“I give up,” some say when faced with a difficult situation. Others disagree. “You can write your own ticket with God,” they claim. “Just pray in faith and you can have what you want.” Those two extremes often surface in discussions about the acceptance of events outside our control. Should we throw up our hands and resign ourselves to whatever life hands us? Or should we name-it-and-claim-it to change our destinies? What does the Bible actually teach about accepting events or situations we did not choose?
As it is with almost every spiritual or philosophical discussion, truth is found somewhere between two extremes. Neither “name-and-claim-it” nor total resignation is taught in the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Elements of each are present, but neither tells the whole story. To find that balance, we must begin with what we know for certain: God is good, and God is sovereign over His creation (Daniel 5:21; Psalm 83:18). Sovereignty means that the One who created everything in existence has the might, wisdom, and authority to do whatever He wishes with it (Psalm 135:6; Daniel 4:35). “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3).
However, sovereignty does not imply that God decrees sin, pain, or rebellion. He does not lie, yet He permits lying. He does not sin, yet He allows sin to exist on the earth (Genesis 6:5; Romans 6:16). Because of the curse that sin brought on the world (Genesis 3:14–19), evil, pain, and rebellion are part of the human experience. God sovereignly allows Satan to continue his reign of terror until the day he will be cast into the lake of fire forever (2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 20:10). Satan’s destructive work results in tragedies, heartaches, poverty, and a host of other evils that impact our lives. When we experience such calamities, we have choices in how we respond.
The Bible tells us to bring our burdens to God “by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving” (Philippians 4:6). We are to “cast all our care upon Him because He cares for us” (1 Peter 5:7). And we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Jesus gave the example of a widow petitioning a harsh judge in Luke 18:1–8 to remind us to pray and not give up. He gave us another example when He Himself had to accept God’s answer. When facing crucifixion, Jesus pleaded with the Father to find another way to redeem mankind (Matthew 26:38–44). Three times, Jesus cried out for deliverance from the looming torture. But He did not stop there. He ended His prayer the way we must: “Yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus showed us how to accept God’s will even when it clashes with our human desires.
Accepting God’s will is not passive resignation. Acceptance is active; it is often the result of a process of contending with God, wrestling it out in prayer, fasting, repenting, and finally surrendering to His higher purposes. Acceptance recognizes that the God who spoke these words is still in control: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ . . . What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do” (Isaiah 46:9–11).
Many times, God waits for our prayers before He acts because He wants us to rely on Him, seek Him, and commune with Him so that He can show Himself strong on our behalf (see 2 Chronicles 16:9). It is to God’s glory to save us: “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15). Even when God’s deliverance does not look like what we think it should, acceptance rests in the sovereign goodness of God.
Missionary Amy Carmichael had devoted her life to serving the Lord in India, caring for orphans and unwanted and abused children. In India, she suffered an accident that left her bedridden for the last twenty years of her life and caused her constant pain. Miss Carmichael feared being a burden to others and dreaded the possibility of her hindering the ministry she had started, so in her room she posted two short sentences from Revelation 2:9–10: I know and Fear not. In these words of Jesus, she found comfort: Jesus knew her affliction, and He bade her not to fear. Miss Carmichael wrote many of her classic works from her bed, including a history of her orphanage. In that book she wrote, “Acceptance—more and more, as life goes on, that word opens doors into rooms of infinite peace” (from Gold Cord, p. 312).
Acceptance chooses to believe that “all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Job modeled godly acceptance of tragic circumstances when he said, “Shall we receive good from the Lord and not evil?” (Job 2:10). We never stop praying for that which is important to us, but we rest in the waiting because God has promised that He hears us (1 John 5:15). Even in the darkest circumstances—the child is crippled, the house is in ashes, the pink slip is on the desk—acceptance lets us rest in the divine tension between continued faith and God’s sovereign plan.