When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 2

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Trials come in many shapes and sizes: a health problem that drags on, a relationship conflict that pops up when we least expect it, house repairs that exceed our savings, a business venture that fails despite our best efforts.

Trials are a part of living in our fallen world. However, we can also go through trials for a myriad of other reasons: we can be afflicted by Satan, we can suffer natural consequences for our sin, or we can be persecuted for our good actions as Christians. However, at times, God orchestrates particular situations to teach us a particular lesson that will benefit us.

Psalm 119:71, 75-76 says: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees … I know, Lord that your laws are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.”

As I discussed in my last post, we find it difficult to wrap our minds around the idea of a God who afflicts us, but when we understand that God uses affliction to draw us to Himself and turn us from going astray, we can better embrace those difficult situations that make us want to run or turn on God.

Some ideas to remember when looking at the idea that God afflicts us:

1. God afflicts us because of His faithfulness.

In Psalm 119, the writer notes that “in faithfulness” God has afflicted him (v. 75). That concept is so hard to comprehend. Say what? However, we have been talking in this series about the idea that God instructs us through our circumstances not to destroy us but to make us more like His Son. We read in 1 Peter 4:19: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

While 1 Peter 4:19 is referring to those who suffer for doing what is right in the will of God (and a little different suffering than we have been discussing), we see the idea that whether we suffer for doing what is good or suffer because God in His loving discipline is teaching us, we can trust God with our lives — knowing He always knows what is best for us.

A God who allows affliction sounds terrifying, and when circumstances get challenging in our lives, our natural tendency is to get angry at God and bolt. However, Psalm 119 reminds us that God does what He does because of His great love for us.

He allows pain to encourage us to return from the path of destruction we’re on, and He’s willing to use whatever means necessary to save us from our own folly. In addition, God always acts consistently with His character. Whatever decisions He makes are always out of His perfect mercy, love, justice, and holiness. Therefore, though His actions toward us might not always feel loving, we can be confident, as the psalmist is here, that God is not out to get us, but always has our best interests in mind.

2. God comforts us when we turn to Him in our affliction.

The amazing thing is that even in the midst of affliction that has come to correct us or turn from our bad choices, we see that God is a refuge for us and a comfort to our wayward souls. Verse 76 says, “May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.” The Living Bible paraphrases it like this: “Now let your loving-kindness comfort me, just as you promised. Surround me with your tender mercies that I may live. For your law is my delight.”

Even if we have turned from God and run from Him, if we are willing to learn what we need to learn in our afflictions and turn back to Him, He will guide us back into the way we should go. But too often we let our afflictions anger us and keep us from God.

Here, in Psalm 119, we see that the psalmist not only has confidence in God’s faithfulness, he models for us what we should do in our trials: turn to God. However, that is often the last thing we feel like doing because we’re too angry. Proverbs 19:3 says that a person’s own foolishness causes him to go astray — but get this — he rages against the Lord! In other words, at times we can find ourselves in a mess because of our own choices, but yet we get angry at the Lord. Instead of going down that path, we can learn what we need to learn and let God rescue us from the places we’re stuck — instead of blaming others or God, or remaining stuck in our anger.

Because as I’ve learned in my research on affliction: God may orchestrate the afflictions in our lives, but He can rescue us from our troubles. Psalm 34:17 tells us: “The righteous cry out and the Lord hears them. He delivers them from all their troubles.” Similarly James 1:2-4 (VOICE) urges us:

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as thy are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line — mature, complete, and wanting nothing.

Fighting against God or blaming Him will only delay our ordeals and won’t give us the escape we’re looking for. So, knowing that God can rescue us, what else can we do when we are in the midst of circumstances that threaten to derail us? I picked these up from the Holman Bible Dictionary:

  1. Pray.
  2. Comfort Others.
  3. Remain faithful through patient endurance of suffering.
  4. Cultivate an attitude of joy.
  5. Follow the example of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion:

No one wants a trial, but we often get stuck in the place of how hard the trial is, and that can make us angry and make us want to turn on God. Most of us in the midst of a hard season resist and try to fight our way out instead of leaning into the pain and asking, “God, what is it you want me to learn here?”

One pastor I know used to say that God will tell us what we need to know, but we won’t always like what He tells us. When we understand that God’s faithfulness and love are the motivation behind His discipline of us, we understand that He is not just out to make us miserable, but to make us holy like Him and fit us for His purposes.

As the Holman Bible Dictionary emphasizes, trials are temporary. As I shared about in Part 1 of the series, in one particular tough season God allowed for my own discipline, I got out of it. God moved me on. After fighting him for a few months, I relented and did what He asked me to do. In response, He mercifully lifted me out of the situation. I am right now in another learning season, and I can look back and see how He delivered me then and can deliver me now if I choose to submit to the process.

How we react, though, is a choice. Our Red Sea will remain until we learn what God wants us to learn. In other words, those immoveable obstacles and adversities that we are desperate to have removed will stay as long as necessary to help us learn what we need to learn. But, as commentator Matthew Henry observes, the God who brought us in can bring us out! He is the only One who can rescue us from our circumstances, so let’s turn to Him in the process, trusting that He always does what is best for us.

