You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook (2009)
Don Cousins leads a ministry designed to build and strengthen Christian leaders and organizations. He is a former associate pastor of Willow Creek Church and the best-selling author of Network. Don spends much of his time consulting churches and parachurch organizations, coaching Christian leaders, and speaking. He currently lives in Holland, Michigan, with his wife MaryAnn and their three children, Kyle, Kirk, and Karalyne.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $16.99
Number of Pages: 256
Vendor: David C. Cook (2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
APART FROM GOD
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
God is beyond us--able to think and act in ways that defy human logic and surpass human understanding. He's limitless in power and He's infinite in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.
For the sake of relationship, He lowers Himself to our level in many ways. Yet He often chooses to express Himself in ways that are, well, unexplainable--apart from Him. And He does this to point us to Him.
A Story of the Unexplainable
Abraham was seventy-five years old when God told him he would be the father of “a great nation.” God instructed him to leave his relatives and his homeland and to venture out with his wife, Sarah, to a land that the Lord would show him, a land that would one day belong to his descendents. It was an incredible promise, an outrageous offer.
There was just one problem. Abraham and Sarah were childless. It's impossible to give land to descendents you don't have. It's equally impossible to father a nation when you haven't fathered a family. While Abraham and Sarah had certainly tried to bear children, it hadn't happened. And now, at the ages of seventy-five and sixty-five respectively, their chances of doing so were virtually nil.
Nonetheless, Abraham and Sarah, in obedience to the word of the Lord, left home in quest of this Promised Land and the birthing of a nation. They must have believed God would perform a miracle, enabling them to bear a child.
It wasn't long into their journey that they reached the territory God had for them. The Lord appeared to Abraham there and told him, “To your descendents I will give this land” (Gen. 12:7). Now all they needed were descendents to give this land to. But months passed, years passed--and still no child.
God reiterated His promise, telling Abraham, “One who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir” (15:4). In dramatic fashion God led Abraham outside at night. “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.… So shall your descendents be” (15:5).
However awesome this must have sounded to Abraham, Sarah remained barren.
Then one day, she had an idea. Abraham could bear a child by another woman--by Sarah's Egyptian maid, Hagar. Sarah had come to the logical conclusion that the Lord had “prevented” her from having children (16:2); it was no longer humanly possible for her. But Abraham could father a child by another woman.
This made sense to Abraham, so he had sexual relations with Hagar. Sure enough, she gave birth to a son who was named Ishmael. Abraham was eighty-six when the boy was born (Gen. 16:16).
Laughable, But True
At this point, the Bible goes silent for thirteen years. When Abraham's story resumes, he's ninety-nine--some twenty-four years removed from the day God first issued the promise.
Once again He comes to Abraham and reiterates His promise more strongly than ever:
I will multiply you exceedingly.… And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.… For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you.… I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.… I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings…for an everlasting possession. (Gen. 17:2-8).
God also adds this about Sarah: “I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her” (17:16).
How does Abraham respond? “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed” (17:17). This was so ridiculous, so absurd, so inconceivable and incomprehensible, he couldn't help but laugh in God's face.
So Abraham offered God a suggestion--an alternative option that he and Sarah had hatched: “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” (17:18). In other words, “What about the son I already have? Why not make him the first descendent? I'm not getting any younger, so let's get on with things!”
God's answer is direct and unmistakable: “No” (17:19). He tells Abraham, “Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” Moreover, God promises that Sarah will give birth to this son within a year's time.
When this news reached Sarah's ears a short time later, she too laughed in the face of God (18:12).
But as you know, God's promise proved true. Abraham (at the age of one hundred) and Sarah (at ninety) did have a child, whom they named Isaac.
The Delay Explained
Why then did God have Sarah and Abraham wait so long--a quarter century--to see His promise fulfilled? Was He merely testing their willingness to obey? Was He wanting to stretch their faith?
I think the best answer to this question is found in God's response following Sarah's laughter: “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” (18:14).
I believe God had them wait because He wanted to do that which could be explained only by His involvement--that which is unexplainable apart from God. In this way, the very life of Isaac and the fulfillment of the promise would point to God Himself. There could be no other explanation. Isaac was unexplainable--apart from God. Ishmael, on the other hand, was explainable: A man has sexual relations with a woman of child-bearing age, and she gets pregnant. But when a baby's born to a century-old man and his wife of ninety after they've tried unsuccessfully for decades to have children--well, there's only one explanation for that: God did it. Isaac's very existence would always point to God. This is what God wanted, and it's why I believe He had Abraham and Sarah wait so long.
