Holding Onto Hope When Experiencing Injustice

person-2607255_1280

As a college student, I worked at a job where the positive work environment soured. The manager’s demeanor and treatment of me and the other employees took a drastic turn. He left during his shifts and did not schedule enough people to meet the customer demand during his absence. He began to fly into fits of rage over small things such as a cash register coming in a few cents under or a task left undone at closing.

The situation came to a head when I came into work one day, and he accused me of moving a table in the store. I had no idea what he was even talking about. After a tirade directed towards me and the rest of the staff, we discovered that the table had been moved by our district manager, not anyone in the store.

Shortly after that incident, I knew that I needed to get a new job or find a rescue from my unreasonable manager. During this time, at church one Sunday, I went down to the altar for prayer. The pastor spoke some words about some people needing a rescue from current situations and assuring us that one was coming. Shortly after that day at church, the company I worked for fired our manager. They discovered he was involved in some unethical practices, in addition to treating his employees poorly.

Though God showed up in a big way in that situation, I still struggle to trust Him, at times, to come through for me in current situations. My confidence wavers when I am mistreated and I wonder, “God, do you care what is going on here? Can I really trust you to protect me here?” Maybe you are currently experiencing mistreatment, and you wonder if the situation is truly as unjust as you imagine and if God sees you.

What is injustice?

Injustice can be defined as a situation where there is no fairness or justice, where people are experiencing inequity or mistreatment at the hands of someone else. The very distressing element of injustice is that the mistreatment often happens to people who have no power in a situation. For instance, if a government or societal institution is corrupt, citizens that attempt to speak out or enact change may be silenced. Citizens may be forced to live in unjust circumstances without the power to change their laws.

Similarly, in a relationship, a person can experience injustice. A parent or a spouse can mistreat a person, and the spouse may not have a say in certain aspects of the relationship. In a job, such as the experience I had in college, a boss may not lead in a right manner and may be cruel or unfair to his or her employees. Employees may be fearful of losing their job or suffer backlash if they speak up, so they remain silent.

While we might be tempted when experiencing injustice to numb our pain with a substance or distract ourselves with social media, a hobby, or other distraction, we do have a place we can turn. While we may feel that God is indifferent to our suffering, the Bible describes God as One who cares deeply about us and rescues those who cry out to Him (Psalm 9:9; Deuteronomy 32:3, 4; Psalm 34:7).

Psalm 120 says this:

I call on the Lord in my distress,

and he answers me.

Save me, Lord,

from lying lips

and from deceitful tongues.

What will he do to you,

and what more besides,

you deceitful tongue?

He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,

with burning coals of the broom bush.

Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,

that I live among the tents of Kedar!

Too long have I lived

among those who hate peace. I am for peace;

but when I speak, they are for war.

The author of this psalm is unknown, but the author is suffering from “lying lips” and “deceitful tongues.” We don’t know who is speaking out lies against him or being dishonest with him in some other way, but conflict with this individual or individuals has been going on for an unbearably long time. He says, “Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, / that I live among the tents of Kedar! / Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. / I am for peace; / but when I speak, they are for war” (vv. 5-7).

What he means here by Meshek and Kedar is that he has long dwelled with people that are hostile. These could be actual foreigners that he make him feel strange and out-of-place, or these could be Jews that were not living as they should. As Warren Wiersbe points out, “Any Jew who feared God and respected the Ten Commandments would not bear false witness against another Jew or seek to slander his or her name. It would be difficult to dwell with these foreign peoples, but it would be even more difficult to dwell with Jewish people who acted like foreigners.”

In other words, because the Jews knew covenant laws they would have known not to slander and mistreat one another. Therefore, if indeed the psalmist was attacked by fellow Jews, the attack would feel been all the more painful because these fellow Jews knew better and it wasn’t what he was necessarily expecting. Similarly, if we are being accused or misunderstood by fellow believers, this can be particularly painful and unsettling because we don’t expect to be treated this way by fellow members of the body of Christ.

The psalmist has attempted to live peacefully with his attackers, but they create conflicts and difficulties continually no matter what he does. In desperation, he calls on God to save him. His cries to God are those that we can relate to if we are in situation where we have been targeted unfairly by those around us.

What hope can the psalm give us when facing injustice?

1. God is our refuge.

The psalmist’s refuge is the Lord. We can make so many things our refuge: the approval of others, material items, relationships. And yet, our only true refuge is the Lord. While we can certainly rally for change if injustice is being done, we need to draw our strength and support from God and allow Him to direct us in the best course of action in our situation. Sometimes the best action is to speak up in a respectful way. Other times, God asks us to allow Him to fight for us and remain quiet. No matter the course, we can only know it if we turn to God in our distress.

2. God hears and answers.

When we are in an unjust situation, we are often helpless to remove ourselves from it. There are people in power over us, and we don’t control what is happening to us. In addition, we might have the situation where no one will even listen or acknowledge what we are going through. Yet, we have the assurance in the psalm that God hears and God knows. When no one else will hear our case or defend us, we have a just God who sees and knows all and takes up the case of the helpless and oppressed.

3. Recompense will come to those who slander us.

Within all of us is a need for there to be justice done, for right to be wronged. We want those who hurt us to pay for the hurt they have caused us, and we might feel like nothing will happen to those who wrong us. That can easily make us want to take matters into our own hands. But we don’t need to do that. When the arrows of slander come our way and we have no way to defend ourselves, we are promised that God will take up our cause.

What is the recompense of those who slander others? The psalmist asks this question within the psalm, saying, “What will he do to you, and what more besides, you deceitful tongue?” (v. 2). He then answers it saying that slanderers will receive “sharp arrows” and “burning coals of the broom bush” (v. 4). Note, the broom bush, or juniper bush, was a bush that burned for a long time with extremely hot coals. In fact, one commentary I read mentioned stories of travelers burning this brush in their fires and returning a year later to find the embers still burning! Juniper coals would be hotter and cause more pain than other types of wood.

What the passage is saying is that those who malign us will not just “get away with it,” so to speak. They will receive due compensation for their wrongdoing — though it may not happen immediately. Their harsh words will come back upon them, and they will feel the burning torment — of the same type, and even worse — that they have hurled on innocent victims.

Conclusion:

Our reaction to injustice that has long happened to us and gone unchecked is that God does not care and will not act, but we are assured of the opposite in this psalm. While there are often situations that we are called on to act and stand up for ourselves, there are some situations where we cannot do anything to stop our oppressor or appeal to anyone else to help.

As Charles Spurgeon points out in his discussion of this verse, often others’ own sense of justice is so skewed (hence, why they are treating us the way they are), that it is pointless for us to even attempt to defend ourselves. In those situations, we have a God we can appeal to. We don’t have to take matters in our own hands or succumb to out-of-control emotions that make the situation worse. We can appeal to a God who will comfort, encourage, strengthen, and defend us. However, we must abide in Him to receive His protection and aid.

That knowledge can help us move forward when wrong is being done against us and have hope that we won’t have to suffer the injustice forever.

Related Bible Verses:

Isaiah 25:4: “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.”

2 Samuel 22:7: “In my distress I called to the LORD, I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears.”

Psalm 34:17: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.”

Related Resources:

Ever worry that you won’t ever be able to feel joy again and get out of your current slump? Check out previous episodes in this series that explore how to hold onto hope, joy, and peace in the midst of trials: Part 1: “Joy in the Midst of Trials,” Part 2: “Navigating Suffering When We Want to Understand,”  Part 3: “How God Gives Us What We Need to Make It Through Our Difficult Circumstance,” and Part 4: “Viewing Persecution as a Blessing.”

Blog News:

As I mentioned on the podcast, I am still publishing! Due to Covid-19, my schedule has been disrupted, so I am not publishing as much as I normally do, but I am still posting at God’s leading. If anything changes, I will make an announcement on the blog.

You may have noticed that I don’t have multiple contributors on the blog right now as I have in years past. I am taking a break from having other contributors for the time being, but I may have other voices on the blog in the future. I am praying about some decisions regarding the blog, so just be in prayer for me. Thanks for your grace extended to me and your support. – Carol

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts

Viewing Persecution as a Blessing

sunset-4405820_1280

I have a confession to make. I don’t love surprises. Of course, I love a surprise gift or a surprise text from a friend, but I don’t love surprises that bring unpleasantness into my life: the unexpected medical bill, the conflict with a friend I didn’t see coming, the problem with a child that pops up when I’m already stretched thin.

Surprises that bring unexpected circumstances that I wouldn’t choose are upsetting because not only is the circumstance upsetting — it is even more so because I had no way to prepare for its onset. Can you relate?

In 1 Peter 4:12-16, Peter, quite interestingly, touches on this idea of surprise when he addresses persecuted believers of his day and believers today, saying:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come to you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Perhaps God inspired Peter to write these words because He knew how believers would feel if blind-sided by persecution. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter counsels believers on how to view what is happening to them and what do in the midst of persecution. He reassures them so they can endure what they are going through or prepare them for future opposition (if they are not yet experiencing persecution). We can read his words and find comfort and reassurance for our own trial.

A few takeaways:

1. Persecution is not abnormal.

When we think of what we’re called to as Christians, we often think of the great mission God has called us to, the promises, the benefits. However, many of us do not focus on the fact that we are also called to suffering. Peter reassures believers here that we should not be “surprised,” nor think it “strange” when facing persecution because suffering is part of the Christian experience.

