Written By Samuel Herianto, Indonesia
I finally did it! After two years of struggling with my research on lipid-protein interactions and writing my thesis on it, I graduated from National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Taiwan in January 2020.
I was excited about this achievement and had been thinking about the next step of my post-graduation journey. My Bible study team had planned a mission trip to the Philippines in the summer. Then after the trip, I thought I would be able to visit my family in Indonesia for a few weeks since I hadn’t gone back for a long time. In the fall, I planned to begin a PhD program, for which I had been applying to 10 universities in both Europe and Asia since January. Before starting the PhD program, I was also hoping to do a one-month internship at a research institute, and sent in my application to two institutes in Taiwan and Japan. See how well thought-out this plan is!
But I soon realized that God had different plans for me when Covid-19 threw my plans into uncertainty. My mission trip to the Philippines was delayed. At the same time, the outbreak of Covid-19 in Indonesia forced me to postpone my visit to my family. To make things worse, the manuscript I submitted for publication got rejected by three different journals. The most painful part was when two universities in Europe rejected my application right away. With the case numbers increasing in Europe, I was not sure that I would want to start a PhD program there even if I were accepted by the remaining European universities that I had applied to.
I never imagined that it was possible for someone’s dreams and plans to be killed so quickly within such a short period of time. I started questioning everything—Why should this happen now? Were those plans not pleasing to God or in contradiction to His will? These type of questions kept me up at night.
After some time struggling with those questions, here are two main things I have been learning from this experience.
1. God is sovereign—everything is under His control
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)
Even though I prayed a lot over my “to-do lists”, making clear my intention to glorify God’s name through them, He was not to be dictated by my good plans. God has His own plans for my life, and He is sovereign to interrupt my plans. Moreover, just as He rebuked the wind and waves in a second (Mark 4:35-41), He is also sovereign over the pandemic. My plans and the pandemic are simply a small dot to Him.
I am reminded of Job’s story, where he experienced very difficult circumstances. Although he lost his family, wealth, and many other things, he humbly admitted that God can do all things and that His plans cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2). Job obeyed, understood, and respected the sovereignty of God over his situation. This led me to the conclusion that God is sovereign over all circumstances; and everything is under His control, regardless of how perfectly we plan the details of our lives.
2. In all things, God works for our good
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
All the items on my list seemed great, but God had a better plan for my life. Although His plan might not seem pleasing to me, I am learning to totally trust Him in all circumstances, and believe that His plans are the best for me.
As the apostle Paul puts it in Roman 8:28, God works in all things—both good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant—and in everything, for good to those who love Him. I could say that God didn’t let me accomplish the items on my list, because He knew that they would not come into fruition. God’s plans for me are according to His purpose in the beginning, plans not to harm me, but to give me hope.
After learning this truth through praying and reflecting deeply on Romans 8:28, I feel joyful and comforted. God’s plans are truly good, perfect, and pleasing.
A month after my plans were disrupted, I already began seeing some of God’s good plans. Unexpectedly, I received a job offer as a research assistant in a good lab at NCKU, with a good supervisor and co-workers. Also, even though I would have preferred European universities for my PhD, I am still grateful to have received news that I have been successfully admitted to the Joint PhD Program of Academia Sinica-National Taiwan University—it seems like God is preparing me to pursue my PhD in Taiwan. Not only that, I’ve also found a prospective advisor there, a knowledgeable and caring biochemist, who is willing to supervise me during my PhD.
In addition, although our mission trip to the Philippines has been delayed, God directed us to carry out another cross-cultural missions trip in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan at the end of June, where we shared the gospel to Indonesian caregivers, students, and workers. It was a fabulous experience and was especially rewarding, as it allowed us to share the love of Christ with them. It seems clear that God has been working behind the scenes to accomplish His will for me—and these developments show that He truly knows what’s best for my life.
While I feel blessed that my plans have not entirely fallen through, I am sure that there are many others who have been more adversely affected by Covid-19, and are facing disrupted plans and worrying about their uncertain future. If you’re feeling helpless thinking about how life might feel completely out of control at the moment, I hope you’ll take comfort in knowing that we’re never out of the sight of our Creator—and He never loses control. Let us continue to trust that He is sovereign over everything, and will work out His plans for our lives.
Trusting that God is sovereign does not mean that we should not have any plans in our lives. There is nothing wrong with making plans for the future. We just need to be careful about how we approach our goals. Instead of expecting life to go according to our plans, we can give God space to make adjustments to it or to lead us in a different direction. That’s the key to true success in life—to do life with God. Let us trust God with our lives, regardless of the end result, because we know His plan is perfect, good, and pleasing (Romans 12:2).