My Ways Are Higher Than Your Ways
Manna 83: Spring

Philip Shee—Singapore

 

 

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways My ways,” says 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.” (Isa 55:8–9)

 

It is generally difficult for human beings to accept people who are better than they are. Oftentimes we resent those who put themselves above us, believing that we know better. However, in the above passage, God tells us clearly that His ways are higher than our ways. Can we truly accept this fundamental truth?

 

There is a useful litmus test of our acceptance. If we truly accept that God’s ways are higher than our ways, we will be very submissive and stoic in our lives of faith. We remain calm in every situation because we entrust everything to God. And there is wisdom in this, as a famous Chinese story about an old man and his horse illustrates:

 

Once upon a time, there was an old man who lost his horse. On the surface, this was a disaster because he had lost a very precious possession. But some time later, this horse returned with another horse. The old man was happy as his misfortune had turned out to be a blessing in disguise. With this horse’s return, the old man’s son decided to go for a ride. But he fell off the horse and broke his leg. It appeared, then, that the horse had brought bad luck to the family. Not long after, the country went to war and the authorities came to conscript all the able young men in the village. The only young man left behind was the old man’s son. None of the village’s young men returned from the war. Only the old man’s son survived and lived to a ripe old age—all because he broke his leg riding on a horse which had once run away.

 

The underlying point of this story is that no one knows whether an incident will eventually turn out to be a blessing or a loss. This is because our human perspective is limited by time, space, and our intellectual capabilities. In contrast, God’s perspective is multi-dimensional. He can see through all of time, and every interaction between every event happening in the universe, at all times.

 

We often come to very simplistic conclusions because of our one-dimensional thinking. For example, losing a horse equals a loss; the return of two horses equals a gain; and a broken leg equals a loss.  Consequently, we tend to be too preoccupied with minor matters, which leads to negativity. When it rains, we complain that we will get wet. When it does not rain, we complain about the heat. We often compare ourselves with others and wonder why we are not taller, richer, smarter, better-looking, and so on. We often forget that our disadvantages may be advantages in a different situation. For example, a person who is short may not be able to reach the highest shelf. But then again, he is more comfortable than his taller counterpart in the cramped confines of an economy class seat on an aeroplane.

 

We must thus learn to accept that God allows seemingly adverse things to happen to us for our own good. We accept, knowing that His ways are higher than our ways. The Bible contains many good examples which illustrate this simple truth.

 

 

JOSEPH: GOD ALWAYS MEANS IT FOR GOOD

 

Joseph was an exemplary son who was obedient to his father, and his father loved him. He had a privileged and happy childhood. Unfortunately, his brothers were jealous of him and plotted to kill him. But Reuben, the eldest brother, persuaded the rest of his brothers to cast him into a pit without harming him. Later, Judah convinced them to sell Joseph to slave-traders headed for Egypt instead of killing him (Gen 37:26–28). Joseph must have been baffled by his siblings’ hatred. He had done nothing to hurt them. Why did they conspire against him?

 

It would have been traumatic. In one moment, Joseph’s privileged and happy childhood was ripped away. If we were to meet with a similar predicament, how would we respond? Would our faith be shaken? Would we question God and demand to know why He allows these calamities and injustice to beset us? Many people would start to doubt God if they encounter such senseless circumstances, or suffer unfair treatment.

 

In Egypt, Joseph ended up as a slave in the house of Potiphar. But interestingly, God blessed him so that everything he did went well. Joseph prospered in Potiphar’s house. Consequently, Potiphar honored him and promoted him to chief of his household, second only to Potiphar himself in authority. Joseph’s fate appeared to have changed. But his master’s wife soon started noticing the handsome young supervisor.

 

And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” (Gen 39:7)

 

Joseph did the right thing—he refused to sin against God and betray his master (Gen 39:8–9). But, angry with Joseph’s rejection, the master’s wife framed him. She falsely accused him of trying to violate her.

