One of the things I love to do every time I visit a bookstore is to browse through the titles that the authors (and, most of the time, the publishers) give to their books. The other day when I was looking over a number of books on the sale shelves just outside the front door, my eye caught the title of a novel–“Unintended Consequences.”
Unintended consequences . . . we’ve all been there, haven’t we? We’ve all done things that brought about consequences we never intended but, nonetheless, happened–whether for good or bad. Most recently in my own life the biggest “unintended consequence” I’ve had to deal with occurred after I accepted the director position in Houston and moved there (at my own expense–something I said I would never do until they offered me a salary I didn’t expect which far surpassed my salary at the time by almost $15,000/yr. and which convinced me to go ahead and pay the cost of moving my possessions to Houston since my new boss told me they wouldn’t cover the cost of relocation). Also, I had twenty years of experience doing what they had hired me to do and never in my wildest imagination did it ever cross my mind that I would end up being fired a scant seven months later after twenty years of successful work in the field with stellar references to boot.
However, reality isn’t always what it appears to be. And I walked into a situation that I didn’t expect. I just didn’t know it until I got there, and then it was too late to turn back. So I did the best I could because I always do my best no matter what the situation, but in this case my best wasn’t good enough because what was going on had very little to do with me. And there was no way I could win, and I knew it within the first three months. Well, at least I lasted seven months before the ax fell.
Of course the fallout from being fired–the “unintended consequence”–has been almost four years of unemployment. I jokingly told a friend in an email the other day that I felt those folks who fired me had put a curse on my work life as I can’t for the life of me figure out why I haven’t been hired for at least one of the 500 jobs I’ve applied for in my field of work over the past four years. And, I’ve never had a hard time finding a job until now and I don’t think it has anything to do with my age or the economy at this point in time. So much for my only experience at working at a “for-profit.”
My previous years of experience in higher education/student services before that job in Houston had all been in “nonprofit” colleges and universities. And, while I loved the environment I worked in in Houston as it was a very creative atmosphere, and there were some folks who worked there that I loved working with, the overall culture was not exactly what I expected–it was a little too much on the “cold” side. In my years of working in higher education, I heard that working in a “for-profit” environment had it’s challenges, but since I worked in student services I didn’t see how that would really affect the nature of the work I did which was primarily working with students after they had been accepted into a degree program to meet their educational and support needs. And, unfortunately, my experience in Houston was so short-lived that even after almost four years now since they fired me I shake my head in wonder at what it was all about in the first place. It certainly wasn’t that I was not qualified for the job. It was definitely something else . . . but I never figured out exactly what it was. Unfortunately, it’s usually the “hidden agendas” of others that blindside us.
While most folks might see this whole “adventure” of mine as an unfortunate set of circumstances that turned out badly, I don’t see it as such. In God’s economy, there is no such thing as “unintended consequences.” It’s not that we aren’t human and don’t make mistakes, but for those of us who truly believe in God, as King David stated in Psalm 139:16, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” And God knows about all of the “unintended consequences” that come into our lives before they ever happen.
Nothing about our lives comes as a surprise to God. Nothing. He knows everything about us and our lives before we were ever born. Let’s look at the first 18 verses in Psalm 139 to see just how well God knows each and every one of us:
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
You know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in—behind and before;
You have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
Too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
Even the darkness will not be dark to you;
The night will shine like the day,
For darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
When I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
Were written in your book
Before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
They would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake, I am still with you.
Think about what those verses are really saying–God knows our thoughts before we even think them; He knows what we are going to say before a word is even on our lips. There is no situation He is not aware of before it happens. And there is no place that we can hide from Him. That might bring fear to some folks, but for those of us who truly love God and want to serve Him with a whole heart, the comfort of that knowledge about God–that He knows everything about us before it ever happens–brings enormous peace in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances. And the cry of our heart is the same as it was for David as he stated in Psalm 139:23-24:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.”
Regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in–even those circumstances with “unintended consequences” that sometimes seem to go on forever–nothing that happens to us comes as a surprise to God, and as the apostle Paul (who spent more than a few years in prison at different times where he wrote several of his New Testament letters and was ultimately beheaded) wrote in Romans 8:28-39: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
‘For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
These words are meant to give us great encouragement in the midst of very difficult circumstances that we don’t understand from our own very limited human perspective. However, the ultimate purpose is stated in vv. 29-30, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
God can open any door, but He does it in His timing and not ours. When we find ourselves in circumstances that we don’t understand and that don’t seem to end, we need to remember Who is in control, and we need to . . .
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight”
YouTube Video: “Remember” by Harry Nilsson, Original Score from the movie, “You’ve Got Mail” (1998):