Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK
My sister does this thing that drives me bonkers. She will take a book and, rather than reading it from start to finish, she will skip around the chapters, often reading the last page first. She says that it takes the stress out of reading the book if she knows how it will end.
I might hate to do that with a book, but I would love to do that with life. It’s for the exact same reason my sister reads a book from the end: I dislike the feelings of stress and uncertainty. When I was in school, I wished that I could be certain that I would pass all my exams and be settled in a job in 10 years’ time. Then I could sit back, relax, and just enjoy studying (yes, I am a geek).
To combat day-to-day uncertainty, I make lists and plan my day so that I know how I will be spending every single minute. No second goes unaccounted for. Wasted time makes me feel terrible because it can never be got back, and one thought that always goes through my mind is this: What if I’ve failed to do something that will be really important in the future? For example, would I have a novel published by now if I had spent more time working hard on writing it?
As you can imagine, living like this isn’t really sustainable. Things come up and plans have to change (Proverbs 16:9). There’s no way I can come up with a plan that will take into account every possible life event.
While I was writing one of my many lists one day, I started to think about why I was so desperate to control things. One of the reasons that surfaced after some time of honest reflection was that I didn’t really trust that God was in control. I thought that I could control things if I planned and did things in a certain way. Essentially, I wanted to be God. Being patient and trusting that God knows what He is doing is not easy.
But the reality is that I am powerless to control things. I can’t stop illnesses, deaths, or disasters. All I can do is manage my own response to such events. And even that requires me to seek God’s help on how to respond well and deal with what life throws at me.
Coming to terms with my own limitations and weaknesses has helped me to see more clearly why not knowing the future is a good idea.
Here are three reasons (in list form!):
1. Knowing the future is overwhelming.
If we knew everything that was ever going to happen to us, we might not want to keep on living. For me, that involved going to university. There were many things that happened in those three years that I did not enjoy, and if I’d known about all of them before I started, I would never have dared to take that step.
But those were experiences that I needed to go through in order to grow, and God used them all. For a little while after I graduated, I was able to help new students who were trying to adjust to life away from home. Thankfully, God kindly reveals His plans to us one step at a time, along with all that we need for each day as it comes. Only He is able to handle knowing everything, and His plan is infinitely better than any one that we can come up with ourselves. Colossians 1 describes what Jesus has done for us and how He is completely in control. Whenever I feel worried, I read that chapter; it gives me confidence that nothing that happens to me is a surprise to Jesus. It tells me that He has a plan and that He is good.
2. Not knowing the future can deepen our walk with God
God did not create us to be self-sufficient but to be dependent on Him. When we don’t know what will happen in our lives, we learn to trust Him—not ourselves or our resources.
God isn’t being mean by holding back information so that we will be forced to trust Him. Instead, He’s giving us opportunities to experience the goodness of His faithfulness and wisdom. Because I don’t know what’s coming, I can go to God and tell Him what I am worried about and leave it with Him. Taking everything to God like this can deepen my relationship with Him by causing me to explore His character and learning to trust Him.
At the end of the day, we can rest assured in God’s plans: His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not the same as ours (Isaiah 55:5-9).
3. Not knowing the future makes me recall God’s goodness
Not knowing what is coming next allows us to focus on what we do know—that God is good and faithful, and that He gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:9-11).
In Matthew 6, Jesus taught that sparrows do not worry about what they will eat because God takes care of them. His point is that if God cares so much for birds and plants, what more us? He doesn’t just know the future; He has planned it and made sure that everything we need is there for us.
We might not know the details of how our life will pan out, but we can be secure in the knowledge that God does, and that He has our best interests at heart. As I think back to 10 years ago when I was setting off to university and wondering where I would be in 10 years’ time, I can see how God has taken care of me and provided for me throughout. Not only did I pass all my exams, but I am now working in a non-profit organization, and I think my 18-year-old self would be surprised by it!
Looking back and seeing what God has done gives me confidence that for the next 10, 20, or however many years are ahead of me, He will keep on providing for me, probably in ways that I don’t expect. And it’s okay that I don’t know how it will all work out, because God does.
With that, what should now be at the top of my to-do list each day is a reminder that God is in control (even when it feels like He isn’t), and that having to change one of my plans is not the end of the world (because God already knows it’s going to happen).
Knowing everything isn’t the answer. It can’t deepen my walk with God or teach me about His character. It won’t even help me deal with the things life throws my way. What is worth knowing is who God is, and that knowledge leading to trust is what will help me navigate the future. It’s much more reliable than any to-do list or plan.