This is the conclusion of a 2-part series on how God uses trials for our instruction. Check out Part 1 in the previous post and podcast where I discuss how trials teach us.

Related Resources:

Are you at a Red Sea moment in your life where it feels like an immoveable wall is before you and you can’t find your way out? Check out how our faith can help us move forward against immoveable obstacles in these two articles: “How Forward Motion Faith Overcomes Obstacles” and “Why Won’t God Bless Me?”

While God can bring us to Red Seas for different reasons, and you may know what action He has given you to begin the process of moving through your obstacle, sometimes we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. If you’re in that place of not knowing what to do, you may be encouraged by the following: “Waiting on God When You’re Facing a Red Sea Problem in Your Life.”

Co-host Suzy Lolley is back with us this month on the podcast! So good to have her with us! Check out the podcast episode above the article if you’d like to hear us talk over the points of the post.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

The writer of Psalm 119 is unknown, although some scholars attribute it to David.

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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When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 1

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I pray over the topics I write about for each month, and I felt I needed to look further into “trials” for October, or the troubles and afflictions we face in life. I wasn’t sure what direction I should go with the subject, so I decided to start by looking up the definition of “trials” in a Bible dictionary and go from there. However, the funny thing is that when I looked up “trials” in the Bible dictionary, I found a short statement about judicial trials (as in a judge and a person who is convicted of a crime!), rather than the kind of trials I was thinking of.

So I changed up my search tactic and instead looked under “affliction.” And, the heading yielded me a better result. A definite direction began to unfold as I read through the heading and also came across a passage in my notes (which I’ve shared below).

As I’ve written before about pain and the troubles we encounter in this life, I wasn’t entirely naïve on what the Bible says about the topic. We can have afflictions in this life because we live in a fallen world or as consequences for our sin. In addition, the Bible talks about evil spirits and Satan afflicting us. However, there is another reason that we can suffer trials in our life, and that is because God allows them or even orchestrates them for our instruction.

This, of course, is not a popular idea. We have a hard time wrapping our heads around the idea that God allows certain situations and suffering for our instruction. However, if you press in for a moment with me, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the beauty of this idea and the goodness of a God who loves us so much that He teaches us and draws us back to Himself when we stray.

Psalm 119:71, 75-76 says: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees … I know, Lord, that your laws are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.”

A few ideas we can take away:

1. Affliction teaches us God’s lessons.

The psalmist notes that it was beneficial and good that he was afflicted. While we generally associate affliction with the negative, the writer of this psalm does the opposite and says that affliction can be good — not that the trying events themselves are good, but the outcome of the events. Hebrews 12:11 says it a different way, saying, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” God orchestrates at times just the right heat in our lives to bring about a desired result: that we might learn His decrees.

Affliction is the teacher that teaches us through our experiences what God wants us to learn. Along these same lines, in the Treasury of David Commentary it says this: “Very little is to be learned without affliction. If we would be scholars we must be sufferers. As the Latins say, ‘Experientia docet’, experience teaches. There is no royal road to learning the royal statues; God’s commands are best read by eyes wet with tears.”

It is one thing to read about an idea in a book, but another thing entirely to learn it through experience. In fact, the New Testament consistently uses the word “know,” in verses such as John 8:32, that translates in the Greek as “ginosko,” or knowledge through personal experience. To truly understand God’s commands, we can’t just read about them. God allows us to understand these precepts through our experiences as believers, and the lessons He teaches are often though personal pain and difficult circumstances. I have heard it say that God’s lessons come in hard packages.

I had my own experience with this when I was leaving my job to go a new direction, and I tried to bypass a few tasks that God wanted me to do. I ignored those nudges and focused instead on what I wanted to do — which was get into music. Yes, God had promised me that He was going to use me in music, but the way He was leading didn’t look like the right way to go. I didn’t see ignoring his small nudges as that big of a deal. But He did!

In response to my refusal to do what He said, He orchestrated some very tough situations in my life that were so difficult and humiliating that I literally spent every Sunday weeping at the altar, asking Him in desperation to take the pain away. He did take me out of that situation when I chose to go the way He wanted me to go and learned that I had to trust Him, rather than in my own strength and plans. I also learned during that time that God wanted me to remove an addiction from my life that I didn’t even know I had! (Check out the podcast episode at the top of this post to hear the story.)

2. Affliction encourages us to obey in future situations.

Not only does affliction teach us God’s ways, affliction encourages us to obey. As in the story I shared, the tough situation I went through not only taught me an important lesson in the moment about trust, but is one that encouraged me to make it a point to obey Him right away, rather than wait for affliction to teach me.

I view Scripture now as the lifeline it is and try to learn as much as I can and use Scriptural knowledge to guide my life so that I can avoid learning through God’s discipline of me. Earlier in Psalms 119:67, the same writer says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” In other words, his past afflictions served to motivate him to stay on the straight and narrow because he remembered his past painful experiences that had come about because of his choices and did not want to repeat those.