This is the sort of thing God desires to do in and through the lives of all His children. He wants to do the inconceivable, the uncommon, the unexpected, the remarkable, the incomprehensible, so that He--God--is the only explanation for what occurs in our lives. In this way, our lives point to Him.
Do you realize that God created you to point to Him? Do you understand that your life is intended to make Him known? God wants the unfolding of your life to be unexplainable apart from Him. As Paul expresses it, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). You've been created for good works that put God on display. Just as a work of art reflects the artist, we are to reflect God.
Jesus said it this way: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
His Ways Point to Him
If who you are, and the unfolding of your life, are seen as something understandable, expected, common, and explainable in human terms, then your life merely points to you. Like Frank Sinatra, you can sing, “I did it my way.” But if the best and perhaps only explanation for your life is God, then you point to Him and your life plays to the lyric, “I did it His way.”
This is the purpose for which you were created. In fact, to be unexplainable apart from God is completely normal for the Christian. This is the way life ought to be. You, and the unfolding of your life, should be unexplainable apart from God.
Perhaps in moments of quiet reflection you've wondered, Is this all there is to life? You have a sense within that there must be more to life than you're experiencing. Though you're probably busier than you want to be, you can't figure out why you're bored. You think there must be more to life than this.
Well, there is!
God is issuing an invitation to each and every one of us to join Him in the realm of the unexplainable. God wants to take your life beyond you. This is the kind of life He created you for, the life He designed you to experience. He wants it to be unexplainable apart from Him, so that you point to Him.
If you accept His invitation, then you join not only Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac, but a host of others, like:
Joseph, who took an unexplainable-apart-from-God journey from a pit to a palace, then extended unexplainable-apart-from-God forgiveness to his brothers for the evil they did to him.
Moses, who arrived unexplainably-apart-from-God at a palace, only to be exiled to the wilderness, where he was unknowingly being prepared to return to that palace--so he could lead God's people on an unexplainable-apart from-God journey through that wilderness.
David, who was such an unexplainable-apart-from-God choice to be Israel's next king that he wasn't even invited along with his brothers to the draft.
Esther, who unexpectedly and unexplainably-apart-from-God “attained royalty for such a time as this,” so that her people, God's people, could be saved from annihilation.
Joseph and Mary, very common folk who were asked to do the most uncommon thing of all--give birth in an unexplainable-apart-from-God way to the very Son of God.
Peter, James, John, and nine other young men from meager means and education who were chosen unexplainably-apart-from-God by Jesus to lead a movement that changed the world.
A fellow named Saul, better known as Paul, who fought to wipe Christianity from the face of the earth, but unexplainably-apart-from-God ended up becoming Christianity's greatest ambassador.
The Bible is full of story after story of the “unexplainable apart from God.” So true is this that skeptics have labeled the Bible as largely fairy tale and myth. They ask, “How can these things be?” God answers them as did Abraham: “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?”
For Superstars Only?
At this point you may be thinking, But the Bible tells the stories of the superstars of the faith, and I'm no superstar. While this is certainly a common perception, a closer look reveals that the vast majority of the Bible's primary figures were very common and ordinary folk. They were shepherds, like Moses and David, or ranchers like Abraham, or fishermen like Peter, James, and John, or carpenters like Joseph in the New Testament. They were slaves like the Old Testament Joseph and Daniel, or tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus. Some were even prostitutes like Rahab, and social outcasts like Elijah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist.
These people lived extraordinary lives, becoming the “Superstars” we perceive them to be only as a result of following God's leading into the realm of the unexplainable. And this is what God desires to do with you as well. Common people become everything but common when God gets involved.
In most cases and on most days, the results of following God's guidance will not be dramatic. While we tend to focus on Daniel's dramatic rescue one night in the lion's den, what's even far more unexplainable is how Daniel chose earlier to continue “kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously” (Dan. 6:10), despite the king's edict that made such prayer a capital offense.
While we focus on David's unexplainable ability with a slingshot, it's even more unexplainable that for ten years he served faithfully under Saul, a king gone mad who even tried to kill David on numerous occasions. When the tables turned, and David had a chance to kill Saul, he refused to do so--a decision explainable only by God's influence in David's life.
