The Jigsaw Puzzle of Life
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The twenty-eighth verse of the eighth chapter of Romans is … to many the greatest verse in the greatest chapter. Few things are more comforting or more exhilarating than knowing that God is the One putting together the jigsaw puzzle of your life.
It was a London cartographer, John Spilsbury, who is credited with commercializing jigsaw puzzles around 1760. During the Great Depression, they were popularized in America as a cheap form of entertainment. Puzzles come in all shapes and sizes, including the latest and greatest—3D spherical jigsaws. But the method of assembly has not changed in hundreds of years. It requires the fitting together of oddly shaped, interlocking and tessellated pieces.
The key, of course, is the picture on the top of the box. Without it, good luck. And that’s why many of us feel helpless and hopeless at times—because the pieces of our lives don’t seem to fit together, and we can’t see God’s vision for the whole. But the Rosetta Stone, Romans 8:28, promises that God will make every piece fit in the most efficient, effective, and beautiful way possible!
There will still be experiences that won’t make sense until we get to heaven, no doubt about it. And let me be as explicit as possible: there is nothing good about the bad things people do. Let’s call sin, sin. Evil is evil. If you’ve been the victim of injustice or betrayal or abuse, this doesn’t negate that. It does, however, promise to recycle it, redeem it, and use it for your good and God’s glory.
Bad things happen to good people, but the fight is fixed. In the end, we win. So let’s stop playing to lose. Don’t let your mistakes, or someone else’s, put you on the defensive. Play offense with your life. It’s okay to mourn the bad things that have happened, but don’t throw a pity party. No matter what you’ve experienced, you are not a victim. You are more than a conqueror.
Some of your earthly experiences won’t make sense this side of eternity. And I cannot promise you a painless existence. … While I’m not sure what road you’ve traveled, it always starts at the cross. Every salvation story starts with the agony Christ endured at Calvary. The cross is history’s greatest injustice—the Creator nailed to a tree by His creation. But even that, God used for good. He turned the ancient symbol of torturous death into the symbol of eternal hope for humankind.
And if God can do that with the cross, He can redeem your pain, your failures, your fears, and your doubts. The cross is the missing piece in the middle of every puzzle. Without it, we’re helpless and hopeless. With it, the puzzle is solved.—Mark Batterson1
The grand weaver
God, the Grand Weaver, seeks those with tender hearts so that he can put his imprint on them. Your hurts and your disappointments are part of that design, to shape your heart and the way you feel about reality. The hurts you live through will always shape you. There is no other way…
The question is: How can you see the divine intersection of all that shapes and marks your existence, whether it be the heart-wrenching tragedies that wound you or the ecstasy of a great delight that brings laughter to your soul? How can you meet God in all your appointments and your disappointments? How can you recognize that he has a purpose, even when all around seems senseless, if not hopeless? Will there be a last gasp that whispers in one word a conclusion that redefines everything? If so, is it possible to borrow from that word to enrich the now? Can we really see, even a little, the patterned convergence of everything into some grand design?
Like the old maestro who can make a melody out of the one remaining string on a broken instrument, God can show us the pattern of our lives if we will just see his gracious hand that has brought us this far already. We would do well, as Jacob did, to put up stone markers to remind us of God’s goodness to us in specific situations: “I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”2—Ravi Zacharias
God has just filled life full of puzzles and problems and mysteries and excitement and suspense to challenge our intellect, hone our spirituality, strengthen our faith and our trust in Him, and to get us to want to find out the answers!
In trying to show us His will, He sometimes puts a mystifying puzzle before us. He likes to almost tease us with these mysteries, because it really makes us pray. He speaks in riddles and mysteries and it’s hard to understand, but He almost always gives us the starting clue. Then He keeps giving us clues to what the solution is. He leads us on step by step, but we don’t know what is going to happen to us until we land on the next step.
He likes for us to have to seek it. Because this is exercising our faith in Him and His Word and His divine guidance and magnanimity, His parental love. It shows we trust in Him when we obey Him, even if we don’t know what’s at the end of the road. We may not see the answer, we may not know the solution, we may not even know the place He’s leading to or what we’re going to find, but we’re trusting God to fulfill His promises.
He’s promised to never leave nor forsake us, for “Behold,” He says, “I am with you always, even unto the ends of the earth.”3 He’s given us the torch of His Word to show us where our path is going. We can always throw the light of God’s Word on the path ahead, for “the entrance of Thy Word giveth light.”4
“Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.”—David Brandt Berg
The tumbling barrel and you
Ever hear of a tumbling barrel? It’s an industrial device for smoothing newly made pieces of metal. It is a cask or drum equipped to revolve at a predetermined speed. Into it are put steel castings or manufactured metal pieces. An abrasive such as powdered alumina or carborundum is also put into the barrel, or maybe sand, rubber pellets, or steel balls, depending on the character and hardness of the metal parts.
The tumbling barrel is then rotated. With each revolution the metal pieces are carried partway up the side of the drum; then they fall free and drop back down. As they tumble and spill against each other and are rubbed by the abrasive, the burrs disappear and the rough edges are smoothed. They are then in shape to function properly.
This ingenious process strongly suggests the way men are tumbled about in life. We come into the world with burrs and edges characteristic of raw newness. But as we go along, we tumble against each other and also rub against hardships and difficulties. This affects us much as the abrasives in tumbling barrels affect new pieces of metal. Such friction and attrition make for a rounding and maturing of personalities.
There are well-meaning people who believe that life is too harsh. They would like to plan and arrange the world so that no one need suffer. But without struggle, how could the end result of personality be developed? How could a person become rounded and mature and strong?
This shaping process makes men. As tough and unpleasant as difficulty may be, it is the source of potential development. Surround every difficulty with prayer, with faith, and with straight thinking. Then let enthusiasm build power under it. On this basis‚ you can handle any situation that can ever develop.—Norman Vincent Peale5
Published on Anchor September 2016. Read by Jerry Paladino.
1 Mark Batterson, If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015).
2 Genesis 35:3 NIV.
3 Matthew 28:20.
4 Psalm 119:130.
5 Norman Vincent Peale, Enthusiasm Makes the Difference (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1967).