All We Need to Have Joy This Christmas

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Some time ago, I picked up a prescription at the pharmacy. As I was waiting in line, I overheard the cashier say to the person in front of me, “There’s not much you can do.”

She was referring to the disaster of Hurricane Harvey as it ravaged the Houston area, and the fact that there is not much an individual can do to prevent or prepare for this kind of tragedy in one’s life. When it was my turn to step up in line, I said, “There may not be much we can to in terms of preventing these tragedies, but there is something we can do: Put our faith in God.”

She didn’t disagree with me. In fact, she nodded her head and gave me a professional smile that indicated she wasn’t entirely sure what to do with me. At a later time, because I am attempting to be less fearful and bolder in my faith, when I called to ask a question of the pharmacist, I talked with her once more and clarified that Jesus has made it possible for us to have a relationship with God. Putting our faith in Him gives us the strength to navigate tough situations.

How We Can Find Hope This Holiday Season

This Christmas, as we usher in the holiday, we may survey circumstances and feel like the cashier “there’s just not much we can do” to feel a sense of hope or joy or remedy some of the situations in our lives and world.

We live in times where fear is rampant and bad news comes at us every day: the continuation of the Covid-19 pandemic, threats from foreign countries, uncertainty in our political climate. In addition, the holidays may trigger for us painful losses, reminders of fractures in our families, discontent because our funds are low, or reminders of more peaceful times when we weren’t dealing with the stresses we are now.

However, the Word of God has much to say about how we are to approach life when we are afraid or unsure of our circumstances. In particular, Luke 2:10-14 (NKJV) addresses a group of shepherds in the field and assures them of the joy they can feel because of Jesus’ birth:

‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace, goodwill toward men!’

While the message was meant for the shepherds and people of that day, it is also intended for us in our present day. We can draw a few key ideas from the angels’ proclamation that will help buoy our spirits, just as they did the shepherds’ spirits, if we are bogged down by negative thoughts and wish for a better time.

1. The message is for all people.

We can first observe that the news was for “all people” (v. 10). For the listeners of the time, this meant the nation of Israel. However, we know from reading the rest of Scripture that the Gospel was intended for all the world. The angels make it clear that the news is not just available to an elite group of people but for all people to accept and receive. The Bible tells us that “whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

In some versions of the text, it says that the good news is for all people “on whom His favor rests.” This small line means that the Gospel is available to those with hearts open and ready to listen. While salvation is extended to all of humanity, we don’t get saved by living a good life or simply believing there is a God. We are only saved by accepting God’s plan for salvation and putting our faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6Acts 4:12Matthew 7:13,14; Romans 10:9,10).

In addition, this extraordinary message was delivered to a group of ordinary shepherds. While shepherds to us may represent nobility as part of the nativity scene, shepherds in Jesus’ day were humble members of society. The fact that God chose these shepherds to be the recipients of this heavenly message, rather than an emperor or other important government official, should encourage us. God is not merely interested in those who have importance by the world’s standards. We know from this story and repeated other places in Scripture that God notices and uses the marginalized, forgotten, rejected, and unwanted.

You may think that you couldn’t possibly be chosen to be used by God or singled out for a particular calling, but He delights in using the humblest of vessels to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). Just as God showed up in an ordinary place to declare good news to these shepherds, He will show up to those who put their faith and trust in Him.

2. The message is one of peace.

There have been a few times in my life when I received really great news: when we were gifted a week at a vacation condo for my college graduation, when my parents offered to pay off our vehicle debt so that I could quit my job, when I was hired at my dream school teaching English, when I found out I was pregnant with each of my children.

However, the good news spoken of in this passage is beyond the good news we all look forward to in our lives: It is the best news mankind could possibly hear. Up until this point, mankind had been living in the fallout after Adam and Eve’s sin with hope of a future Messiah that hadn’t yet come. Life included rituals under Old Testament law that were hard to live out — and access to God only through priests.

Jesus was the prophesied Messiah — God’s plan to redeem fallen humanity. When the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (v. 14), the peace the angels sing about is a reconciliation in our relationship with God. Jesus came to earth to repair the relationship that was broken between man and God by man’s sin. In 2 Corinthians 5:18 it says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Similarly, Colossians 1:19-22 reads:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

Though our world may look out of control, and it may seem there is nowhere to put our hope — we have Jesus who came and provided a way for us to be connected once again to God. The Bible tells us that Jesus is holding all things together, and nothing is outside His control (Colossians 1:17).