Peter says earlier in 1 Peter 2:21: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” The “this” that Peter refers to in this passage is suffering. All Christians all called to suffering because, as it tells us in the second part of the passage, “Christ suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example.”

Yet, if we’re not aware of the truth that suffering is part of the Christian experience, we might be overcome by out-of-control emotions in reaction to the persecution happening to us. I love the wording here in the text that we are to think it not strange — because that is exactly where our minds will go. In fact, the word “strange” here means we will feel like we’re in a strange country, in a place completely alien and foreign. We might even be offended that God led us to such a place, saying, “God, where are you? How could you allow this?”

And yet, as Peter assures us, to put us at ease if this is our experience or help us prepare for what lies ahead, he says that we shouldn’t be surprised by it. As one commentator* put it, we live in a world entirely opposed to Christian ideas. If we are living out our faith, at some point, how could our lifestyle and values not collide with the world’s? The clash is inevitable and should not take us aback, but should be that which we expect and embrace.

2. We can react rightly to the persecution.

If we drop down to verse 15, Peter says this: “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief of any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” He makes it clear that we can expect persecution when we follow Jesus, but this persecution should not come as a result of wrong behavior on our part. In addition, when persecuted, as he elaborates on elsewhere in 1 Peter 3:14-16, we have a responsibility to act rightly in the midst of the trial.

Do not fear their threats, do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

When the flames burn brightly all around us, it is easy to step away from our devotion to Christ and react out of our flesh. Yet, as Peter emphasizes, even when experiencing great opposition, we can reflect Jesus. Our actions are being watched closely by those around us and reacting wrongly in our pain could affect how a person views the Gospel. Therefore, we must — with “gentleness” and a “clear conscience” — not repay evil for evil, but like Christ, act in accordance with godly principles even when we’re mistreated.

3. We are blessed when persecuted.

Lastly, not only is persecution something we should expect in our Christian walk, we can even rejoice in the midst of it! At first, this might appear upside down to our human logic, but verses 13-14 tell us: “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” As this passage indicates, to the extent we suffer is the extent to which we will rejoice at his return. Christ’s return will be all the more precious to us after we have participated in his suffering because we will have experienced the worst the world has to offer and appreciate all the more redemption from our pain.

Not only that, our suffering indicates the authenticity of our faith. Others see God in us, and His glory rests on us when we act in accordance to His will. While persecution isn’t what any of us necessarily envisioned as part of our walk with Christ, we can take comfort in knowing that while the suffering doesn’t feel good in the moment, it is producing in us qualities that cannot be produced any other way. Just as suffering taught Jesus when He was on earth, suffering is a tool God uses to mold us.

Persecution Comes to Test Us

I read a blog post this week written by Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren. She talked about how she was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in 2003 and melanoma in 2004. She is a woman who has certainly walked through the fire. Her perspective is so refreshing, though. She shares that because of her suffering she has developed, among other things, a deeper walk with Christ, the increased ability to empathize with others who are suffering, and a greater anticipation of heaven. She says: “[I have found through my trials] a joy that comes not in spite of suffering but because of suffering. I am in awe of the treasures, the hidden riches of joy, I have found in the secret places of darkness.”

While she has found treasures in the “secret places of darkness” in her life, I still look at all she has suffered and think, “Why, Lord. Why does she have to suffer? Is this the blessed life?” She has written inspiring Christian books. She is an advocate for people in in Africa. She helps her husband run a successful church. Why has God allowed all the pain that He has in her life?

Yet, when we look at 1 Peter 4:12 when it says that the “fiery trial” comes to test us — it is saying that we will have situations that are tailor-made to try us — to refine and purify us and prove the genuineness of our faith. It could be persecution from others — or it could be, as Warren has experienced, fiery trials in the form of cancer or other difficulties. The very trials that look so cruel are the very things God uses to shape us, even as they cause us pain and discomfort in the moment (2 Corinthians 4:17).

To be clear, I use Warren as an example of someone who has greatly suffered and has an admirable outlook about it, but I don’t know for sure why she has suffered what she has. We can suffer for so many reasons, and all calamity that befalls us is not necessarily a result of God trying to teach us something. In fact, we can suffer because we live in a fallen world and have illness as a result, or we can suffer because Satan afflicts us.

Whatever the case, in times of suffering, we can reframe our thinking and allow God to give us His perspective on our situation because otherwise our feelings of pain can cause us to push away from God and give way to feelings of suspicion, apathy, and despair. When the trial feels too severe, the betrayal too deep, the situation too hopeless — and we’re tempted to give up — we can draw comfort from these words written in 1 Peter and know that suffering is part of our calling. To trust Him in the midst of it means to accept His will even if we don’t like it and stay close to Him in the midst our trial, trusting that the trial is helping to turn us into what God intends for us to be.

*“Christians must cease to be what they are, or the world cease to be what it is, for them to escape persecution.”  — The Evangelist.

Author’s Note: I added clarification about Warren in the conclusion after publication to make it more clear that her suffering serves as an example for us, but I am not sure why she has suffered what she has. In the Bible, suffering is presented as that which is under the sovereignty of God but can come for many reasons. To oversimplify suffering can be hurtful to those who are suffering. Suffering can happen because of the fallen world we live in, the affliction of Satan, as a consequence of sin, or because of God’s discipline. The best thing we can do for others in suffering is to be present and comforting, rather than offer words of advice or assume their suffering is a result of sin or God’s discipline (unless God gives us a word to prayerfully and wisely deliver). Even in cases where our suffering is a result of sin or God’s discipline, God, in His mercy forgives us when we ask and teaches us to go a better way.

Related Bible Verses:

2 Timothy 3:12: “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Luke 6:22: “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”

Matthew 5:11: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

Related Resources:

Ever worry that you won’t ever be able to feel joy again and get out of your current slump? Join us for the next few weeks as we look at how to experience joy in seasons of suffering. Check out previous episodes: Part 1: “Joy in the Midst of Trials,” Part 2: “Navigating Suffering When We Want to Understand,” and Part 3:  “How God Gives Us What We Need to Make It Through Our Difficult Circumstance.”

Podcast Notes & Corrections:

The story of the winds given in the podcast taken from this Streams in the Desert devotional.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts

How God Gives Us What We Need to Make It Through Our Difficult Circumstance

landscape-2110484_1280

Several years ago, I read a story about a woman with brain cancer that decided to get help from a death-with-dignity program that allows terminal patients to end their lives on their own timeline. Rather than go through the inevitable suffering that would come from dying of her brain cancer, she took a pill that ended her life.

Her story made headlines and people rushed to side with the woman or speak out against her decision. When I first read her story, I felt anger rise up within me. How could she just choose to end her own life? Obviously, as a Christian, I did not support her decision to terminate her life at her choosing.

Now, years later, I still do not support her decision or a program that allows terminal patients an end-of-life option; however, I have more compassion and understanding for her now than I did then. While I have never found myself in her particular situation, I have the tendency within me to want to opt out of hard situations. I want an escape route when situations get tough. We all have within us the tendency to gravitate towards comfort and ease and avoid hardship and suffering.

And yet, as Christians, we are called to walk through suffering. As much as we would like to have to avoid difficulty, God points us, at times, to walk in places we would rather not go. And yet, the wonderful truth we have in Scripture is that God doesn’t abandon us in those places. When He leads us into suffering, He walks with us and provides for us in the process.

Psalm 4:1 says this: “Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.”

This psalm was written by David, and it is believed that he wrote this during the rebellion of his son Absalom. Towards the end of David’s reign, Absalom rose up against him and built a resistance that threatened to take the entire kingdom away from him. As you can imagine, David, felt great distress by the betrayal of his own son and those that had once expressed allegiance to him. He turned to the one place he could go in his suffering and poured out his words in a prayer to God.

His words provide us hope and encouragement in our own places of suffering. What can we learn from David’s words in the psalm?

1. David suffered even though he was God’s chosen.

As I mentioned, David most likely wrote this when he was on the run from Absalom. His own son — the one that he had loved and invested in — was actively working to turn others against David and usurp the kingdom. Can you imagine the pain and indignation David must have felt? He says to God in the psalm, “Give me relief from my distress.” We see a man in these words that is crushed by circumstances and can barely breathe. Here he was, God’s chosen king of Israel, and yet, he didn’t escape suffering.

Jesus tells us that in this world we can expect trouble, but to “take heart,” for he has “overcome the world” (John 16:33). Notice, the verse doesn’t tell us to expect trouble and stop there. It tells us to expect trouble but not be disheartened by it because in Jesus we have victory. The victory may not be the exact circumstance we hoped for or ending we envisioned, but if we stay closely aligned to God, we will have victory in our situation.

2. God makes a way for us through our suffering.

In the verse, David asks for God to “give him relief” from his suffering. In the King James Version, it says this: “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” (emphasis mine). When I first read these different versions, I was confused by the use of “relief” and “enlarged.” Why are such different words used in each translation? However, in looking at the original Hebrew, I found that both words help us to understand what David is saying here.

The word these words are translated from in Hebrew is “rachab” and means “to be or grow wide or large.” The idea is that of space given in pressure, the figure taken of an army surrounded and given an escape to an open meadow. Therefore, the idea could be of God enlarging us in the midst of trouble by growing us spiritually and emotionally — but also the idea of God giving us relief from pressure by opening up a place of freedom and peace of mind for us in the midst of feeling confined by trouble. When we look into the original wording of the text, we understand how both “relief” and “enlarge” convey this concept.