 

When we hear or read about these events in Joseph’s life, we may dismiss them as just a movie-style melodrama. Or we may think that the ultimate happy ending enjoyed by Joseph should render his suffering bearable. But we must remember that when Joseph was going through these experiences, he had not the slightest inkling what the next day—let alone the next stage of life—would bring. It would have been devastating enough to be sold by one’s own brethren to foreigners. But just as his luck started to improve, he was falsely imprisoned—and for trying to do the right and honorable thing!

 

Today, there are those who want to take revenge on society because they feel they have been unfairly treated. They feel justified in victimizing others because they believe they have been victimized. In stark contrast, Joseph never once murmured against God. In return, God was with him wherever he went. Hence even in prison, he flourished. He was well-liked by the prison keeper. He interpreted dreams for his fellow prisoners, the royal butler and baker, respectively. When the butler was reinstated to his position, Joseph must have thought that it would only be a matter of time before he too would be released. But Joseph had to wait another two years before the butler remembered. 

 

When Pharaoh had a dream that nobody could interpret, the butler suddenly recalled Joseph’s ability. Joseph was brought before Pharaoh, and successfully interpreted his dream. God’s revelation through Pharaoh’s dream enabled Egypt to be prepared for a seven-year famine. As there was also famine in the land of Canaan, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain. This set the stage for Joseph’s reunion with his whole family. After their reconciliation, Joseph’s family settled in Egypt.

 

Upon the death of Jacob the patriarch, Joseph’s brothers were very worried that Joseph would take revenge. But Joseph was far wiser. Although he did not initially understand why suffering dogged him, he finally realized that God had everything under control. And so Joseph told his brothers, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?” (Gen 50:19).

 

Joseph understood that there is One who is much higher, whose ways and thoughts are much higher. God has a higher purpose that we do not always see.

 

…but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Gen 50:20b)

 

Had Joseph not been in Egypt at the right time, many people would have died, including Jacob and his family. Jacob’s family were instrumental to God’s salvation plan. Jacob would become Israel, and his children, the fathers of the Israelite nation—God’s chosen people. Every incident happened for a purpose and at the right time. Why was Joseph sold? So that he would go to Egypt. Why did he have to go to Egypt? So that he would end up in prison. Why did he have to be in prison? So that he would meet the royal butler. Why did the butler forget him? So that Joseph could be summoned in time to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. 

 

From Joseph’s perspective, this series of unfortunate events certainly would not have made any sense at the time. False imprisonment would not have been easy to bear. But he persevered, and when he looked back, it all made sense. It was to fulfill a much higher purpose. We should not trust our perspective because we look at things from a single dimension. But God has the entire picture. God means it all for good. If we view things from a single dimension, we can never see it. So we must accept that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts.

 

This is faith. If we have this kind of faith, at the very end, we will say, “Amen. I now know why.” 

 

 

ABRAHAM: GOD’S TIMING IS PERFECT

 

God told Abram to leave his homeland, Ur of the Chaldeans, and God would lead him to the promised land. But Abram would not possess this land, and it would take many generations before his descendants would. God also promised that Abram would be a great nation, but Abram would not live to see it. Further, God revealed to Abram that his descendants would be strangers in a foreign land; they would have to serve foreign masters and suffer this affliction for four hundred years. What God told Abram was fulfilled much later, after Jacob and his family settled in Egypt (Gen 15:12–16).

 

Abraham’s ability to have faith in all that God had promised is exemplary. We often fall far short of this example. Sometimes, we expect God to bless us because we have been a good Christian and have done what the Bible says we should. And we want God to bless us in our lifetime, if not immediately. We certainly do not want to wait for four generations. We think that God is dragging His feet or being stingy with His blessing because we only consider a single dimension—our personal perspective. But God considers many factors; in modern parlance, He takes a holistic view. In the context of the Israelites, the fourth generation of those who settled in Egypt would return to take possession of the land that God had promised them. Because that is when the “iniquity of the Amorites would be complete” (Gen 15:16). God would bring His people back to execute justice. The Israelites were to drive the Amorites out of the land because, in God’s eyes, they no longer deserved the land. God had given the Amorites that piece of land for all these years. But these Amorites responded to such providence by worshipping false gods, and sacrificing their children in their religious rituals. Their way of worship was also immoral. As a result, when their sins had reached their full extent of egregiousness, God would let the Israelites inherit the promised land.