3. The message indicates God’s intentions toward us.

The verse the angels sing speaks not only of the reconciliation or peace Jesus would bring between God and man but also of God’s “goodwill.” The word “goodwill” is an old-timey word that we don’t use all that much anymore, but goodwill means having a favorable attitude toward someone.

God’s sending of His Son, as detailed in this passage, indicates God’s good intentions towards His creation. Though in many religions God is depicted as distant, uninterested, or uninvolved, God — the only true God — is very passionate about and interested in His creation. When God created mankind, He made us as the very climax of His creation (Genesis 1:26-2:3).While He spoke the other elements of the universe into existence, He bent over His creation of man like a tender mother — and personally formed Adam out of the dust, and then later, Eve out of Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:72:22).

With scary events on the news, we may wonder how God could possibly have good intentions toward us or be a good God with all the bad we see. We should know that we aren’t the only ones to feel this way. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, had doubts about God’s goodness even though they lived in a perfect environment.

They gave into the temptation to doubt when the serpent gave Eve the idea that the only reason God didn’t want them eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was because he was holding out of them. If Adam and Eve succumbed to doubt even though God had given them every reason to believe in His goodness, how much more are we susceptible to these same thoughts?

The Bible tells us over and over of God’s love for us (Romans 8:37-39Eph. 2:4,51 John 4:9-11). In fact, God didn’t create suffering or sin. The very reason He allows it is because you and I wouldn’t be here if He had ended the world long ago. It’s because of His patience and kindness that He has not demolished His creation broken by sin. At one point, God will send Jesus back to earth to judge humanity and bring an end to this earth (Revelation 20:11-15Mark 13:31).

However, in the meantime, we have hope in the midst of our circumstances. We have Jesus who provided a way for us to be in right relationship with God despite sin. As this passage tells us, it is because of God’s goodness and love for us that He sent His Son to earth to save humanity.

Some of you listening may struggle with the idea that God loves you. Maybe no one has ever shown you love before or perhaps events in your life have led you to believe God doesn’t love you and you are unlovable. The opposite is true. Belief in God’s love is the key to experiencing His love. As you believe, you will begin to see and experience more and more God’s incredible goodwill toward you.

Conclusion:

With so much uncertainty and turmoil in our world, it’s easy to get swept up in fear or other negative emotions. We may long for a time when life wasn’t so complicated or look around us and have difficulty feeling joy in the midst of all we see. Just as the news given to the shepherds so long ago was meant to give them great joy and lift their spirits, so the news of Jesus is that which we can accept with joy years later and celebrate when all around us looks bleak.

In response to the news, the shepherds went to find Him. Similarly, if you are reading this and haven’t yet put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ or have received Him but are far away at this point, God promises to be found by those who seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Let’s take a moment to thank God for His wonderful gift of Jesus. And if you haven’t received the gift of salvation, I encourage you to do so now so that you too can live with the kind of peace and joy possible only when you are in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Salvation: Dear Lord, thank you for Jesus. I believe in You and the fact that You sent Your Son to die on a cross for my sins. I admit I am a sinner in need of salvation. Please forgive me for my sins and walking apart from you. I ask you to be the Lord of my life, forgive my sins, and walk with me for the rest of my days. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in more of our latest posts? Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

Interested in salvation but want to read more? Check out our Know God page or contact us through the Contact page.

*Updated and adapted from article originally published December 1, 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.

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Why We Can Be Thankful Even When God Doesn’t Answer Our Prayers

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The Bible tells us to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). However, if you are anything like me, it’s hard to be thankful when you have been praying for a certain situation and feel that God hasn’t answered. He appears to be ignoring your requests and though you keep crying out to Him, He doesn’t answer in the way you want. In fact, He doesn’t appear to be answering you at all. What then?

In Mark 6:45-52, the disciples must have felt like Jesus was not answering their prayers. He sends them on ahead of him in a boat and they get caught up in a horrible storm. Even though He knows that they are being tossed about by the wind and the waves, He does not go to them right away. When He finally does walk out to them, they are frightened and think He is a ghost. It is only after He speaks to them that they recognize Him and the wind dies down.

A few observations we can make:

1. Jesus sends them into the storm.

Most of us, without really admitting it, most likely believe that the assignments Jesus gives us will probably conclude with a pleasant ending of some kind. However, what can feel really confusing is when Jesus sends us into a place that yields a storm.