I just love this idea of God opening up a space of freedom for us when we feel surrounded because it encourages us in those places where we are pressed on every side, and we don’t know what to do. When the opposition and the struggles are beyond what we can handle and we see no way out, God, even if He doesn’t take us out of our circumstance, provides a way through. David could look back and remember how God had given him this place in the past and asks him to do it again. He says a similar idea in Psalm 18:19: “He brought me into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

3. David’s hope is in God alone.

It seems almost too obvious to point out, but David puts his hope in the One he has turned to time and time again. This situation with Absalom isn’t David’s first encounter with pain. He spent time on the run from King Saul after he was anointed king, endured threats from opposing armies, and weathered many other stressful circumstances as leader of Israel.

David says at the beginning of his prayer, “Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God” (emphasis mine). He mentions “righteous” because he knows the One He is appealing to — the God who never errs and always does right — is a God who can be trusted. David is being mistreated in this instance and knows that he can present his case to God. Not only that, the idea here is that David is confident that even when others wrongly accuse him or come against him, God sees all. And, as a God of justice, God will do what is right for David and his kingdom.

In a similar way, we have the confidence as believers that God will vindicate us and set right the wrong that has been done to us. We can trust that what God does for us in our circumstance will always be best. Therefore, whatever His will is for us in our circumstance, we can be at peace knowing that He has got us and will protect us.

Conclusion:

When suffering, the natural thing for us is to ask for a rescue out of troubles. And God does, in many instances, provide a rescue out of our trials. And yet, in some instances, for reasons we can’t always understand in the moment, God doesn’t take us out of our suffering. Instead, the rescue that He provides is that He walks through our suffering with us.

For many of us, we may be praying for God to deliver us from a particular situation. If God hasn’t answered in the way we want, we have the assurance that even if God doesn’t change our situation or take our suffering away, He will give us what we need to get through.

Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, asked for God to take away his cup of suffering. He did not want to go to the cross, and yet, He did it because it was God’s will. Even though God didn’t remove the cross, He sent Jesus an angel to strengthen Him in the Garden (Luke 22:43).

If we are praying for a change and have seen none in our current situation, can we instead look and see how God is giving us what we need to endure what He has called us to? Or, if we see no help, can we take the posture of David and ask God for the strength, the relief we need in our current circumstance?

As this psalm reminds us, we may not always like what God wants us to walk through, but when we abide in Him, He provides a spacious place for our souls in the midst of our greatest difficulties. When He doesn’t provide an out from our suffering immediately, we can rest assured that He will give us what we need to endure.

*Loosely adapted from article “Does Good Come Out of Our Suffering?” originally published October 29, 2014.

Related Resources:

Ever worry that you won’t ever be able to feel joy again and get out of your current slump? Join us for the next few weeks as we look at how to experience joy in seasons of suffering. In Part 1: “Joy in the Midst of Trials,” we look at how the biblical mandate to rejoice in suffering is not insane or bad advice, but is actually helpful in uplifting our mood and changing our perspective — even if our situation doesn’t immediately get better.

In Part 2: “Navigating Suffering When We Want to Understand,” we look at how we can approach situations where we don’t understand what God is doing and can’t seem to get the answers we want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts

Navigating Suffering When We Want to Understand

adventure-4329183_1280

When I was little, my mom used to tell me that God knew me better than I knew myself. I protested, “No, He doesn’t. No one knows me better than I know myself!”

My mom gently tried to persuade me otherwise, but I couldn’t understand how this could be true.

Now, as an adult, I understand through reading God’s Word and evidences in my life just how well God knows me. Not only does He know me, He knows what is best for me. However, I still struggle to let go of control when the decisions He wants me to make are not those that I would choose for myself. Even though I know from experience that I am not adept in making wise choices, I still struggle to let God have full control. I want to pick and choose the assignments He gives me. I don’t like or understand some of the directives He gives me.

Lessons from Job When We Don’t Understand

Recently through a series of circumstances, God revealed this tidbit to me: I think my way is better sometimes. If I can’t understand what He is asking me to do (it doesn’t make sense logically to me), I struggle to obey. But faith requires that I step out even when I don’t understand why, trusting that God has a purpose in what He asks of me.

Job 42:2-6 says this:

I know that you can do all things, no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.

Job says these words to God after Job accuses God of being unjust. God answers back with a series of questions revealing His sovereignty over the universe and freedom to do as He pleases. Job accuses God earlier when his home, wealth, and family are destroyed in a day. Shortly after losing what he does, he breaks out in painful boils. His wife emotionally abandons him. His friends try to comfort him but make him feel worse when they accuse him of sin he didn’t commit.

What Job doesn’t know when he is hit with misfortune is that God gave permission to Satan to afflict Job to test Job’s faithfulness. Job doesn’t turn against God, but he naturally tries to understand the mishaps that befall him. In chapter 38, God answers Job, but does not provide a reason for his suffering. After hearing God’s response, Job realizes the holy nature of God in a new way. He changes his position and utters the words recorded in the passage above.

What can we learn from Job in this passage about times of suffering when we want to understand?

1. We will not understand all that God allows or asks us to do.

Job says this to God, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (v. 3). Essentially, Job acknowledges that there are some things that he will not understand. For many of us, we may wear ourselves out wanting to find out why, demanding God tell us why. However, at times, He will choose not to reveal the answers to our questions.

We should ask questions in our suffering, and it’s not wrong to do so. Yet, if God doesn’t answer us or explain the way we want, will we accept what He has allowed and do what He says without understanding? For many of us, we are OK with stepping out in faith as long as the action makes sense to us, but if God doesn’t explain the whys to us, we may balk and hit a stopping point. God, I am not doing this until you tell me why. God, I am not going to act in this way towards this person unless you explain x, y, and z.

Job learned in his situation that while God chose not to answer his questions, God did let him know He was aware of what was going on. I have found that to be the case. We may not get the exact explanations we hoped for in our situation, but if we keep pressing in, God will give us what we need to keep going. And — we have His presence even when we don’t have His answers.

2. Affliction teaches us self-awareness.

Job says, “My ears had heard of you, but my eyes have seen you” (v. 5). While Job is still left in the dark in many ways, even at the end of Job, he discovers a deeper awareness and revelation of God in His situation. Not only that, he gains a greater self-awareness.

While at the beginning of Job, he considers himself extremely righteous — perhaps more righteous than other people — he repents and sees what is in his soul: presumption and sin like that in the heart of any other person.

Similarly, as happens with Job, the hardships we go through will bring to the surface what lies within us. I mentioned that God revealed to me that I think my ways is better on occasion. This revelation came after a series of hard God assignments that appeared like sheer lunacy to me. One such assignment, I responded with a half-hearted, halfway obedience because I thought His direction to me was a very bad idea. Then, he revealed my reliance on my own wisdom in the aftermath.

However, when He revealed what He did, I repented and asked for help in this area. Did I even know before this that this ugly reality was true about me? No, I didn’t. Maybe it was obvious to other people, but not to me. When we walk closely with God in our affliction, not only will we see Him more clearly and learn more about Him, we will see ourselves more clearly.

3. Affliction reveals what is in us, so that we can repent.

Suffering comes for different reasons. Suffering doesn’t always come in our lives because of God’s discipline and a need to repent of sin. However, at times, God does want to point out something we need to change. In those instances, we can learn humbly from Him during our affliction and repent.

For many, the word “repent” means walking around with our head down in guilt and shame, feeling bad about ourselves. While such feelings can lead us to confess our sin and allow God to forgive and restore us, repentance is about changing our mind and thinking differently about what God has pointed out to us.

Job says in the passage, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (v. 6). He says what he does about despising himself because he wants God to know he abhors the evil in himself and recognizes his wrong in accusing God and trying to stand on his own merit before God. He makes a change by confessing his sin to God and deciding to go a new way. By stating that he repents “in dust and ashes,” he is outwardly displaying what he feels inside. In this time, people who were grieving would sit in ashes and cover themselves with ashes to show outwardly their inward emotion. In saying what he did, Job wanted to express his turn away from his previous attitude.

Job’s actions here teach us that God doesn’t send affliction to make us feel bad about ourselves and stay there. Through affliction, we can learn what God wants to teach us, and we can emerge a better person. Joseph Benson says on this point, “The more we see of the glory and majesty of God, the more we shall see of the vileness and odiousness of sin, and the more we shall abase and abhor ourselves for it; and repent in dust and ashes.”

Conclusion:

Is there a situation in your life that has you tied up in knots, and you have told God you won’t proceed until He explains to you what is going on? Or is there an action He is nudging you towards without disclosing the reasons why?

Job teaches us that God doesn’t have to explain everything to us because He is God. Sometimes, He chooses to answer our questions, but understanding shouldn’t be a prerequisite for obedience. In addition, even when we can’t immediately see how the bad God has allowed will lead to good, we shouldn’t give up.

Like Job, we can trust Him even when it looks bad and feels bad — not because He has explained everything to us — but because He is trustworthy and cannot ever make a mistake. God Himself is the very standard of truth and justice. He cannot slip up or lie, ever!

When things are going sideways and we’re caught in a circumstance we wouldn’t choose for ourselves, we can accept what God has ordained and surrender to Him — believing that, like Job, when we cling to God in the midst of our affliction, we will come out of it stronger and more blessed than before.

Related Resources:

Ever worry that you won’t ever be able to feel joy again and get out of your current slump? Join us for the next few weeks as we look at how to experience joy in seasons of suffering. In Part 1: “Joy in the Midst of Trials,” we look at how the biblical mandate to rejoice in suffering is not insane or bad advice, but is actually helpful in uplifting our mood and changing our perspective — even if our situation doesn’t immediately get better.

