“It’s only when we fully submit ourselves to God that we get a sense of the big picture of his plan for us.”
If you’ve ever worked on a jigsaw puzzle of any difficulty, you know there are always some pieces that absolutely stump you. It’s not clear how they fit into the whole design. Nothing in the color or shape gives any clue where they belong—almost as if they come from a completely different puzzle. But if you persevere and finish the puzzle, you’re amazed to see that all the pieces have their place, fitting perfectly.
It’s that way with our lives of service to God. He created us all for a purpose and envisioned our lives at the very beginning of time itself. He gave us each a unique personality and a set of aptitudes. He placed us in a particular family. Day by day, he brings key people into our lives and provides life experiences that shape us. God does all of this with his purpose in mind, tailored to the individual.
So all those pieces that seem not to fit? They do—we just don’t see how yet.
When I was wrestling with the midcareer decision to become president of World Vision, I initially thought I was a terrible fit for the job. After all, I’d gone from a degree in neurobiology to business school to peddling toys and games as CEO of Parker Brothers to presiding over Lenox, a luxury tableware company. How does that logically lead to humanitarian relief and development?
I’ll never forget what Bill Hybels, then a World Vision board member, told me. He pointed out that God does nothing by happenstance. God doesn’t wake up one day and say, “I need to find someone to run World Vision; I wonder who I can find?” No, God is a God of order. He gave me the right business and marketing skills, the right management and leadership experience for the job.
He even prepared me by giving me an ideal wife. When I met Reneé in the 1970s, her plan for her life was to help the poor. And she did that, but 20 years later, she was the very person I needed by my side as I served in one of the largest poverty-fighting organizations in the world.
God also uses our challenges and sufferings to his purpose. Think of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving or lifesaving interventions like the Amber Alert—they were created out of the tragic loss of children. I have a colleague in Zambia named Emmanuel Opong, who runs World Vision’s large-scale water, sanitation and hygiene programs in southern Africa. Many years ago, when he was growing up in Ghana, his 6-month-old sister, died of a water-borne disease. Emmanuel’s passion for his work comes out of the deep feeling that children should not perish for lack of clean water.
The best example of a Bible figure whose life elements lined up for God’s purpose is Moses. He was born a Hebrew slave but raised in the house of Pharaoh, sparing him the slave’s mindset and granting him unparalleled education. After killing an Egyptian to protect one of his people, he fled to the wilderness where he became a shepherd. In addition to that varied résumé, Moses had a speech impediment. So what possible use could God have with a stuttering son of slaves who became a runaway prince with a price on his head?
Well, God needed someone to stand up to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites to the Promised Land. Moses—with his 40 years of proximity to power in Egypt and 40 years of shepherding experience in the desert—was, in fact, just the man for the job.
But the key piece to Moses’ puzzle—and to yours and mine—was his willingness to serve God. Initially reluctant, God asked him, “What is that in your hand?” Moses held a staff, and when he complied and threw it down on the ground, God promptly turned it into a snake. God wanted Moses’ obedience. Eventually, Moses did obey and confront Pharaoh, using his staff to perform miracle after miracle, including parting the Red Sea as an escape route for the Israelites and bringing manna from heaven to sustain the people during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
God didn’t need great courage and skill from Moses; he could have used just a stick to save Israel. But he chose to use Moses—all that he was and all that he had, including his staff. God never asks us to give what we do not have, but he cannot use what we will not give.
And it’s only when we fully submit ourselves to God that we get a sense of the big picture of his plan for us. But if we insist on doing things our own way, it’s like forcing puzzle pieces together that don’t fit or holding back a piece that prevents the puzzle from ever being finished. And then we miss the beautiful design he has for our lives.
I also like to think of all God’s people contributing to an even larger, extraordinary puzzle. Just imagine the power when all 2 billion Christians around the globe add our piece to complete the stunning vision of a reclaimed and redeemed world—the kingdom of God among us.
Rich Stearns (@richstearns) is the president of World Vision U.S. and the author of four books, including The Hole in Our Gospel and Unfinished.