We can often mistakenly believe that God doesn’t really love us because He surely wouldn’t send us into a storm, right? The reality we see in the passage is that Jesus knows what will happen to His disciples when He puts them in the boat.

2. Sometimes Jesus won’t feel all that near, even when we are walking in His will.

Interestingly, in the passage, Jesus isn’t with the disciples in the boat when they encounter the storm. He goes to a mountaintop to pray. In another situation in the Bible, Jesus is with the disciples in the boat when they get caught in a storm. He is asleep, but immediately wakes up (at the disciples’ urging) and calms the storm. He acts immediately to their need (Matthew 8:23-25).

But here, the storm drags on without the disciples receiving the relief they so desperately want. They row for hours, “straining at the oars” with the “wind against them” (Mark 6:52). And yet, Jesus does not immediately come to them, though He sees them struggling in the middle of the lake. He is not unaware of what they are going through. He isn’t too busy to come to them. He waits until the right moment, knowing that their faith will increase if He does not go to them right away. As commentator Joseph Benson says, “Thus Christ insures his disciples first to lesser difficulties, and then to greater, and so trains them by degrees to live and walk by faith, and not by sight.”

As we grow in our faith walk, God gives us situations where He feels far off to test and grow our faith. We can be thankful even when it feels like God is far off because He always has His eye on us and has not forsaken us — even when it feels like it. Therefore, even in those situations where we are crying out to Him and don’t understand why He doesn’t immediately intervene, He is aware of everything that is going on with us and will step in when the time is right.

3. If we’re not careful, we can grow hardened in a circumstance.

When Jesus does walks on the water out to them, they don’t recognize Him and they are frightened by Him. What happened?

Mark 6:52 tells us that they had not “understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Even though they had just seen Jesus perform a miracle in feeding 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and fish, they evidently do not believe that Jesus has the power to help them out of this particular circumstance. They can’t see what He is doing nor understand it. Thus, even when He comes to them on the water, they do not recognize Him and are afraid when they see Him. In fact, they believe He is a spirit coming to hurt them.

In a similar way, we can allow ourselves to become hardened in our own circumstance and have a similar reaction to Jesus’ aid. The word “hardened” here not only can refer to someone hardening his heart to protect himself from pain. The word also can mean that a person simply can’t perceive a situation.

As Lysa Terkeurst says, when God’s ways are “sometimes the opposite of what we want and expect,” we can miss “God’s answers when we get attached to the outcomes of our own thinking.” In other words, we can hold so rigidly to our own ideas about how a situation should go that when Jesus doesn’t meet those expectations, this can also make us miss what Jesus may be wanting to do. When our situation goes on for a long time and God allows circumstances to continue on that are causing us great turmoil, we can mistakenly believe that He does not want our good and misunderstand His intentions.

Most likely, the disciples generated their own expectations about how Jesus would rescue them and couldn’t comprehend it was Him when He showed up in a different way than they expected. Maybe they didn’t expect that He would walk on top of the water in the dark. Maybe they thought they would see Him once they reached the other side, or they thought He would calm the storm for them and not make them go through it. Whatever the case, they did not expect Him to come in the way He did and they didn’t recognize it was Him. They allowed their expectations to fix their minds in one direction and then couldn’t comprehend it when He didn’t meet their expectations.

Rather than allow our confusing circumstance to harden us so that we can’t see or understand what God is doing, we can keep watching for His answer and not allow ourselves to become hardened or embittered.

We Can Thank God in Our Hard Places

As humans, we don’t like circumstances that are confusing or unpredictable. We try to fix situations that we don’t like and, without meaning to, we create expectations of God and others to make it work out the way we envision.

As Terkeurst emphasizes, we can become disillusioned and discouraged when God doesn’t do what we want or answers our prayers differently than we expected. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” God gave us minds so that we could think and plan — but His plans don’t necessarily follow ours.

When I learned we would be moving to the area we live in now, I resisted it at first. I didn’t believe it was God speaking to us. I loved our house and the area we lived in previously. The school system was fantastic, and I dreamed of raising our kids there. When my husband first mentioned that he was interested in a job that would require a move, I told him he was crazy and it wasn’t happening. Then, as I began praying about it, God confirmed throughout the next few weeks that we were to move.

I had been praying for a change in a particular area, but when God delivered on it, I didn’t recognize His answer to my prayer. I thought that he would change some people in my circumstance. I did not think He would take us out of it. In addition, I didn’t think He would move us to the place He did. His plan for us was so beyond my own ideas of what I thought should happen.