Want to look at another resource on Job 42 and suffering? Check out the following article on the same passage: “Where Is God When We Suffer?”

*Revised and updated February 23, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts

Joy in the Midst of Trials

asian-3650950_1280

“Oh no!” I groaned when I heard the clanking sound. I rushed upstairs and looked in the laundry room to find the error light blinking on the dryer and the lint screen lying close by on the ground. I had forgotten to put in the lint screen, and my dryer was making strange sounds.

Appliances breaking down aren’t a huge deal — not like a cancer diagnosis, a death in the family, or a relationship fallout — but nonetheless, even small everyday trials can irritate us and even more so when they come in clusters. Often, the appliance dies, the kid gets sick, the relationship conflict escalates, the unexpected bill arrives — all at the same time — so we are literally drowning in a sea of trials.

Certainly, we can attribute these trials many times to the work of Satan or the fallen world we live in. However, there is another reason we can experience trials. This reason is much harder to wrap our minds around, but at times, God orchestrates trials in our lives to accomplish His purposes.

Note what 1 Peter 1:6-7 says on this point: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even through refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

We might be shocked at the idea that God sends trials at times (Really? How could He?), but when we look into what the passage says regarding the reasons behind what God allows, we can begin to understand why God allows what He does and even, as the verse advocates, rejoice in our trials — whether big or small.

What can we learn from this passage?

1. A posture of joy in our trials helps us experience joy.

The verse tells us to rejoice. Other verses such as 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and Philippians 4:4 echo the same idea. Most likely, Peter knew that his audience at the time suffering from persecution would focus on their hardships and be drawn into a negative mindset as a result. Rejoicing in our trials doesn’t mean we forget what pain we have; rather, it tells us that joy is possible in the midst of our suffering. Maybe for many of us, we are praying for the situation to go away and looking to the removal of the suffering to bring us joy.

But Peter advocates that we can still experience joy in the middle of our hard situations by choosing to rejoice in the darkest of nights — not pretending our pain doesn’t exist or waiting for it to pass. Instead, we choose not merely to focus on what’s wrong in our lives — but to focus on what is right and good. What is right and good even in the hardest of situations? Peter tells us what we have to rejoice in earlier in 1 Peter: believers can look ahead to an inheritance that will never fade or be taken away.

Peter doesn’t advocate that we don’t feel or acknowledge our pain. He merely advocates rejoicing knowing that such a change of perspective would help to bring joy to suffering Christians in desperate circumstances. Alexander MacLaren calls this cultivating joy and refers to it as a “roundabout way” that we can encourage ourselves, saying:

A man travelling in a railway train can choose which side of the carriage he will look at, the one where the sunshine is falling full on the front of each grass-blade and tree, or the side where it is the shadowed side of each that is turned to him. If he will look out of the one window, he will see everything verdant and bright, and if he will look out at the other, there will be a certain sobriety and dullness over the landscape. You can settle which window you are going to look out at.

Choosing what we focus on in our lives will have a direct affect on our feelings. We don’t have to fake joy or put pressure on ourselves to feel a certain way. Rather, when we focus on the good God has done for us and rejoice in that, the feelings of joy follow.

2. Trials prove the genuineness of our faith.

When we say that something is proven, we mean that it demonstrates a particular quality through evidence. A political candidate with a proven track record of honesty can point to examples in his public service. A company making a claim about a product “proven to remove stains” can point to examples where it has lifted stains as it claims.

Similarly, God tests the genuineness or our faith through trials. A faith not tested is a faith that is not genuine. It hasn’t been given the opportunity to show what it claims. Theologian Albert Barnes says on this point:

Religion claims to be of more value to man of anything else. It asserts its power to do that for the intellect and the heart which nothing else can do — to give support which nothing else can in the bed of death. It is very desirable, therefore, that in these various situations it should show its power; that is, that its friends should be in these various conditions, in order that they may illustrate the true value of religion.

In other words, what Barnes says is that only in adverse situations can the strength of our faith rise to the occasion. My brother-in-law joined the Navy Reserves after serving in the Navy for 6 years. However, he decided that the Reserves were not for him. He had superiors who had never been out to sea teaching about being out at sea! My brother-in-law found it difficult to respect superiors who didn’t have real experience in the subject they were claiming to be experts in.

Similarly, we are not meant to have a faith that merely observes from the shore. The trials we are experiencing are helping us experience a vibrant, real faith on the open sea. While we may not love the trials that come in our lives, we can be encouraged to embrace what comes our way knowing that a faith not tested is no faith at all.

3. Trials purify our faith.

Not only do trials prove our faith, they purify our faith and bring to the surface impurities that exist. In the passage, Peter compares the process of our faith being tried with the process of refining gold. He stresses that gold, although valuable, will perish whereas our faith will not. Before gold can be fashioned into jewelry or any other object, it must first be purified. It goes into the fire and the fire causes the impurities to rise to the surface, and the refiner removes the impurities.

Impurities mar the image, so the refiner must plunge the gold into the fire multiple times, scrape off the impurities, and repeat. Over and over again. He continues this process until the metal is shiny and he can see his reflection.

We are not aware of what impurities exist in our lives until God plunges us into the fire, and the heat exposes what He wants to remove. The end goal is to mold us into the character of Christ, but the process if painful. We scream in protest forgetting that God has a beautiful end goal in mind for us, and while we only feel the pain of the flames, He is perfecting us through the process. The result of us going through our trials will be that we resemble more and more the qualities of Christ.

I am borrowing this from a blog post I read on this verse, but athletes building muscle actually do so through a breaking down process of the muscle. The muscle subjected to weights suffers macro-tears and then builds itself up to become stronger. The muscle enlarges in order to handle the stress of the weight. In order to continually build muscle, a weight lifter has to continually increase the stress placed on the muscle by increased weight, repetitions, and different exercises. Similarly, through our many trials, we are being torn down and rebuilt stronger and better than before though we may feel broken, uncomfortable, and weak while going through our difficulties.

In my own life, God has been working on me and making me a bold witness by giving me very demanding multi-step assignments. Recently, I will step out in response to God’s nudge to pray for someone or witness to someone while running errands. Once I walk away, I will feel oftentimes a nudge to go back to the same person. Sometimes multiple times. Each time I go back I worry that the person will view me as irritating or weird or slightly unbalanced. I feel humiliated and silly.

Each time I hear God’s voice to go back, I have to fight my desire to escape to a place where I don’t stand out. I feel like God has been taking a sledgehammer to my gut and pounding away. I want to be braver. I want to be radical in my witness, but the process to become this person that I am not naturally at the moment is so painful and uncomfortable. It leaves me breathless and spiritually and emotionally exhausted in a way that I cannot even explain. I just want these tests to go away, but God keeps sending them. I know it’s for my good, but it does not feel good. Can you relate?

Conclusion:

On the way home last night, I heard on a Christian program that the feeling of joy and the practice of joy are two different things. I was struck by the definition because I often read verses such as 1 Peter 1:6, 7 on trials and think, “What’s wrong with me? I need to feel joy in this situation.” But that is not what Peter is saying. We may feel great sorrow and shouldn’t fake our feelings and pretend happiness. But when we practice joy, feelings of joy come even in the midst of and at the same time as feelings of sorrow.

What can we practice in regards to joy? According to Peter, we can focus on what lies ahead for us because of Jesus’ work on the cross and what our trials are accomplishing for us. They are making us better. They are making us stronger. And, most of all, we can reconcile how a loving Father can be behind those not-so great times when He allows circumstances we wouldn’t choose for ourselves.

God is good and wants good things for us, but the good things may come through things that don’t feel good. But that is a reality that helps us make sense of our pain and find hope and encouragement despite what we face.

I don’t know what you’re going through, but I do know this: God loves you. He’s got you. And He has a plan to get you through.

 As long as I look at my sorrows mainly in regard to their power to sadden me, I have not got to the right point of view for them. They are meant to sadden me, they are meant to pain, they are meant to bring the tears, they are meant to weight down the heart and press down the spirits, but what for? To test what I am made of, and by testing to bring out and strengthen what is good, and to cast out and destroy what is evil. We shall never understand … the mystery of pain until we come to understand its main purpose is to help in making character. And when you think of your sorrows … as bettering you and building up your character it is more possible to  blend the sorrow that they produce with the joy to which they may lead … So they are not only to be felt, not only to be wept over, not only to make us sad, but they are to be accepted, and used as means by which we may be perfect. And once you get occupied in trying to get all the good that is in it out of grief, you will be astonished to find how the bitterness that was in it was diminished. — Alexander MacLaren

Related Resources:

Ever worry that you won’t ever be able to feel joy again and get out of your current slump? Join us for the next few weeks as we look at how to experience joy in seasons of suffering.

*Updated February 11, 2020.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts

The Faith to Overcome Life’s Storms

umbrella-2603995_1280Some people in the Bible inspire me but also intimidate me a little. I think about Paul throwing a serpent in the fire, Daniel praying with the windows open in a pagan kingdom, and Esther seeking a meeting with a king to save her people  — and I feel small in comparison.