Then there's Joseph, revered as the dreamer who rose from a pit to a palace. While his ascent is clearly unexplainable apart from God, it was Joseph's ability to forgive his brothers and to care abundantly for them and their families that truly defies the common and begs for explanation.
Following God into the realm of the unexplainable may produce some dramatic moments, like those experienced by Daniel, David, and Joseph. In most cases, however, you'll find yourself living the unexplainable in the midst of very common circumstances and ordinary days. To embrace life in God, to experience His presence, and to follow His lead will inevitably place you in the realm of the unexplainable. You'll find yourself feeling, thinking, speaking, acting, and relating in ways leading unquestionably to the conclusion that “God did it.” This is how it should be in every Christian's life.
Still True Today
Consider a couple who are friends of mine. They spent two years designing and building their dream home on five acres in a prestigious area, only to sell it four years after moving in because they felt led by God to give more of their resources to the cause of Christ and the poor in particular. Or another friend, a very successful executive, who took early retirement, thereby forfeiting significant financial gain, so he could follow God's leading into volunteer work with several ministries.
In both these cases, some asked, “What are you doing? Have you lost your mind? Your decision makes no sense.” But these friends would tell you today that their decisions made total sense.
God may lead you to stay at a job in spite of a demanding and unreasonable boss--a decision that seems unexplainable when fellow employees are jumping ship.
God may lead you to pass up a promotion and all the perks that go with it, because of the additional hours and responsibilities that would negatively impact your family and current ministry involvements.
You may be led by God to write a check that will be unexplainable to your financial planner. This is exactly what the Macedonian Christians did, as Paul tells us: “For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:3).
You may feel unexplainably prompted to share your faith in Jesus with a total stranger or with someone who previously made it clear he or she had no interest in God.
You may feel unexplainably compelled to befriend and express love to someone whom most others choose to avoid.
In other situations, God may choose to do the unexplainable on your behalf--like send His healing power upon your body to do what medical science has been unable to do, or bring reconciliation to a relationship you thought was beyond repair, or provide unexpected resources that ease your financial burden, or open a door to a job that's even better than the one you were hoping and praying for, or anoint a ministry involvement that ends up bearing more fruit than you thought possible.
Whatever it is, God wants to lead you into this realm of the “unexplainable apart from Him”--so your life points to Him.
Paul describes this new realm in these words: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Wow! Count me in!
The question then becomes, How do I get there?
For this to happen, you'll need to see and approach life differently. Paul makes this truth abundantly clear when he commands our complete makeover in thought and behavior: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Living in conformity to the world can't get you into this new realm. You'll need to undergo a transformation--one that begins with the “renewing of your mind,” and results in conformity to the will of God.
This transformation from explainable to unexplainable is what this book is about. Specifically, I want to encourage and challenge you to make three major shifts in the way you see and approach life. I call them lifeshifts. They're the sort of thing I believe Paul had in mind when he told us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” These lifeshifts will dramatically alter the way we seek to fulfill three of the deepest longings of the human heart--contentment, success, and significance.
The first lifeshift is from outside-in to inside-out--and it opens the door to experiencing the kind of contentment that is unattainable and unexplainable apart from God.
So, if you're ready, turn the page … and begin your journey into the realm of the unexplainable.
What's your initial reaction to this book's fundamental premise-- that you and the unfolding of your life should be in some ways unexplainable apart from God?
To what degree do you want your life to be unexplainable apart from God? (Answer not at all, somewhat, or to a great degree.) What do you find appealing or unappealing about experiencing the “unexplainable?”
Can you think of any ways in which you as a person or the unfolding events of your life to date are unexplainable apart from God?
Have you ever made a decision that appeared to make little or no sense to others, but clearly reflected God's leading in your life? Explain what occurred and how you were motivated to follow through with such a decision.
Has God ever done something in or through your life for which the only logical explanation is “God did it”? If so, describe this experience. Also describe anything like this that may have occurred recently in the life of someone you know.
How did the experiences you just described in response to the previous question enable you or someone you know to point to God?
What would you like to see God do in you personally that would qualify as “unexplainable apart from God”? (Some examples: Helping you overcome a bad habit, or be able to truly forgive someone who has wronged you, or to change your attitude concerning something or someone, or to change something else about you).
In what current circumstance or situation do you need God to do something that only He can do? (Examples: Healing a relationship that seems broken beyond repair, meeting a financial need, bringing physical healing, or bringing some sort of resolution to a current conflict or trial.)
©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Unexplainable by Don Cousins. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.