When God Unfolds His Will in Pieces

Before the tabernacle was assembled upon the plains, Moses received a vision of it upon the mountain. Before he directed the first weaving, the first stitching, the first forging, he had been given a detailed image of the completed whole. God led him in a comprehensive walkthrough and delivered to him a thorough set of instructions.

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It’s for this reason that there are chapters in the book of Exodus that run in parallel. In chapter 26 God provides instruction: “You shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them.” Ten chapters later we read this description: ”All the craftsmen among the workmen made the tabernacle with ten curtains. They were made of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns, with cherubim skillfully worked.” Again, “You shall make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains one to the other with the clasps, so that the tabernacle may be a single whole.” And so, a short time later, “he made fifty clasps of gold, and coupled the curtains one to the other with clasps. So the tabernacle was a single whole.”

Thus it went from the tabernacle to the altar to the table to the lampstand to the Ark of the Covenant. Moses had received clear and exhaustive instructions from God and to be obedient he simply had to do exactly as he had been directed. God’s will was clear and it fell to Moses to execute it.

We may wish that God provided this kind of direction today. Especially when we come to life’s trials and difficulties, its questions and uncertainties, we may wish that God would describe what it means to be obedient from start to finish, from beginning to end. We may wish that he would give us a vision of the whole before we set out and that he would give us a thorough set of directions before we take the first step. We learn quickly, though, that this is not God’s way.

It’s not that God has no plan for our lives or that he is making things up as he goes. It’s not that he is adeptly responding to circumstances and directing first this way and then that. It’s not that he neglected to create a clear blueprint in his mind or that he lacks the power to execute it all in its minutest details. No, the truth is that God has every bit as much of a design for our lives as he did for his tabernacle. Our days are as clearly and precisely laid out in his mind as was his place of worship. If it was important to God to tell exactly how many rings must fasten each curtain, then certainly no detail of our lives is too small, no moment too trivial, no decision too insignificant to be meaningless or to fall outside of his plan.

But when it comes to our lives, God chooses to unfold his will in bits, in steps, in phases. He chooses to unfold his will in real-time and not in advance. He chooses to unfold his will in such a way that we need to exercise faith—faith that all we experience is within his providence, faith that the way will become clear as we go, and faith that when we look back upon it all, we will praise him for his wisdom. We proceed through life with a page of directions that includes just the next step or two, not with a booklet of instructions that displays the completed whole.

But even with this being the case, we lack nothing that is necessary to live faithfully and well. Where God gave Moses a blueprint, he gives us many promises. Where God gave Moses a detailed plan, he gives us many sweet assurances. Perhaps the best of them is this: “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” As we live with him and for him, he keeps back nothing we need to live in the way that pleases and honors him. And if God keeps back from us no good thing, then it must be equally true that he dispenses to us no ultimately bad thing. His providence does not fall into the two categories of good and bad, but just the one category of good. Everything is ultimately good because everything proceeds from his wisdom and falls within his plan.

Thus, whether our path leads through green pastures or dark valleys, we can be certain that God is withholding no good thing. Whether our path leads through depths of pain or heights or joy, we can have confidence that God is dispensing no evil thing. Whether our path leads in just one direction or forks into many possibilities, we can be sure that the God who told exactly how many rings must fasten each curtain is the very same God who will dispense the wisdom we need to discern whether it’s best to stay or return, to accept or decline, to press on or turn back. No matter where God leads, we can have the highest assurance that through it all he is making us more like Christ and bringing glory to his name. For the Lord is our sun and shield and he bestows to his beloved nothing but favor and honor.