church, we find that they all, without exception, experienced times of confusion and darkness. God does not call us to pretend confusion never exists in our lives; He does desire that we should understand its purpose, and cooperate with Him as He accomplishes all He has planned during these perplexing seasons. 

Good and bad confusion 

Let's look at the passage which is so often quoted and misquoted pertaining to this. In Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, he deals with spiritual gifts and how they could sometimes get out of hand in their church services. Apparently great numbers were praying in tongues simultaneously, leading to a state of confusion and chaos. Non-Christians visiting the church were being put off. Paul writes: "If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God." He goes on to tell them: "God is not the author of confusion but of peace."

 This verse which is so often used to suggest that we should never experience confusion, has nothing to do with personal confusion in our lives. The confusion Paul is talking about here is the chaos of a church service where spiritual gifts are out of control – lots of noise but little or no genuine ministry! Paul plainly tells them "this is not of God." The other kind of confusion – the personal kind that challenges your faith and forces you to your knees – may well be of God. If by confusion we mean "not understanding what is going on in your life" or "not knowing which path to take" then virtually every Christian will experience that, and this is indeed a part of God's plan. Allowing us to go through such times is a means God uses to teach us to walk by faith. 

Confusion concerning direction 

We can easily see a time of confusion in Paul's own life, concerning the geographic direction the Lord would have him to take. We read in Acts:  

Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them (Acts 16:6,7). 

As filled with the Spirit as Paul surely was, he was not sure which course to take. He made two attempts in two different directions, and in both cases he was stopped before he got very far. There is a powerful truth here. Sometimes we get the impression that if we can just pray enough, read the Word enough, and stay close enough to God, we will always know precisely what to do and when to do it. The truth is, no matter how close to God you get, you will never get to the place where  you don't experience times of uncertainty. We sometimes feel that being in the dark is a sure sign of our spiritual weakness, but we are wrong. Daylight and darkness fall upon the just and the unjust alike, and confusion and uncertainty do as well.

Fork in the roadAfter two attempts in wrong directions, God finally speaks to Paul. He wakes up one morning having had a powerful dream / vision. He dreams of a man from Macedonia crying out to him, "Come over here and help us." Luke writes of how they reacted to this word from the Lord: "Immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them." Paul and company received a word from the Lord, but we could wonder, "Why didn't God speak to them sooner?" Why did He allow them to make those false starts and permit days of confusion to elapse before making His plan clear to them?

 The simple answer is that it is healthy for us to wait upon the Lord for clarity and direction – it does us good. Faith is strengthened and character is built as we wade through those days (or months) when God seems silent and we are forced to trust Him even without any clear idea of His plan or future for us. One of the most popular Old Testament verses is found in Jeremiah, where the Lord tells Israel, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11). Notice that God says "I know" the plans He has for us. He does not say "you know" the plans. Faith rests in the reality of this promise – we may not know, but He does, and His plans are to give us a hope and a future.

 When Billy Graham was in Bible school (in the 1930's), he was totally smitten with a young lady named Emily Cavanaugh. He courted her, proposed to her, and received a "maybe." Pouring all his efforts into wooing and winning her, she finally indicated that she was agreeable. But after a while she seemed less certain, and finally sitting in a swing with Billy, she told him she had fallen in love with another student named Charles. Billy was crushed. He wrote to a friend, "All the stars have fallen out of my sky." God seemed to have little to say about why he lost Emily or who He might have in store for him – there were larger issues to be settled.

 Billy put his search for a wife on hold while he considered whether or not he was called to give himself to a career in full-time ministry. Somehow Emily's rejection seemed to turn his heart toward God's true purpose for his life. After months of struggling with this issue, Billy wandered one night onto the green of a golf course, and yielded to Christ with these words: "All right, Lord! If you want me, you’ve got me. If I’m never to get Emily, I’m gonna follow you. No girl or anything else will come first in my life again. You can have all of me from now on. I’m gonna follow you at all cost." Two years later he enrolled in Wheaton College and met Ruth Bell in the lobby of Williston Hall. She was God's choice for Billy and her role in his life and ministry has been an incredible blessing to the world. 

Walking by faith 

The reason we are sometimes left in the dark is that we were made to live by faith rather than to understand every situation and immediately grasp every turn our lives will take. The Bible declares: "So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). Dependence upon the Lord and faith in the Lord are an indispensable aspect of the Christian life. If everything was always clear, if our paths were always lit with the brilliance of the noonday sun, there would be no need for faith, nor would we sense our dependence on God as we do now. Seeking the Lord would be meaningless, for the answers would present themselves before us as speedily as the problems developed. Yet again and again the Scriptures tell us to seek the Lord: "Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face evermore!" (1 Chronicles 16:11).

 Having had more than a few experiences with confusion and darkness, I have found a verse of Scripture which has become a tremendous source of encouragement to me. In Psalms we read, "Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness" (Psalm 112:4). Notice that it does not say there will be no darkness for the upright – there will be darkness, but light will eventually arise. One element of faith is believing that the light is on its way! Suppose you are out in the country on a starless night, when it is pitch black and you can hardly see your hand in front of your face. There are various ways you could get some light. You could make your way to a convenience store and buy a flashlight. But if you are patient enough, there is a simpler way. You can simply wait until daybreak. No matter how dark the night is, give it a few hours and light will come – guaranteed!

 So it is with those who abide in Jesus Christ and walk uprightly. Like the rest of the human race you will have your times of darkness, seasons of your life when confusion and uncertainty threaten to overwhelm you – to destroy your joy and bring your best plans to ruin. And worst of all God seems to be absolutely silent! Here is where the battle is won or lost. Here is where the evil one whispers in your ear that God has let you down; your Creator doesn't know, doesn't hear, doesn't care. And it is precisely here where the shield of faith must be wielded: "My God has not forgotten me; He may allow the blackest of darkness for now, but as surely as Jesus is Lord, His light will arise in my darkness." Give God time, stay true to His word, and trust in Him. The light of God will soon make its majestic appearance. And what a joy it is when those first rays of clarity appear in our lives! The light was worth the wait. 

Storms and Angels 

Paul in storm

In the book of Acts we read of how the great apostle Paul spent time onboard a ship during a terrible, unrelenting storm that lasted "for many days." Paul receives a word from the Lord in the person of an angel who assures him, "Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you." This is a wonderful message of encouragement and clarity. They are not going to perish as most supposed. All will be saved!

 Again, the one thing we might wonder about is why the Lord waited so long to give Paul this word of encouragement. The storm had now been threatening their lives for probably a week or more. Luke records that "all hope that we would be saved was finally given up." It is only after all hope is gone that God shows up with a word for Paul and the rest and makes His will plain. God had not forgotten them after all. But why allow so many days of raging storm and howling winds before speaking? That storm would have been so much easier to bear had the message come at its beginning rather that at the end. Again we see the necessity of walking by faith. This is God's modus operandi; it is the habitual pattern He employs in His dealings with the sons and daughters of men. 

As bruises are to football players and calloused fingers are to guitar players, so times of uncertainty (and even confusion) are to those who walk with God. You will be tried and purified in seasons of darkness as surely as the sun rises every morning and sets every evening. The good news is that when we received Jesus, we were indwelt by the One who is called the Light of the World. We may be in the dark, but He never is. Jesus died in our place on the cross that we might be forgiven our sins, and receive the life and light of God. He is the bright Morning Star, the One John described so beautifully: "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." No matter how dark your night, if Jesus lives within you, do not be dismayed – His light is on the way!




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