However, Peter is a person I can relate to. He often said the wrong thing or messed up in a big way, and yet, Jesus loved him. In looking at the story of Peter walking on water, we can find encouragement for those times when our faith feels small and our obstacles big. When we want to follow hard after Jesus, but we feel overwhelmed and pulled under by the trials we face. In Matthew 14:28-32 (NLT), Peter sees the Lord walking on the water and asks to come out to Him. Jesus consents, and Peter leaves the boat to walk on the water towards Jesus:

Then Peter called to him, ‘Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you walking on the water.’ ‘Yes, come,’ Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save Me, Lord!’ he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’

Peters starts out with such courage, “presumption” even, according to commentator Matthew Henry. You have to love Peter. He is the first one to step out of the boat after Jesus, and he is completely un-phased at first by the elements of the storm. He simply wants to be near Jesus.

And we are often the same way. When we ask Jesus what we can do for Him, He calls us to a specific service for Him. We embrace the task with excitement and joy. It may be frightening to leave behind the safe boat we were once in, but we can’t wait to get over the side of the boat and onto the waves. We may feel courage in our quest, “presumption” even. However, we quickly learn that walking on top of the waves is no easy feat. While Jesus makes water-walking look easy — gliding on top of life’s situations with calm and complete control — Peter realizes quickly that the work of following Jesus is not easy. Before he knows it, he begins to get fearful and starts to sink.

Peter’s bluster and fortitude evaporate rather quickly. And it runs out because he takes his eyes off of his Savior and fixes them on the waves, the wind, and the precariousness of his circumstances. However, when he calls out for Jesus’ rescue, Jesus immediately comes to his aid and pulls him up. Jesus isn’t rattled or put out by Peter’s unbelief. He chides him and says, “You have so little faith. Why did you doubt me?” (v. 31). However, He does so to seize the moment to teach Peter, not demean him. Also, we see that Jesus doesn’t cast Peter out of His presence. Jesus doesn’t tell Peter his failures prevent him from being in relationship with him.

What we can learn from this exchange:

1. We need the supernatural power of God to do His work.

Many of us know, in theory, that we need to depend on God to complete His work, but it is only in stepping out that we realize that to do what He has called us to do is a supernatural “water-walking” endeavor. We can’t achieve it in our own strength. We need Jesus to enable us to rise above our treacherous circumstances to walk as Jesus did above the fray.

Not too long ago, I read a Proverbs 31 Ministries devotional written by Tracie Miles where she gives a story about an obstacle course she went to with her daughter. When she climbed up to begin the course, she looked down and chickened out. Her daughter swung across the ropes with ease — and yet, Tracie couldn’t get over her fear. That is the way with our walks with God. He keeps taking us deeper and deeper until we are positioned in a place where we have to be completely dependent on Him. We look at the ropes and the ground below (or in the case of Peter, the wind and the waves), and we panic. We’re in way beyond our comfort level — and that’s how He wants it to be. He wants us in a place where we have to rely on Him, but it is not comfortable for us. We want to climb down where the heights aren’t quite so dizzying. However, it’s when we walk in trust that He enables us to have the power to do His work.

As Henry emphasizes in his analysis of this passage, Psalm 63:8 says those who cling to God are held up by God. When we seek the more convenient path that isn’t the way He would have for us or doubt that God has the power to help us overcome the obstacles we face, we start to sink. It is only through His power that we are able to walk on top of life’s situations and make it through the difficulties that will come our way.

2. Jesus helps us in our failures.

In moments of unbelief or fear, we tend to beat ourselves up, to assume that maybe Jesus doesn’t want us anymore. But Jesus reaches out to Peter in His failure in response to Peter’s cry. Sure, Jesus chides Peter, but Jesus does not stop loving Peter or stop wanting Peter as a follower because of Peter’s mistakes. Similarly, even when we try to do it all right, we won’t be perfect like Jesus. We’ll sometimes say the unkind word, walk past a person who needs help, or deny Christ with our actions. Those moments are opportunities for us to return to Jesus, confess, and allow Him to rescue us.

In using a GPS, if we get off course the GPS will calculate a new route to get us back to where we need to be going. That is the way with God. We stray. We’re a little unfaithful here, we mess up there, and He gets us back on track. We may have delays in our journey. We may not get there as fast as we want to, but He doesn’t leave us and reject us when we’re attempting to follow Him and come up short.

Faith Means Believing Despite Our Circumstances

Recently, I have been walking through a situation where I need God to come through for me, but I feel He hasn’t. There have been times in the past where He has performed miracles and rescued me. I know He is able. I don’t doubt His existence or capability, but I have been experiencing severe doubts in this situation because there are so many impossibilities. There has been strain on relationships and finances and my health. I’m having trouble believing God is going to help me in the way I need. I went to church one Sunday in a not-so-great state of mind, as I was struggling with negative thoughts.

My daughter had had a virus all week where she broke out in spots. We had had numerous commitments and events for the kids’ school on top of that which left me exhausted. When we walked in the doors, my son told me his stomach was hurting. So, I took my other two to class and decided my son needed to sit with me in the service. Therefore, I sat out in the foyer with him and watched the broadcast of the service on a screen.

Sitting there with my son in my arms, far away from the “real action,” God’s presence began to rest on me when I closed my eyes. I started shaking because I was so bone-weary and dry, and I needed His strength and His help. Not surprisingly, the pastor began to preach on doubt — and how we can believe even when we don’t know how God could possibly come through for us. That is faith.

I left the service renewed. My son’s stomach still hurt and none of my circumstances had changed, but I knew that it was going to be OK. We stopped by my health teacher husband’s classroom after the service. As we were sitting in the classroom talking while the kids were running around, my husband turned on some worship music. He “just happened” to play Third Day’s “Mountain of God.” It’s an older song, but the lyrics say, “Thought that I was all alone / Broken and afraid / But You were there with me / Yes, you were there with me.” Tears came to my eyes because here God was reassuring me a second time, as he was in the sermon, “Have faith. Don’t doubt. I am with you. You’re on the right path.”

Conclusion:

We will fail at times in our walk with Christ. We won’t do it perfectly, and we will be tempted to fall away when our faith feels small. However, like Peter, we can call out to Jesus when we are sinking — knowing that Jesus will save us from our troubles.

As Henry points out, our remedy in times of trial is to re-establish our hope in God. The Bible tells us that faith is believing despite what the circumstances look like. In fact, as Henry includes in his commentary, Romans 4:18-25 (MSG) gives us a picture of what it’s like to hope in the midst of difficulty:

Abraham was first named ‘father’ and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, ‘You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!’

Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, ‘It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.’ Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, ‘Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.’ But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God.

Peter, although imperfect, can still be commended because he stepped out of the boat. He endeavored to go on a walk of faith towards Jesus. While it is true that he slipped up and started to go under, Jesus wasn’t taken aback by this. He wasn’t surprised by it. He still bid Peter come.

Many of us don’t want to get out of the boat because we know we can’t make the walk perfectly. We are afraid to fail. We are afraid of the storm. But Jesus knows our weaknesses. He still wants to use us. He wants us to advance towards Him.

*Adapted from post published August 16, 2017.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts

There Are No Shortcuts to God’s Promises

clock-1274699_1280

My kids own a Charlie Brown Christmas board game that has a winding path from the start to the finish line. Although there are many different actions that a player may have to do (depending on what square he lands on in his journey), a player can land on North Pole slides that shoot him up several spaces ahead. These slides give the player a distinct advantage by allowing him to bypass several squares in one turn and get further ahead than he can just by rolling the dice on a turn.

Shortcuts are a positive in more than just my kids’ board games. I am always looking for shortcuts to make life as a stay-at-home mom of three kids more manageable and less overwhelming. I get excited when I can make a meal in less time, drive a shorter route to a destination when I am running late, or locate a simpler set of instructions to explain a concept to my kids to help them understand their homework. In these ways, shortcuts are desirable and give me valuable time and energy that I can spend on another task.

When Shortcuts Aren’t a Positive

However, shortcuts aren’t always good. When we cut corners to arrive at an intended goal but do so in a way that is wrong — that’s when shortcuts aren’t helpful to us and can actually hinder our growth. Particularly, spiritually, when we’ve been on a journey to a promise God has given us a long time and despair that we’ll ever reach the place God has for us, we can be tempted to take shortcuts, rather than the longer route God is pointing out to us.

At the end of Ruth 4, we see that Naomi has arrived at her intended destination. She left Moab a bitter woman grieving over the death of her sons and her shattered life. However, she transforms into a woman who has a place of rest and security in the family of Ruth and Boaz. She has the financial provision she needs (no more stressful days eking out a living), and her arms are full with a precious grandson.

So, how does Naomi move into what God intends for her? What can we learn from Naomi about moving from a place of bitterness to a place of fullness without compromising and taking shortcuts?

1. We walk in God’s way despite our feelings.

In Ruth 1:20-21, on the heels of the tragic death of her sons, Naomi reveals that she believes that the Lord’s hand has turned against her: “ ‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune on me.”

Clearly, with these words we see a woman who does not like her situation, but she does not turn away from God. While she may have found every excuse not to return back to God, Naomi decides that she has no other place to go and accepts God’s hand in her affliction. Similarly, we will have times when we don’t like what is happening in our lives or will struggle to trust what God tells us. And yet, even in those times, we trust Him instead of taking the easier way out.

Ezekiel is another such example of a man who trusted God despite his outward circumstances. Ezekiel’s life was disrupted and thrown into upheaval when he was called to be a prophet to the rebellious nation of Israel. Up to that point, he served as a priest, and his life was humming along quite nicely. Then, God asked Ezekiel to do some pretty strange actions and serve as a living representation of the difficult message God wanted to give to Israel. God told Ezekiel that the people would not listen, but that he was to go anyway. In response to God’s instructions, Ezekiel says in Ezekiel 3:14, 15: “The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD on me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among for seven days — deeply distressed.”