 

In short, faith is about accepting God’s timing because His ways are higher than ours. The best plan is God’s plan.

 

 

MOSES: GOD KNOWS THE TRAINING WE NEED

 

There was another reason why the Israelites had to dwell in Egypt. At that time, Egypt was the most advanced civilization in that region. In contrast, Israel was just starting out as a nation. The Israelites had worked four hundred years in Egypt. Although they worked very hard, they were oppressed by their Egyptian masters. But God said He would judge Egypt, and the Israelites would come out with great possessions (Gen 15:14). Indeed, when the Israelites left Egypt, they had cattle, silver, gold, and even Egypt’s national reserves (Ex 12:35–36).

 

Moses was chosen to lead them out of Egypt. Growing up as an Egyptian prince, Moses had been trained in all the knowledge and wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in words and deeds (Acts 7:22). His life in the palace of Egypt had not rendered him impervious to the suffering of the Israelites, his people. So the forty-year-old Moses wanted to take them out of Egypt. But instead of fulfilling His promise to Abraham at that time (Gen 15:13–14), God sent Moses to Midian. There, Moses spent the next forty years tending sheep.

 

At first glance, this course of action does not appear to make sense. Surely the dynamic, passionate forty-year-old prince would be far better equipped to lead than the reluctant and reticent eighty-year-old shepherd? On deeper reflection, God’s way makes perfect sense. For the first forty years, Moses learned knowledge. But in the second forty years, he gained character. Forty-year-old Moses was very aggressive, mighty in words and deeds. This certainly qualified him to rally the Israelites, but could he manage them? In the wilderness of Midian, Moses spent forty years gazing at sheep and learning to be patient. It was only after this period that the infinitely wise God considered him ready to fulfill the real purpose of his life in his final forty years. Without the heart of a shepherd, Moses would not have had the patience to deal with the Israelites in the wilderness. Moses, the seasoned shepherd, had seen how headstrong and stubborn sheep could be. They did not always heed the shepherd, and often plunged themselves into danger by wandering off, even to dangerous places the shepherd had warned them against. In short, while Egypt could only train Moses to lead, the Midian years were necessary to equip Moses with the ability to lead the Israelites through all types of conditions, and, particularly, lead them in the wilderness for forty years.

 

Ultimately, God’s way is always the better way. His higher ways and higher thoughts are infallible. 

 

 

PAUL: GOD KNOWS WHERE AND HOW WE CAN BEST CONTRIBUTE

 

Paul was a very able preacher and a key worker in the ministry. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he had to go to Jerusalem, even though chains awaited him there. He knew he would be arrested and imprisoned (Acts 20:22–23). Any logical person would have urged him not to go. After all, there were many places where he could preach; there would be many people, elsewhere, who needed to hear the gospel. But Paul went and, as expected, he was arrested. He was brought to Rome and placed under house arrest for two years.

 

If we were in Paul’s shoes, we may think that being allowed to move about freely to preach the gospel would be the best way to serve God. However, God had other plans. He wanted Paul to stay put and write under the inspiration of His Spirit. In His omnipotence, He can bring fish to the fisherman; He would bring people to the preacher.

 

Indeed, in those two years, Paul was allowed to have visitors. He could still preach freely. People came to him, but most importantly, during that time, he wrote the prison epistles, which became part of our New Testament. What Paul wrote has been printed and passed down for generations. Millions across time and all over the world have read these writings. So in those two years in prison, Paul was able to preach to more people than he could ever have preached to in his lifetime, even when free.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

This is how God the Omnipotent and Omniscient works. “My ways are higher than your ways. My thoughts are not always your thoughts.” We must believe this. And believing this, we must conduct our life of faith correspondingly—in adversity and suffering, do not complain. As long as we are faithful to God, as long as we keep doing the right thing, regardless of what may happen right now, remember that we can only see one dimension. God’s ways are much higher. He manages multiple dimensions. Have faith and trust. Take a step back, keep calm, and watch the wonderful will of God unfold before our eyes.

 

 

Date
Jul. 13, 2017
Author
Philip Shee
Publisher
True Jesus Church
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