“What would you like to drink?” That is a question we hear often whether at a restaurant, when sitting down for dinner at home or while visiting a hospitable friend. But I have never heard God ask that question.
When God sets a cup before me, he expects me to drink. It may be that he pours a cup of wonderful circumstances, memorable moments or sunny days. But sometimes it is a cup of loss, a cup of sickness or a cup of disappointment. No matter what I may see when I peer over the rim, that cup with my name on it is mean to be drained, whether with a heart swelled with joy unspeakable or through tears unstoppable.
“But wait,” some will say. “The Bible says that all things work together for good. That means if God takes one thing from you, then he has better things that he will give you soon. Lose a job? He surely has a much better job, with better pay and nicer working conditions. End a relationship? God has a kinder and more loving person waiting in the wings. Get sick? God is going to heal you of your physical illness and use your healing to reach others for him.”
All those things are possible, but they are not promised.
Let’s take a moment to revisit that often-quoted verse: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). What is promised here is that all things work together for good. God does not say that all things are good. He says they work together for good, and the good promised is the ultimate good: “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).
Every cup set before us is designed and destined to make us more like Christ. No matter how bitter or how joyous, how painful or how comforting, every sip is intended to draw us closer to him and create his likeness in us.
What if I don’t want to drink that cup that he gives? I am in good company. Jesus himself, agonizing over his impending death for sin, prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). He begged if there is was any other way to accomplish the plan that it be done. But there was no other way. He drank the cup of wrath on our behalf. That is the only cup that his children will never drink, but all the others are on the table.
My cup is not your cup. Your cup is not my cup. But each one of us must drink in trust and obedience knowing that to refuse is to miss him. We don’t drink because we like the taste; we drink because we love him. You don’t choose your cup set before you. God does. You choose if you will willingly drink so that it you will know him better and become like him.
I turn up a cup and drink in a prayer answered as I had hoped, an unexpected blessing that meets a need or an amazing time of worship, and I understand more deeply how he is the Provider, the Sustainer and the Lord of all. But I may drink a cup of loss, sickness or pain and find out through those bitter sips as well that he is still the Provider, the Sustainer and the Lord of all. Our cups may not look the same. Some are full of comfort, others brim with pain, some are a bittersweet mix and others are like honey through and through, but each one has the same purpose: to make us like Jesus.
Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
however dark it be;
lead me by thine own hand,
choose out the path for me.
Take thou my cup,
and it with joy or sorrow fill,
as best to thee may seem;
choose thou my good and ill.
Choose thou for me my friends,
my sickness or my health;
choose thou my cares for me
my poverty or wealth.
Not mine, not mine the choice
in things or great or small;
be thou my Guide, my Strength
my wisdom and my all.
– Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)
We will accept God’s plan for us, no matter how comforting or disruptive it may be. – Job 2:10b “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
We will remember that in every difficulty, if we are followers of Jesus, we are secure in his love. – Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We will give thanks in every circumstance, knowing that having a heart of gratitude is the will of God for us. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.