Clearly, Ezekiel is distraught over the message he has been asked to give. Although he wants to obey God, he knows that the message will not be well received. We can almost imagine him saying to God: Really, God? Why are you sending me to say this? Don’t you care about how I am going to be treated when I do what you ask of me? Are you trying to ruin my life?

Ezekiel and Naomi’s situations differ in that Ezekiel did not enter into affliction because of his choices. He was a faithful servant of God and God shook up his world with some very difficult assignments. He suffered persecution because he walked in God’s plan whereas it is highly probable that Naomi’s family swerved from God’s plan by going to Moab (we aren’t given all the details), and yet, Naomi is used mightily by God when she returns to Him. However, both individuals show us that what it looks like to keep following God even when He allows situations we would not have chosen for ourselves or calls us to tasks we don’t want to do.

In his analysis of Ruth, Bob Deffinbaugh says this: “Doing what is right in God’s eyes requires faith for we often cannot see how doing the right thing will produce what God has promised.” John Piper says it another way, “If we could learn to wait and trust in God, all our complaints against God would prove untrue.” Certainly, neither Naomi nor Ezekiel knew how their situations would turn out, but chose to do what was right believing that God would work out all the details for their good in the end. Similarly, we can’t always see how our right actions will benefit us, but we should keep doing them knowing that they are leading us to God’s promises.

2. Instead of allowing our bitterness to make us turn inward, we keep showing up for God’s purposes.

When we feel angry or resentful, it’s natural to want to hibernate or take a break from serving others. But we find healing when we continue moving forward and keep an “others mindset.” Naomi is in pain at the beginning of her journey and has gone through a great tragedy, but she continues to look out for others and orchestrates a marriage for her daughter-in-law, saying: “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for” (Ruth 3:1).

Interestingly, when she reaches out and helps others, she helps herself. It tells us in chapter 4 that she is nourished and sustained by Obed, Ruth and Boaz’s son. The work she invests in ensuring the welfare of Ruth is that which, in turn, helps to restore her own soul. The woman who describes herself as “empty” in the first chapter brims with hope and happiness in the last chapter. Is it merely because her circumstances change? No, I don’t believe so. Certainly, her grandson brings her joy. However, she learns how to fill herself with the Lord. And though she lives to see her family fortunes restored and hold a grandson — her true joy comes when she chooses to accept God’s sovereignty and faithfully follow God despite her questions and her pain.

3. When tempted to veer from God’s path, we should remind ourselves that shortcuts don’t lead us to God’s promises.

When we are angry and resentful and believe we’ve that we’ve been dealt a bad hand, we can use our poor circumstances to justify poor choices and cut corners to get out of our circumstances and arrive at our intended goal.

Some commentators assert that Naomi tries to take a shortcut to her intended goal of provision for herself and Ruth by forcing a marriage between Boaz and Ruth. They believe that she instructs Ruth to seduce Boaz and argue that Ruth did more than lay at his feet on the threshing floor. But I don’t view Naomi’s advice in this way at all. From all we see of Boaz and Ruth’s conduct, both were concerned about acting honorably in all situations.

Ruth is careful to lay at his feet and wait for him to wake up. When he does wake up and enquires about who is at his feet, he makes no move to take advantage of her. Rather, he protects her by allowing her to remain at his feet until morning and then sends her out early to preserve her reputation. When the morning comes, she immediately goes home, as he instructs her to do, while he goes and follows the guidelines of the law in order to redeem the land and become Ruth’s guardian-redeemer and husband.

While Naomi’s plan for Ruth at the threshing floor is unusual, she works within the boundaries of God’s law at the time and does what she can to change their situation without deviating from God’s guidelines. In addition, she gives the advice that she does knowing that both Boaz and Ruth are virtuous and will do what’s right in the situation. Rather than resist against God’s instructions to us or forge our own path apart from His purposes, we end up where we’re intended to go when we submit to the instructions God gives us and don’t attempt to make our own plans apart from His.

Conclusion:

Naomi makes good choices when she returns to Judah, but do you know what I find the most encouraging about Naomi? Her story begins a different way. We might say that in turning back to Judah she recovered from a shortcut her family made. Even though her family made some mistakes in going to Moab, she still received God’s provision and blessing because she returned back. And the same is true of us. Maybe we’re in the wrong place at the moment and we need to make a U-turn. It’s not too late.

Maybe we’ve strayed to Moab, but like Naomi, we can come back and God still has great plans for us that are waiting to be fulfilled. God even graciously worked through the mistakes of Naomi’s family and worked all the details in Naomi’s life — good and bad — into His purposes. Had her family never gone to Moab, her son would not have married Ruth, Ruth would not have come with her to Bethlehem, Ruth would not have married Boaz, and Obed would not have been born. God would have found another way to achieve His purposes, but don’t you love that God used all the parts of Naomi’s life for her good? Satan wants us to believe that our mistakes and missteps have derailed us from the plans God has for us, and we can see here that we can turn around and go back to God. Even the bad choices we’ve made while in Moab are not too great to deter us from the plans He has for us.

However, when we’re on the right path, we can’t leap ahead to God’s promises without the journey God wants to take us through. Naomi returned to Bethlehem, but she didn’t fast track to God’s blessings in a day. She took a long journey with her daughters-in-law — one left along the way. Once in Bethlehem, she and Ruth scraped out a living as impoverished widows. Because she chose to travel God’s way in no way exempted her from hardship or trials.

In my kids’ Charlie Brown game, North Pole slides not only fast track players ahead, these same shortcuts work the other way as well. If you land on the other side of the shortcut, you slide backwards. In fact, when we first played the game, it took so long to end the game because as players we were constantly moving back and forth along these chutes that shot us forward and plunged us back. We eventually changed the rules so that players only go forward because it took too long the other way to get to the finish line!

What a very real picture of what it looks like to try to move ahead when God isn’t directing us in that way or has told us that we aren’t to take a certain step. Though God can certainly use our missteps in His plan, the “shortcuts” don’t really get us anywhere and prolong our journey. Instead, when we follow after God and go where He leads, what feels like the longer way will get us to where we need to go much faster than if we try to route around the difficult assignments He gives us and go an easier way.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? With this article and podcast episode, we conclude the series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we’ve examined the story of Ruth where we have drawn lessons on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the previous posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best,” Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God,” Part 3: “The Blessings of Following God,” Part 4: “Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense,” and Part 5: “Walking Into All God Has for You.”

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts

Walking Into all God Has for You

people-2568530_1280

When we bought our first home, we found a house we loved and put in an offer. Naïve to real estate protocol, we started with a low offer. Apparently, too low. To our surprise, the seller did not accept our offer or even counter with a different offer. He ignored our offer altogether!

In the few days following our rejected offer, we scrambled to work with our real estate agent to present a higher offer. Though some negotiation had to happen between our realtor and the seller’s, we eventually reached a deal. Even after this exciting turn of events, we had plenty of hard work in front of us: we had to submit the necessary documents to obtain a loan for the house, complete all the paperwork and arrangements to close on the sale of our town house, and arrange to move into the house.

Though there were many steps involved to make the move happen, we gladly met each requirement and watched each roadblock melt away. We were motivated to do what we needed to do to move into our dream home at the time.

Boaz Meets Challenges to Make Ruth His Wife

In Ruth 4, Boaz works to make his desire to marry Ruth a reality. In the previous chapters, we watch as their interaction grows and Ruth makes a bold move to ask him to act as her guardian-redeemer. Even after he consents and the future for the two looks bright, Boaz must go to the closer male relative that can redeem the property and Mahlon’s widow and make his desire to be the guardian-redeemer known.

Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, ‘Come over here, my friend, and sit down.’ So he went over and sat down.

Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, ‘Sit here,’ and they did so. Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, ‘Naomi, who has come back from Moab is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. I thought I would bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.’

‘I will redeem it,’ he said.

Then Boaz said, ‘On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.’

At this the guardian-redeemer said, ‘Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.’ (Ruth 4:1-6)

This section of Ruth gives us a few lessons about tackling the mundane tasks in front of us to get to the good God has for us. A few takeaways:

1. Getting to what God has promised us involves obstacles.

Ruth and Boaz both desire to marry one another. Boaz consents on the threshing floor to be Ruth’s guardian-redeemer, but though he is willing, he cannot redeem the property and acquire Ruth as his wife unless the closer relative refuses to redeem the land.

Though Boaz does not know if the relative will redeem the land or not, he tackles the obstacles that lie before him admirably. He gets up the very next day, goes to the town gate, gathers 10 witnesses, and meets with the relative. He doesn’t wait until the following week or month, complain to friends about all the steps he will have to take to marry Ruth, or cower at the prospect of initiating a conversation with the other relative about Naomi’s land. In addition, we get the sense that he has thought about how to approach the matter and anticipated the relative’s moves. Though God ultimately orchestrates events in Boaz’s favor (as He has been doing all along), Boaz plays a willing part in the events that transpire.

2. God’s blessings come with a cost.

The other relative agrees to redeem the land when he first hears it is available and sees that the land will be an asset to him. However, when he learns that the redeeming of the land includes marriage to Ruth, he withdraws his offer. He determines that he cannot afford it, saying, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate” (v. 6).

Clearly, the relative is only interested in the land when it benefits him — not when it “endangers” his interests. Perhaps, after he contemplates the cost of purchasing the land and supporting more family members, as well as having his inheritance divided up to more family members, he decides that the cost is too much. With his refusal, Boaz is free to redeem the land and acquire Ruth as his wife.

