He spreads the snow like wool . . . who can withstand his icy blast? (Psalm 147:16-17)
Before our move to the northeast I lost sleep dreading the Pennsylvania winters. These days I’m remembering why.
This is our third winter. The first two winters probably gave me a false sense of confidence. Sure, it was cold, and snow covered the ground on more than one occasion. But as a transplanted southerner I felt like I had adapted well to my new environs. Thus far, with one notable exception, I have been able to manage the snow with a shovel. As for the cold, it’s all about wearing the right clothes.
This winter, however, is testing my mettle. Luckily, I was out of town a week ago when the arctic air moved into the area and camped out for a while. I caught the tail end of that, but that was enough for me. I was like a kid at Christmas waiting for our return to the balmy 30s a few days ago.
Beyond the physical discomfort of jaw-clenching cold, this winter has exposed something about my soul. Something I don’t like. Winter has laid bare the gap that exists between the theology I know in my head and teach in a class, and the theology that shapes my heart and my thoughts. A little backstory might be helpful at this point.
Big Plans, Big Storm
My son’s 21st birthday was a couple of weeks ago, Tuesday, January 22d. Marnie and I had made plans to go down to North Carolina to celebrate the day. She conspired with a couple of John’s friends to gather a group for a surprise dinner. Aside from the birthday, we were ready to get out of town for a few days and see our kids.
The plan was simple. After Sunday services on January 20th we would load the car and hit the road. Getting to Winston-Salem takes us about eight hours, so we knew we could get there for a late dinner. The itinerary was etched clearly in my brain. The movie reel in my head played the celebratory scenes on a loop. I was ready to go.
A full week before our departure, however, forecasters began issuing cautious words about the weekend to come. With each passing day their descriptions of the weekend weather became less cautious and more certain, and their certainty was laced with foreboding. And it wasn’t just the ‘weekend’ that was at risk; it was the period overnight Saturday into Sunday morning. Sunday services were being threatened by the weather. My travel plans were being threatened by the weather.
As I obsessed over various weather apps on my phone, I saw clearly my natural response to whatever threatens my plans. I was angry. Angry and anxious. I believe in the sovereignty of God. However, it seems I don’t love the sovereignty of God. When it comes to my plans, I love my own sovereignty. I want to be in charge.
In All These Things
Psalm 147 tells us that God ‘spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast?’
We can’t affirm God’s sovereignty in some parts of life and insist on our own in others. To speak of God as sovereign means that God oversees all things. That includes weather and the heart of a King (Proverbs 21:1). What this winter’s icy blast has shown me is that I don’t always want that to be true. And even when I say that I do want it to be true, my anger betrays a belief that God is not at work for my good, that I know best and could manage my life better.
My story had a good ending – a much better ending than weather forecasters had led me to expect. The winter weather event through Saturday night was not catastrophic. We delayed church and held one service. When it ended Marnie and I were able to get out of town before a flash-freeze moved in to make the roads icy. We were in Winston-Salem for that late dinner. God kindly overlooked the distrust that I seem to carry in my heart, even as I speak of his good governance of all things with my mouth (or in writing).
But what if the ending had been different? What if a massive storm had completely ruined our plans for that Sunday and the days that followed?
Paul reminds us in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. That includes trouble, hardship, persecution, and all manner of deprivation. It surely includes illness and suffering and setbacks of every kind. Even bad weather. In all those things, we still come out ahead. We may not like what happens – but what happens cannot separate us from God’s love or thwart his purposes for us.
Winter has exposed how desperately I need God’s grace. And in this winter of my occasional discontent, I have received it in abundance. So what about you? How do you truly respond to God’s sovereign claims over your life and your plans?
There’s still a rebel in me, O God – a little tyrant that insists on having my own way and being in charge of my own life. Apart from your grace, I will not embrace your sovereign work in my life with gladness and gratitude. So forgive my sin, and grant your mercy, that I might trust your good governance of my life and this world in all things, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
One thought on “Winter of My Discontent”
Mark, this is such a good study. I’ve made a print of it. So helpful. I’ve passed it along to my family. NO NEED TO REPLY !