Circles of Sovereignty
In a world that seems so out of control, where bad things happen to you and those you love while reward falls on those who deserve the opposite, it’s hard to believe that God is sovereign.
How could the one who declares himself to be perfect, wise, good, and loving in every way also be in absolute control of the universe and let all of this happen on his watch?
Much of our regular anxiety, worry, fear, and discouragement results from thinking that when things are out of our control, they are out of control completely. But the Bible tells us that if we want to properly understand what is happening around us, we need to remember what’s happening above us.
As a being made in the image of God, you are a meaning maker. Because we’ve been given intellectual and conceptual abilities, we have a hunger to know, a desire for life to make sense, and a determination to understand.
These are all excellent qualities, and the Bible encourages growth in these areas: “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Proverbs 18:15). But we must all be willing to accept that there is a creature/Creator line that we are unable to cross.
Since you and I aren’t privy to God’s secret counsel or informed of the details of his eternal plans, we will always face confusion, mystery, and surprise. The writer of Hebrews, discussing the lordship of Jesus Christ, hints at this tension: “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside of his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Hebrews 2:8).
A functional, day-to-day belief in the sovereignty of God will not remove this tension from your life. God will not always give us answers, but he always gives us himself. He reveals to us his existence, rule, wisdom, faithfulness, and love so that we can experience peace and rest of heart even as we face painful mysteries.
Allow me to suggest a tool I developed in my counseling years to help people understand and live in light of the practical implications of the sovereignty of God for everyday life.
Imagine I have drawn a small circle inside a much larger circle on a sheet of paper. The inner circle is labeled the circle of responsibility, and the outer circle the circle of concern.
The circle of responsibility—the smaller, inner circle—represents things God has called you to do that you cannot give to anyone else. These are your daily, God-ordained duties. The only proper response to this inner circle is to carefully and faithfully obey, trusting God for the empowering grace to do so.
Many other things in life grab your attention, capture your mind, and weigh heavy on your heart, but they are not your responsibility or your ability to change. These are the things you put in the circle of concern—the bigger, outer circle. The only proper way to respond to these concerns is to entrust them to your Lord, who governs them all for his glory and your ultimate good.
Living as God has called you to live requires knowing which things in your life fit into which circle. If you load items into the inner circle that don’t belong, you will be overbearing and controlling, and your life will be dominated by anxiety and fear.
Some things God has not told us and never will. This mystery and tension won’t be alleviated until we’re on the other side, but the more you come to know him and understand the character of his loving care, the deeper your rest becomes.
So, walk down the hallway of your confusing life today and say, “There are many things I don’t understand, but I know my Father is in control. I know he is wise and good, and I know he loves me.”
Paul David Tripp
1. In what ways does your world seem out of control today?
2. What seemingly “bad” things have happened to you, those you love, and those who love and serve the Lord?
3. What seemingly “good” rewards have been given to those to appear to deserve the opposite?
4. Review your answers to Questions 1-3 in light of Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” In what ways might your interpretation, or definition, of “out of control”, “bad”, and “good” be different from the Lord and his holy and perfect ways?
5. What has God revealed to you over time that he had not originally revealed? How long did it take for you to see God’s will? What has God yet to reveal that you are still looking for answers to? Could you be satisfied if the Lord never revealed this part of his will to you before eternity?
6. Draw the two circles diagram on a piece of paper (or create two lists on your phone). What falls inside your circle of responsibility? List as many items as you can think of. Then, identify 2 or 3 specifically and ask, “How is God calling me to carefully and faithfully obey in these areas, and how can I trust him for the empowering grace to do so?” Be practical with your answer.
7. What falls outside your circle of responsibility but is still causing debilitating anxiety, worry, fear, or discouragement? How can you let them go, entrusting them to your Lord? Be specific.