This passage is particularly poignant and instructive. Like the relative, we may be eager to receive the inheritance that God has for us, but not so eager when we learn of the cost associated with the inheritance. Not only do we face obstacles to arrive at our desired destinations, we will have other sacrifices along the way. Walking with Jesus can cause uncomfortable friction in relationships, may cause us others to despise or persecute us, and may cause us to give up dreams and aspirations in order to do what God asks of us.

The end result is so worth it, but when face-to-face with these costs, we may lose our initial enthusiasm and give up on what we believe God has for us. However, we see later in the passage that the cost Boaz gives is small in comparison to what he gains. While Boaz enjoys a prominent part in this tale and his deeds are declared, the relative so intent on preserving his own inheritance is not even given a name in this account of history. The message is clear: Whatever we give up to serve God will be richly compensated beyond our wildest expectations — but we must first surrender to God’s plans.

3. God’s blessings not only benefit us but also glorify God.

After Boaz overcomes the obstacles that stand in his way of marrying Ruth (and she, too, has overcome obstacles up to that point in leaving her family, accepting the challenges of widowhood, and moving to a new place), God blesses Ruth and Boaz with a son, Obed.

The women in town say this to Naomi after the birth of Obed: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth” (Ruth 4:14, 15). Later, in verse 16, the women identify Obed as Naomi’s son. Why do they say what they do? With their words, they identify God’s hand at work in the details of the story and recognize Obed as a nourisher and sustainer of Naomi. His birth has restored her joy and caused her to be hopeful and optimistic about the future.

But she is not the only one nourished. Obed later becomes the father of Jesse, the father of David. God uses this little boy to grow up and father a famous king of Israel in the line of Christ! Quite fittingly, his name means “serving” or “servant.” Obed will serve God’s purposes. John Piper in his article on desiringgod.org says of the glory that Obed’s birth brings to God:

If this story of Ruth just ended in a little Judean village with an old grandmother hugging a new grandson, glory would be too big a word. But the author doesn’t leave it there. He lifts his eyes to the forests and the mountain snows of redemptive history … God was not only plotting for the temporal blessing of a few Jews in Bethlehem. He was preparing for the greatest king that Israel would have, David. And the name of David carries with it the hope of the Messiah, the new age, peace, righteousness, freedom from pain and crying and grief and guilt. This simple little story opens out like a stream into a great river of hope.

While we often get impatient and want God to work out the promise He has given us on our timetable, we see that God has a broader view of how an event will impact those around us. At the exact right time, God will work out His purposes in our lives. While we might want a promise fulfilled from God for our own benefit, God fulfills a promise not only to bless us but bring glory to His name and bless others.

The True Hero of the Story

In telling the story I did about my house sale, what I didn’t mention is that the roadblocks that came with the offer to the house came after a year-and-a-half long struggle to sell our townhome. As I reflect on this experience and past struggles where we overcame obstacles (sometimes in a very long, drawn out process), my thoughts are as follows: How did I have the energy? How in the world did I ever get through that?

It can feel a little daunting to read about the heroic actions of Boaz here (and Ruth in earlier chapters) who seemed to had such a pep in their step. However, it’s important to note that while they provide an example for us, they were human. They arrived at their destination because God got them there. As Piper notes, “The life of the godly is not a straight line to glory, but they do get there — God sees to it.” We get to where we need to be when we surrender to God’s plan, but it is God who gets us there. Boaz was noble, but he had insecurities about his age when it came to Ruth. In fact, it is possible that he counted himself out as a husband for Ruth because he was older. He almost seems relieved when she approaches him on the threshing floor and praises her for not going after younger men.

In addition, Ruth was a Moabite. It is possible that the other relative didn’t want to marry her for reasons beyond what I mentioned — one being that she was a foreigner and many believed in the village that Naomi’s sons died because they married foreigners while in Moab. Not only that, Ruth had been married for ten years before her husband died and they had no children. She was barren in her first marriage and could have been barren in her second. Clearly, when we consider Boaz’s age, Ruth’s previous barrenness — would either of them consider that God could use them to bear a son in the line of Jesus?

It tells us plainly that God enabled Ruth to conceive (Ruth 4:13). Just as God directed Ruth to work in Boaz’s field and orchestrated the details of their union, he enabled them to have a child. Chapter 4 ends with a genealogy and zooms out from the story of Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth to show us the people that went before and after their son. And that is the point. All of what they did served a greater purpose beyond themselves. While the thought that God can use us for His big purposes can make us feel pressure to be perfect, make it happen, we see that without God in the narrative, our best efforts are in vain.

Therefore, the hope the book of Ruth offers is this: God will make happen what we cannot for purposes beyond our imagination. If we’re tired and feeling unfit and unworthy to do what He has asked, He will provide the strength for us to get through. Though our weaknesses may be the very obstacle we worry will stand in the way for His promises to us, we see that no obstacle is too big for God and He delights in using the weak to display His glory.

We are inadequate. We aren’t enough. But God will use us if we are willing — and the obstacles in our journey are not too great as long as we put the journey in His hands.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? The last few weeks, we have been going through a series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we’ve examined the story of Ruth where we have drawn lessons on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the previous posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best,” Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God,” Part 3: “The Blessings of Following God,” and Part 4: “Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense.”

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts

When You Need to Know Your Next Step of Faith

christmas-4705650_1280

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” — Matthew 2:9-10

Last week, I posted an article on the wise men and announced via Facebook that I would not be publishing any more this week on my blog as I was exhausted from all of the demands of trying to make Christmas happen.

And then when a family member got sick, and I found out on the morning of Christmas Eve that I would need to step in and host Christmas day at my house, I figured that writing was out of the question — for several more days.

I would be lying in a coma somewhere in my house with my children running around unsupervised, and I would need at least a week to get functional enough to write.

I certainly would not be penning any holiday-themed posts again until next year. Or so I thought. As I expressed to God in my quiet time, I was just. so. tired.

Falling into bed after midnight for the third night in a row feeling too worn out to string a coherent sentence together let alone a blog post, I woke up a few hours later refreshed with a list of thoughts in my head. A list of thoughts in my head about the wise men.

Turns out, I wasn’t quite done writing about them.

I felt God gave me a few more observations about the magi’s story that are pertinent for any time of the year that I would like to share before we move past the holiday season.

1. He speaks our language.

As Matthew Henry notes, God spoke to the wise men in a language that they could understand. They were most likely astrologers and sorcerers, well-versed in studying the heavens and reading signs. God lead them to his Son by announcing His birth with a star. He revealed Himself to them in a way that they could understand.

God does that with us, too. He promises to be found by those who seek Him, and He speaks your language. He knows what exact questions and doubts you have, gifts, struggles, conflicts. He fashioned your very brain. He knows what will draw you to Him.

My pastor once gave an example of when he plays hide-and-seek with his children. He knows how to hide in difficult places, but because his kids are small and give up easily if he doesn’t give them hints as to his hiding places, he lets them find him.

With God, it is the same way. He doesn’t remain hidden if we look for Him. I am a words person. I never really thought about it before, but that is how God primarily communicates to me. Through words.

I sometimes get around people and have a specific word flash into my mind. I get ideas for posts throughout the day or at night, and it will just be a download of thoughts. Oftentimes, a stream of words will come to me after watching a movie or reading a book. And I know it’s from Him.

Others have different ways of experiencing God. Some get pictures in their mind, dream vivid dreams, or feel Him best when they are running or out in nature.

There are a thousand ways God pours out Himself so we can find Him. It is because of His great love for us that He does it in a way that will communicate to us personally.

2. He chooses unlikely candidates.

As I mentioned in a previous post about a widow and the prophet Elijah, God chooses unlikely candidates. The wise men were astrologers from a far away Arabian land. There were several more pious men closer to the birth place of Jesus that God could have chosen, but God instead selected these particular magi.

In fact, the rather embarrassing reality is that these magicians were searching for Jesus when the Jews weren’t even looking for Him. The Jews knew of the prophecies and the predictions, and yet it was these magi that God used to follow His star to His Son.

God chose not only the wise men, but some unlikely subjects in the shepherds (Luke 2:15) and Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38) to come and celebrate his son’s birth. The fact that He selected persons from all ranks and walks of life makes one message abundantly clear: The Gospel is for everyone. The Gospel isn’t just for church people. It wasn’t just for Jews, His chosen people. It was for common shepherds, sorcerers — everyone.

Although Christ is exclusive in the sense that He offers a narrow path of salvation — Himself — He extends this offer to all.

Again, we see through his placing of the star for the wise men to find, a Creator who greatly loves His creation. Not only does He let us find Him when we are looking, He initiates the search by coming to pursue each one of us.

3. The star isn’t just for the Christmas story.

I used to think that the star was just a unique feature of the Christmas story — something God deposited in His narrative to make the backdrop of his Son’s birth more beautiful. However, the star didn’t just guide those men on their journey. As Henry notes, the “day-star arises in the hearts” of all who seek Him.

I used to worry and sometimes do still worry that I will miss God’s will for me, but the truth is that if I am abiding in Him and walking with Him, I will know the way to go. Just like the star guided the wise men to Jesus’ home, by making Jesus at home in my heart and seeking out His guidance on a daily basis, He illuminates the way for me.