Once we moved, the shock wore off, and I learned to accept the unfamiliar aspects of where we were. Now, over four years later, my kids are thriving in their schools, the new house has been a better fit for us in this stage of life because it has more bedrooms (and we added one more kid to our family after we moved). However, if I had simply gone with my feelings and made a decision based on those, we would have never moved and missed out on what God wanted to do in our family with this change of location.

Conclusion:

Making plans is good. Asking God to intervene in a situation is good. However, when we develop expectations of God in a situation, we may not see what He wants to do. We have to keep our minds and hearts open and hold our plans loosely, allowing Him to do as He pleases. (As a side note, we don’t have to fear that we won’t know which way to go or that we won’t hear Him. As long as we stay connected to Him, we will know the way to take.)

Even when the way He leads is dark and unfamiliar, we can thank Him. If we are following after His lead, even if it leads to hardship and dark places, we are never out of His sight or reach. He has us just where He wants us. We can trust He will do what’s best in our situation and lead us where we need to go — even if it is a place we hadn’t necessarily expected or foreseen.

Related Resources:

A Reason to Give Thanks: As we enter into this holiday season, it may be hard to find reasons to be thankful. Storms tear through communities. Civil unrest continues on in many cities. Our nation is divided along political, religious, and racial lines. Covid-19 rages on. How we can we think of giving thanks? The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances — not because we are thankful for the situations, but because we can be thankful in the midst of the circumstances.

Thankfulness is necessary to help us navigate life’s chaos and still maintain the peace of God. Join me for the next few posts where I put the spotlight on gratitude. If you haven’t read been following along on the blog, check out the first post in this series, Cultivating Peace When Life Is Crazy.

Ever worried that you won’t hear the voice of God or know which way to go? Check out the following Christmas-themed posts on seeking God for His direction: What the Wise Men Teach Us About Following God and When You Need to Know Your Next Step of Faith.

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.

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Cultivating Peace When Life Is Crazy

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Do you have a situation in your life driving you crazy?

I’ve got one that keeps popping up in my life. Even I say in advance that I’m going to approach the situation without losing it, I find, more often than not, that I do the exact opposite.

Recently, I had a string of days that stretched me thin. I had a lot of prep to do for a get-together at my house. The pressures of my kids’ schedule had been bearing down on me and, to top it all off, conflict popped up with another person. I had had enough.

So, it shouldn’t have been surprising that in the midst of all of the drama, still feeling stressed and agitated, I vented about my frustrating situation (with hysterical tears) to a complete stranger. I felt embarrassed by my lack of self-control and oversharing of the situation. Why had I allowed myself to unload so passionately and thoughtlessly?

Ever been there?

Colossians 3:15 says: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Two observations we can make:

How We Can Experience the Peace of God

1. Jesus is the Peace-giver.

The passage tells us to allow the “peace of Christ to rule in [our] hearts.” Jesus is identified as the One who gives us peace. And His peace is unlike what the world offers. Jesus says elsewhere in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Christ’s peace is more than a fuzzy “kumbayah” feeling, although it can be that. Christ’s peace is that which can boss our unruly emotions around and bring them into submission. The word “rule” in the verse is a term used in Olympic games where a person would preside over the games and maintain order. The verse tells us that we to allow God’s peace to rule or govern us — crazy emotions and all.

As The Life Application Study Bible says, “When we have a clash of emotions we ‘decide’ between conflicting elements by using a rule of peace.” In others words, we decide to allow the peace of God to dictate our responses rather than simply allowing our emotions to dictate us.

2. Because Jesus is the Peace-giver, we can come to Him for peace.

Knowing that Jesus is the Peace-giver, how can we, as believers, “decide” for His peace to rule over us? What about those times when it feels like our feelings decide for us? When I prayed to have understanding of this verse, God reminded me not only that Jesus is the Peace-giver, He reminded me that we need to go to the Peace-giver to receive peace.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (emphasis mine). Interestingly, the Amplified translation of Colossians 3:15 reads like this: “Let the peace of Christ [the inner calm of one who walks daily with Him] be the controlling factor in your hearts [deciding and settling questions that arise]” (emphasis mine).

We can know Christ and have asked Him in our life and still live without His peace. It is walking daily with Him that activates that peace to rule over our hearts and minds.

In my situation where I overshared with a person, I started my day without spending that time with the Lord and spewed toxic emotions on the first person to ask me how I was doing. Of course, it felt good to share my frustrations. But, later that day, I still felt burdened. I finally went to the Lord in prayer and sat for a few minutes with Him. I felt too anguished to say much, but in telling Him how I felt, a tranquility came over me and the hysteria inside calmed.

