Christina Fox received her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey Through the Psalms of Lament and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ helps Friendships to Flourish. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and www.Facebook.com/
I participated in a reading challenge this summer. The challenge was to pick up a book whenever you would normally scroll through social media. I found myself reading more than I have in a long while. I went to the library and came home with a stack of books and took them with me everywhere: the boy's sports practices, the doctor's office, the hair salon, etc.
One of the genres I haven't read in a long time, but have always loved, is mystery. In elementary school I loved Encyclopedia Brown. Until I discovered Nancy Drew. Then I read every variation and reincarnation of Nancy and her pals, George and Bess. In high school, I had a job at my local library and discovered Agatha Christie. I then read every Agatha Christie mystery the library owned.
So this summer, I found myself rediscovering my love of a good mystery. When I read a good mystery, I find myself searching for clues alongside the investigators in the book. My mind questions and evaluates all the details in an attempt to figure out who committed the crime before the characters in the book do. And I have that eventual "I can't believe it!" moment when the book finally reveals the culprit at the end of the story.
I think we all find mysteries intriguing. They pique our interest and curiosity, our love of problem solving. If not in storybooks, then certainly in real life. We like to find out what's behind a closed door. When someone has an unanswered question, we research it until it's answered. And I for one am grateful for the scientists who pursue medical mysteries until they are solved.
But there are some mysteries that will remain unanswered. Some mysteries we have to learn to live with. Some mysteries we have to learn to appreciate, accept, and even embrace.
Those mysteries are the mysteries of God's unrevealed will.
Theologians use the terms "revealed will" and "unrevealed will" to describe the things we can know and not know about God and his work in our life and world. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29).
We live according to God's revealed will, what he has given us in his word. The Bible tells us all we need to know to live and glorify God in our life. His word tells us what is wise and what is foolish. It shows us our sin and our need for a Savior. It instructs us in what we need to know about who God is and what he has done for us. 2 Peter tells us God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4).
The things we don't know are God's hidden will. We don't know what will happen tomorrow. "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps" (Proverbs 16:9. While we know Jesus will return one day to make all things new, we don't know when that will be. "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Matthew 24:36). We don't always know why or how certain circumstances have occurred in our lives, though we know they will all turn out for our ultimate good and God's glory (Romans 8:28). There are even theological truths that may be too complex for our human and finite minds to fully grasp; we just have to trust and believe what God says about them.
Living in mystery means yielding and submitting to the One who does know the answers to all the unknowns. It is a place of humility in which we acknowledge that we are creatures and God is creator. It is a place of child-like trust and faith, knowing that God will do what is best, out of his perfect love for us. It is a place that embraces and even finds joy in knowing that we don't know everything but that God rules and reigns over all things. Nothing can stop his purposes and plans; all things will come to pass exactly as he has designed them to.
"Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it." (Isaiah 46:8-11)
So while mysteries are fun to read and while many of the unknown things in the world will be discovered and answered by historians, scientists, and inventors, there are things we can't know and God will not let us know. And that place of mystery is a safe place. As we wait and watch for God to move, we can trust, hope, and rejoice that he alone is God. He will work wonders in his perfect time. And in eternity, we can look forward to unwrapping the layers and layers of mystery, learning more and more about our holy and all-knowing God.
For the last five years or so, my kids have taken Tae Kwon Do classes. After working hard at a sport for so long, it was exciting for all of us when they tested for black belt last month.
The dojang where the test took place is a two story building. The students who were testing that day sat on the blue gym mats on the bottom floor while those watching the test gathered on the top floor where there was a railing overlooking down to the floor below. I leaned over the railing with all the other moms and dads and watched my kids demonstrate what they've learned these last five years.
It took more than half an hour for them to go through all their forms. One after another, the group of twenty students stepped as one—kicking, slicing, jabbing, turning—doing the forms for each of the ten belts they had learned so far. They did so, following the instructions shouted out to them in Korean by one of the Masters.
