As believers, there are certain truths that we can all agree on: God is good. He is for us. He made us for a special purpose. He loves us. These are foundational ideas of our faith, but certain circumstances can throw us for a loop to the point that we have difficulty hanging onto these ideas as tightly as we once did — or at all.
When we’re caught up in an unexpected circumstance — the unraveling of a significant relationship, a long-term health battle, the loss of a job or financial stability, the death of a close friend or family member, or other stressful circumstance — we can sometimes react in ways that we wouldn’t have guessed we would.
In particular, our zeal for the Lord might run low after months of waiting for His intervention in a situation, or our overall faith in His goodness might be challenged when we encounter obstacle after obstacle in following Him. However, in those times, rather than rely on feelings that will lead us astray, we can turn to the immovable bedrock of Scripture to comfort and calm our runaway thoughts: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NKJV).
Two takeaways to remember as we navigate seasons that shake our faith and belief in the goodness of God:
1. There is no abundant life outside of Jesus.
When experiencing intense pain, we want to find immediate comfort and escape. Satan will try to lie to us and tell us that the abundant life that Jesus talks about hasn’t been so abundant in Him, so we should try to find this life of abundance in other ways. However, the passage is clear that behaviors and decisions we make to try to experience the life we find in Christ outside of Him won’t work in the long run.
We can build successful businesses, pursue relationships, and complete a myriad of accomplishments, but if it’s not God’s will for us, we won’t be fulfilled doing it. It tells us in the passage that the thief comes to steal and destroy. Living for any other purpose or distracting ourselves with other pursuits doesn’t provide us peace and joy — only in Christ do we find peace and joy.
I’ll be honest, I know how to hear clearly from God. I hear from Him when I spend time in prayer and His Word, fellowship with other believers, and listen intently for His messages to me in sermons and the studies I do with my Bible study group. But I know how to turn down the volume. Sleep in during my quiet time. Gloss over Bible study. Disconnect from other believers. But when I am not as connected to Him, I don’t experience real peace.
In my current season, I’ve let some distractions creep in, some things that I just don’t feel that good about doing. It satisfies for a minute, but I am left wishing I had never let myself go down that path. It doesn’t satisfy me long-term. What this passage is saying is that nothing quenches our soul thirst like Christ.
When thirsty, we might reach for a soda or juice, perhaps. But while these beverages might take the edge off our thirst initially, they don’t take our thirst away. They don’t refresh like water. Water is the only thing that takes our thirst away completely. Similarly, the abundant life can only be found in Christ — no distraction or habit can quench our thirst like Jesus, our living water (John 4:13, 14).
2. The Good Shepherd brings us good.
Elsewhere in the passage, Jesus identifies Himself as the “good Shepherd.” In John 10:14, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus always looks out for His sheep and leads them in the way that is best for them. That He can be trusted.
I think we can read those verses when we haven’t really experienced a devastating trial and we can say, “OK, that’s great. God leads me in all circumstances.” And we accept that. But when we’re in a place of trial and hardship then our trust in Him is truly challenged. His trustworthiness is harder to accept. Can we still trust Him to lead us even when we really don’t know the way — when we’re waking up wishing that we could have someone else’s experience?
Even in those places where we don’t want to be where we are and we can’t get out on our own, He is with us. If we look at Psalm 23, it tells that Jesus leads us not only in places that are pleasant, but He also leads us in dark valleys. Therefore, no matter what it feels like at the moment, those of us trusting and following after God can rest in the faithfulness and goodness of our God. He is faithful in how He leads us, and He is always good to us, even when it feels like He is not being that good to us.
Truth to Hold Onto When Life Devastates Us
Recently in watching the Olympics, I was so moved by Simone Biles’ struggle to fight against the pressure she felt in the competition. Named the “G.O.A.T,” or “Greatest of All Time” in gymnastics, she had much to live up to and prove as she competed in the Olympics for the second time. After a shaky qualifying performance, the pressure mounted when she competed in vault.
She sprinted toward the vault to perform like she had done hundreds — even thousands of times before — but instead of displaying her immense talent in a perfect series of tumbles in the air, she got the “twisties” instead. She lost her sense of where she was in the air, her eyes rolled back, and she fell through the rest of her tumble to land unsteadily on the mat below. I felt so sad for her as I watched. Even though I am not a gymnast, I could empathize with her experience of not being able to perform at her best because of overwhelming pressure and anxiety.
In the aftermath of her performance, I thought about the fact that we can go bravely through life doing the spins and tumbles that we’ve been taught to do, relying on the truths of the Gospel that help us ward off the lies of the enemy. We can do so well for a time, and then when devastating hardship comes, we get knocked sideways. We lose our sense of direction and balance. Doctrines that we once held onto so firmly don’t feel so firm any longer. Certain truths that felt so easy to believe feel impossible to believe any longer.
However, we can overcome our spiritual “twisties” the same way that gymnasts overcome theirs. As one article put it, gymnasts experience the twisties when they stop trusting their muscle memory. Stress or fear can get in the way of their training and make them less trusting. Therefore, they retrain themselves in basic skills and learn to trust again. And in a similar way, we can find our way out of what feels like a dark free fall by reminding ourselves of certain truths and refusing to let go of these truths (even when they are so clearly challenged) — truths like God is faithful and He knows what He is doing — when every shred of human logic in our being would tell us to do otherwise.
When we’re free falling, the pain may be so great that we just don’t care anymore, and we might have already tried to disengage God and engage in behaviors we know are wrong. But even if we have already started our exit plan to try and run from God and run to other things, we don’t have to keep running. We can turn right where we are and run to God and remind ourselves that He is a good Father and He can be trusted.
God knows why we are running and knows everything about our situation even before we tell Him. While we can only see the darkness that is all around us, the darkness is as light to Him. We can only find our way out of our dark valley by resting trustingly in His presence and holding fast to His truth even when the truths don’t appear to be working in our circumstances.
The bottom line: If we let them, circumstances can wreck our faith. Holding onto the truths that God is the good Shepherd and will lead us out is that which can sustain us when darkness surrounds us.
*Updated January 15, 2022.
Podcast Notes & Corrections:
Check out the movie Greater mentioned in the podcast. Greater tells the story of Brandon Burlsworth, an average kid with a more-than-average dream to play Division 1 football. Through the course of the film, his family learns to keep trusting God even when life is confusing and they don’t always understand.