We can have peace even in the midst of challenging circumstances when we stay connected to Jesus through daily prayer and the reading of His Word. And this peace isn’t just a personal peace for our own benefit, this is a peace that will affect our relationships with others as well. When we are better able to control our responses, we will find it easier to maintain peace with others around us — even when we have differing opinions on an issue.

To Increase Our Peace — Add Thanksgiving

At the end of the passage we are instructed not only to cultivate the peace of God by spending time with the Peace-Giver, we are instructed to give thanks. So many times, even in prayer, when we are distressed, we focus on merely telling God what we are unhappy about and what we need. While telling God how we feel is going to improve our overall outlook and mood, we can also maintain our peace by expressing gratitude to God even in the midst of our most difficult situations — both in prayer and throughout the day.

Will we sometimes fail and lose it even when we carve out this time for the Lord? We will! And in those instances we need to give ourselves grace. Some days we might face unexpected circumstances where quiet time isn’t possible or we do spend time with God and our flesh still takes over. We are not going to be perfect in managing our emotions. When we fail, we can ask for His forgiveness and apologize if we’re offended or hurt someone else in our anger. The verse, I believe, isn’t to make us feel guilty about all the times we’ve missed the mark.

Rather, by emphasizing that we need the peace of God and thanksgiving to govern our emotions, Paul gives us the necessary tools to navigate the inevitable conflicts and irritating circumstances that will get on our last nerve. By spending time with God, we will not have to waste time trying to fix circumstances or people to work the way we want so we can have peace. We can maintain our calm and internal peace even in the midst of aggravating circumstances.

Doesn’t that sound better than losing control?

Related Resources:

A Reason to Give Thanks: As we enter into the thanksgiving season, it may be hard to find reasons to be thankful. Storms are tearing through communities. Civil unrest continues on in many cities. Our nation is divided along political, religious, and racial lines. Covid-19 rages on. How we can we think of giving thanks? The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances — not because we are thankful for the situations, but because we can be thankful in the midst of the circumstances. Thankfulness is necessary to help us navigate life’s chaos and still maintain the peace of God. Join me for the next few posts where I put the spotlight on gratitude.

 

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.

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Holding Onto Hope When Experiencing Injustice

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“Injustice” is a term we see frequently in the news right now. There are people who are protesting against injustices in our society and government. Some are protesting in the right way by gathering in peaceful assemblies to have their message heard. Others are protesting in the wrong way by rioting — even taking over whole blocks of a city.

While some are using the situation to further their own violent agenda or simply loot stores, there are those who are genuinely crying out against those who have mistreated them because of the color of their skin. Many of them can tell stories of times where they or people they know were denied privileges and/or treated unfairly because of their skin color.

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. They don’t have the freedom in every case to even peacefully protest, like we can in the United States. For instance, in certain countries, citizens that speak out or attempt to enact change are silenced, imprisoned, or killed. Citizens are 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, 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 backlash if they speak up, so they suffer in silence.

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 the psalm is unknown but he calls out for deliverance from “lying lips” and “deceitful tongues.” He doesn’t tell us who is being dishonest with him, but conflict with this individual or individuals has been going on for an unbearably long time. Later, in verses 5-7, he says that he has been dwelling in Meshek and Kedar, saying, “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. / I am for peace; / but when I speak, they are for war.

What he means here by Meshek and Kedar is that he has long lived with people that are hostile. Meshek and Kedar were nations near Israel that were considered enemies of the Jews. The author isn’t actually living in these nations, but he feels like he is because of how he is being treated. His mistreatment could have come by foreigners or by Jews who 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! (This was obviously an exaggeration to make a point, but the story shows how junipers were known to burn a long time.) Juniper coals would be hotter and cause more pain than other types of wood.

What the passage is saying is that those who hurt 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

 *Updated April 1, 2021.

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

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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 The Evangelist points out, “Christians must cease to be what they are, or the world cease to be what it is, for them to escape persecution.” In other words, if we are living out our faith, at some point, our lifestyle and values will 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).

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.

More on Suffering:

Warren’s 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.

*Updated April 1, 2021.

 

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.

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

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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

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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.

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Joy in the Midst of Trials

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“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.

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 June 11, 2021.

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.

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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.

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There Are No Shortcuts to God’s Promises

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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.

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