Tao Kwon Do, like other martial arts, is a method of self defense. They say that just taking one self defense class isn't enough to protect yourself in the case of an emergency. That's because when we are in a crisis, we revert back to what we know best. Our minds aren't thinking clearly as adrenaline mixed with fear courses through our bodies. It's only if you've taken self defense classes for years that you are likely to use it to defend yourself in an emergency. This is also why schools practice fire drills every month—we respond with what we know best when faced with a crisis.
The same is true for us spiritually when we face a trial in our life. When a hardship or season of suffering comes upon us out of nowhere—when we are filled with anxiety, worry, fear, despair, and uncertainty—we respond to that trial with what our heart has practiced, what it knows best. Like rain water follows the crevices and paths already worn in the ground, our hearts will follow what we've studied and learned and meditated upon most.
For believers, if we have not previously trained our hearts in God's word, if we have not studied and learned from Scripture about God's character, the how's and why's of trials in our lives, and the hope we have in Christ, our automatic response will not be to turn to those truths. We won't instinctively cling to the gospel. We won't turn to our Rock, Savior, and Deliverer; instead, we may panic. We might lay blame. We might turn to false comforts and counterfeit gods. We might lash out at others.
In our most desperate moments of life, when we find ourselves unexpectedly faced with a crisis, our theology comes to the surface. What we really believe about God reveals itself out of the depths of our hearts. And in that moment, we discover if what we believe is firm enough to stand on or is a shifting sand that gives way to the next crashing wave.
If you don't know whether your theology would stand in a moment of crisis, take the time today to read and study what God's word teaches about who God is, his character, his works, his redemptive purposes in our lives. Learn about the ways he works in the world, his sovereignty over all he has made, and his faithfulness to do all he has promised. Study his promises and his fulfillment of those promises in Christ. Read Paul's letters and learn about the process of sanctification, the Holy Spirit's work in our hearts, and the role of discipline and instruction in our sanctification. Study Jesus' life and see how he responded to suffering, hardship, and sorrow. And most of all, look to the cross and see how Immanuel, God made flesh, became the Suffering Servant, and defeated sin and death in our place.
Like the forms my kids practiced over and over, we need to learn and study God's word until it becomes part of us. Until our heart moves in rhythm with it. Until we know it so well, in the case of an emergency, it's the truth that leads us to a place of safety—our Savior.
I’m excited to tell you about a new project I've been working on with my publisher, Christian Focus Publications. My next book is titled Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ helps Friendships to Flourish (Focus for Women) and comes out this fall.
We live in an age where there is less and less face-to-face community. More people work at home than ever before. Our interactions with others most often take place through an intermediary device. We know what our friends are doing moment by moment throughout the day on social media, but seldom do we know what is going on in their heart. All of this makes the concept of friendship hard to define and even more confusing to know how to live out in our daily lives.
Closer Than a Sister is about Christian community, and more specifically, community among women in the local church. It is about our need for Christian friendship and fellowship—real life, face-to-face relationships. Such friendship begins with our unity in Christ—for our union with Him creates and shapes our unity with others in the Body of Christ.
My book paints a picture of “sisterhood” by looking at descriptions of the church in the New Testament. It helps us see how important community is, what it looks like, and how to cultivate it. Specifically, it describes relationships that involve service, discipleship, encouragement, exhortation, and growth. It also takes a look at some of the challenges we often face in community. My hope for Closer than a Sister is to encourage readers to live out the unity we have through Christ in the local church.
Author Jen Wilkin wrote the foreword to Closer Than a Sister. She wrote:
"No other kind of friendship can offer the strength of Christian friendship. It is, just as the Bible promises, a ‘cord of three strands, not easily broken’ (Eccles. 4:12), joining those who enter it with the strength of a covenant keeping God. Christina Fox knows that this bond is both sacred and sacrificial. In Closer Than A Sister she offers insight into how we can weave the cords of our friendships to last through any season. Like all good gifts, Christian friendship is to be sought and stewarded with wisdom and grace. The benchmark of lesser friendships will not do. You hold in your hands a primer on how to weave (and allow yourself to be woven into) that blessed tie that binds."
Stay tuned for more about the book! If your church is interested in hosting a book launch party or in having me come and share about sisterhood in the church, send me a message. And I look forward to telling you more about Closer Than a Sister soon!