He shows me the path I should take by surrounding me with resources that answer my questions; by speaking directly to me during my quiet time through Scripture; by speaking through pastors and other mature Christian friends through sermons and conversations; by filling my mind with dreams that warn me of future events. These are all ways God leads me like a kind shepherd. As Isaiah 30:21 says: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ”

Since launching a blog, I have experienced a whole lot of pressure. I have readers looking to me for new content every week and these questions fill my mind at times: What am I going to write about? How will I know what to say?

Without fail, when I spend time with Him, my mind floods with inspiration related to the Bible passage or devotional I just read or the lesson He is currently teaching me. My biggest problem is not having something to say but being diligent about writing down the thoughts when they come.

When I get lazy and don’t record them, I have to ask God for them again because I can’t remember what He told me.

Interestingly enough, the wise men’s star stopped once the wise men reached Herod, and they didn’t get discouraged but instead took it upon themselves to inquire about the child. And once they did, the star rose again for them.

As Henry notes, if we are doing what we have in our power to do, God graciously shows us the next step and makes his star reappear when we need it.

The wise men observed the star with great joy when it showed up again, and so it is with us on our journey with God when we are seeking answers, and He reveals what we have been seeking so we can take the next leg of the journey.

Just like He was faithful about guiding the wise men to Christ, He is faithful about guiding me.

A few days ago, I was flat-lined from holiday preparations. It wasn’t until God wakened me from my sleep to re-energize me and whisper His thoughts that a blog post began to take shape.

Just like the wise men were happy when the star that had disappeared showed back up in the sky, I got pretty excited when God gave me fresh illumination and direction for a piece I was too weary to write.

When I look for Him, He will show me the way.

As Jeremiah 29:13 says, “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all of your heart.”

Related Bible Verses:

James 1:5: “If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask Him, and He will gladly tell you.”

Proverbs 8:17: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”

Deuteronomy 4:29: “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

*Adapted from post originally published December 28, 2014.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Join us for our brand new series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we will look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the following posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best,” Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God,” Part 3: “The Blessings of Following God,” and Part 4: “Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts

Trusting God When It Doesn’t Make Sense

adult-2178904_1280

My 3-year-old leaps into my arms and holds tight when afraid. Though she has moments of independence, she knows where to flee when feeling insecure. I smile when I think of the ferocity with which she clings to me. I struggle to peel her off of me when she latches on — even though she is a mere 32 pounds! As her parent, I am a safe place for her when she is around strangers or a storm lashes outside her window.

We, too, as a believers, have a refuge we can run to in our distress. The very word “trust” in Scriptures such as Proverbs 3:5, 6 translates as “batach” in Hebrew, meaning to “have confidence, rely upon.” As commentator Warren Wiersbe notes, the word  means “to lie helpless, facedown like a servant awaiting his master’s command.” To trust in the Lord is to depend on Him to guide our way, knowing that His way is best.

It’s easy to have confidence in God and cling to Him when He provides the answer to our problem that we want, but when His answer to us doesn’t make sense or He doesn’t immediately change our situation the way that we want, we can find ourselves losing confidence in His trustworthiness and erect a fortress to cling to of our own making.

What Trust in a Difficult Situation Looks Like

In Ruth 3, Ruth shows us what it means to trust God in difficult circumstances. As a widow, Ruth is in a dire situation. Widows during this time had no social status and lived in poverty. The law at the time provided that a brother of the deceased husband could marry the widow and carry on the family line. However, if there was no brother, the nearest relative could do this and become a guardian-redeemer. Because Naomi’s sons and husband are both dead and she has no other sons, Ruth cannot marry a brother but has to marry another relative or marry outside the family.

Assessing that her relative Boaz is a guardian-redeemer of the family and may have an interest in Ruth, Naomi advises Ruth to go down to the threshing floor where Boaz is threshing barley and do the following:

‘Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.’

‘I will do whatever you say,’ Ruth answered. So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do. (Ruth 3:3-6)

What can we learn from Ruth’s actions about trusting God?

1. Trusting God means doing what He tells us (even when we don’t understand).

Naomi tells Ruth to wash, put on perfume, get dressed in her best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor where Boaz is threshing barley from the harvest. When he falls asleep, Ruth is to lie down at his feet, uncover his feet, wait for him to wake up, and do what he says. Ruth’s response is one we of faith: “I will do whatever you say.” It is the same response Mary had when she was told by the angel that she would become pregnant with the Messiah: “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, CSB).

However, Naomi’s instructions to Ruth are unusual. Couldn’t Naomi just approach Boaz in public during the day? Why did Ruth have to go at night and arrest his attention in this particular way? As scholars point out, Ruth does not do anything inappropriate by lying at his feet. It was common during this time for servants to lie at the feet of their master and take part of the master’s garment over them. In addition, other customs in the East were that a man would put his skirt over a woman if he desired her in marriage or at the actual marriage ceremony a groom would put his skirt over the bride as a symbol that he was taking her under his protection. By uncovering his feet and asking him to spread his garment over her, Ruth essentially asks him to be his wife.

With all that being said, Ruth’s actions are bold. Boaz responds favorably by promising to do what he can the following day and gives her six measures of barley so that she does not go away “empty-handed” (Ruth 3:17). In addition, he praises her for her act as he is older than Ruth and notes that she could have gone after the younger men in town, but instead does what was best for her family in choosing him. However, though Ruth is successful, Boaz still acts concerned about what others will think when they see a woman on the threshing floor and advises Ruth to go home early before it is light (Ruth 3:13, 14). His reaction tells us what a daring move Ruth makes.

In looking at this passage, we can assess that because Naomi’s instructions are so out of the ordinary, Ruth could have decided upon a different path that made more sense to her. Instead, she submits to these instructions, believing that they are God’s will for her. What we can learn from her actions is that God’s ways are not our ways. Though God will never instruct us in a way that violates His Word, He will often lead us to complete steps that do not make any sense to us. When we simply obey what God says, as Ruth obeys Naomi here, we are given His help and provision. Like Boaz promises to act in response to her lying at his feet, God works on our behalf when we step out in faith and do what He asks us to do.

2. Trusting God means doing what we have been given to do and leaving the rest to Him.

After Ruth completes Naomi’s instructions, she goes home. Rather than worry about the outcome or try to control it in any way, we learn later in the passage that Naomi gives her further advice (which she heeds): “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today” (Ruth 3:18). However, the suspense for her must have been high! Though Boaz is willing to be her guardian-redeemer, he tells her that he is not the nearest relative. Therefore, if events don’t go well at the town-gate, she could be another man’s wife by the end of the day. Yet, instead of stewing, Ruth rests in the care of Boaz and believes his promise that he will take care of the matter. In a similar way, we can trust that Jesus, as our guardian-redeemer, will do as He has promised. When we bring a problem to Him, we don’t have to worry about the situation any longer. If He has directed us in a particular path, we can walk with Him knowing that He is working on our behalf.

Often, though, our worry and the desire to control what is happening come when we don’t know the outcome. God has told us He will take care of it, but we can’t see how. And — we may have circumstances — like Ruth does here with the other relative — which present the possibility of events going in a very undesirable way. And yet, in this place of uncertainty, Ruth continues to trust that God will work things out and rests in His provision and protection. Similarly, when we can’t see what God is doing and don’t know how He will work it out, we have to trust when we have done what we can that He will do the rest.

As 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.” “Cast” means to “throw upon, place upon.” God wants us to literally throw our requests and concerns on Him! Yet, if you’re anything like me, once you cast your problems on God, you reel them back in and try to take control of them once again. But “cast” implies throwing them far away from us and leaving them there.

Conclusion:

If we’re in a make-it-or-break-it situation, we can be tempted to turn to another refuge other than Jesus or rely on ourselves to fix our situation. It can be hard to step out in faith and do what God asks (particularly, when we don’t understand why God is having us do what we’re doing), and then simply wait for Him to work on our behalf. We see here, though, that when Ruth does what she is told and leaves the rest in the hands of Jesus, her very capable guardian-redeemer does for her what she cannot do for herself.

Similarly, when we do what God asks of us and leave the rest to Him, He supernaturally does what we cannot. We have to trust Him and leave it with Him, though. If we try to keep taking up His work, we may meddle with the process and impede the work He wants to do. C. Ness in The Biblical Illustrator Commentary says on this point: “We must let God alone with His own work, which is then only well done, when it is done by Himself.” Waiting is sometimes more difficult than the challenging acts of faith God gives us to do.

However, when we bring our struggles to Him and rest at His feet, we cover ourselves with His garment and find the strength to endure what we need to until He brings the relief we need. While He doesn’t always change our circumstance, He will always strengthen and encourage us in the midst of our struggle. Ruth, even before Boaz works on her behalf, does not go home with empty arms. Rather, Boaz fills her shawl before sending her on her way. In a similar way, even if Jesus doesn’t immediately answer us or change our situation, we are never left empty-handed when we come in His presence. He comforts us and rejuvenates us, so that we, too, can go back to our situations full and at peace — knowing our capable Savior is working even when we can’t see or comprehend what He is doing.

Related Resources:

Ever been in a bad situation and it just gets worse? Join us for our brand new series “Hope When You’re at the end of Your Rope: Lessons From Ruth on Trust, Surrender, and Healing.” In the study, we will look at the story of Ruth where will draw lessons the next few weeks on the hope we have when life gets hard, and we feel abandoned and in need of rescue.

Check out the following posts in the series: Part 1: “Why God’s Way is Always Best,” Part 2: “Pushing Past Our Breaking Points to Do the Will of God,” and Part 3: “The Blessings of Following God.”

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

More Posts