Certainly, we can’t avoid every challenging circumstance with our obedience. And we will fail at times even when we try to get it right. We sometimes will unknowingly bring consequences in our lives with our actions or we will simply face problems because of the world we live in. Or, God might allow trials not because of anything we have done but for our strengthening and the building of our faith. In addition, we may actually face troubles because others see our faith and persecute us for it. However, if we have been taught a certain lesson in an area (say, trust), we can learn the lesson and not fall into the same trap of self-reliance in the future.

When I was preparing to be a teacher, I had to observe at a middle school. In my observation of a classroom one week, I observed a mother who followed her son around for a few days at school. She sat behind him in class, walked behind him in the hall, and sat near him at lunch. When I asked about this mother, the teacher told me the boy’s mama was coming to school for a few days to help inspire her wayward son to clean his act up.

This mama loved her son so much she was willing to let him got through some humiliation in order to help him make the choices he needed to make to turn away from his bad attitude and laziness. You better believe that this boy learned his lesson. And whenever he felt tempted to slide back into his former habits, he remembered the sting of his mama following him around and decided against it.

That’s what God does with us: He lets us fall into some challenging circumstances when we choose to go our own way, but He doesn’t leave us there. He uses those experiences, if we let Him, to give us a desire and zeal to know His Word and His precepts — so that we don’t fall into those same ones again because of our ignorance.

Conclusion:

The trials we go through not only teach us and encourage us to learn God’s Word, they also make us more like Christ if we let them do their work. Our natural reaction is often to get so angry at what we’re going through that we don’t press into what God would have us learn, but afflictions rub against our hard edges and soften us into a more beautiful version of ourselves.

I read about this in a devotional once, but there is a beach in California called Pebble Beach that has the most beautiful polished stones. People flock there to collect the rocks. The reason the rocks are so polished there is because they are exposed to harsh waves. Nearby, in a quiet cove, people do not go to gather the rocks because the cove has protected the rocks there so that they are rough and less beautiful — as they have never had the chance to be worn down by the pounding surf.

If we have been walking with Christ awhile, we can look back and see those places in our lives that were hard in the moment but yielded fruit — either because we learned an important spiritual lesson through our trial, we came out of the trial with more compassion and love for others, or we experienced a closeness to Jesus that we never had before because we turned to Him in the midst of it.

Stay tuned to next week’s post and podcast episode as we dive into Part 2 to conclude this article. We will talk about how we can trust the faithfulness of God in our trials and what we can do when we’re in a challenging circumstance.

 Afflictions are among the most precious means of grace. They are entirely under the direction of God. They may be endlessly varied, and adapted to the case of every individual … Among those things for which good men have most occasion for thankfulness are afflictions; and when we lie down on the bed of death, and look over life and the divine dealings with us through life, as the glories of heaven are about to open upon us, we shall feel that among the chiefest mercies of God are those dealings of his holy hand, trying at the time, which kept us from going astray, or which recalled us when we had wandered from him — and ‘that in our life, now closing, there has not been one trial too much.’ ”– Albert Barnes, theologian and minister

” ‘I had never known,’ said Martin Luther’s wife, ‘what such and such things meant, in such and such psalms, such complaints and workings of spirit; I had never understood the practice of Christian duties, had not God brought me under some affliction.’ It is very true that God’s rod is as the schoolmaster’s pointer to the child, pointing out the letter, that he may the better take notice of it; thus he points out to us many good lessons which we should never otherwise have learned.” — From John Spencer’s “Things New and Old,” qtd. in The Treasury of David

Related Resources:

Co-host Suzy Lolley is back with us this month on the podcast! So good to have her with us! Check out the podcast episode above the article if you’d like to hear us talk over the points of the post.

Want to hear your other articles in podcast form? Check out our podcast archive for all of our episodes.

 

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 Your Failure Isn’t Final

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In my life, trust of God has been the most difficult lesson for me to learn, and I’ve had many big failures in this area — times when I succumbed to fear and doubt in a crucial moment when I needed to have faith instead. In fact, I can count some major times in the last few years where God arranged something on my behalf or wanted me to simply rest in Him, but instead, I trusted my own understanding or that of others in a situation.

But here’s what I’m learning now: God gives us a second chance (or maybe a 20th chance, if that is what is needed) to learn what we failed to learn before. Recently, I’ve found myself in a circumstance that feels all too familiar: It’s been the overriding refrain of my life the last few years. God has been leading me through challenging circumstances, and yet, He has been telling me to trust what He will do on my behalf.

The “practical” voice of reason in my head screams that this can’t be right, it can’t be the way. I’ve prayed about a step I can take to “fix” this situation or proactively step forward, but God has told me to wait. And this waiting is that which I have been instructed to before and failed at. So this time feels extra hard because my go-to response in times like this has always been to try to work my way out, make something happen, avoid the pain by taking the escape (even if it’s not God’s will). And I know I can’t do that this time.

Curbing that “do-it-myself, I want it my way” fleshly attitude is one that is taking painful discipline and work with the Holy Spirit. Maybe as you are reading this, you can think of a lesson God is teaching you — about trust — or maybe in a different area. Whatever the lesson is, no matter how not-fun, we should be encouraged that scores of individuals in the Bible had to be given multiple opportunities to learn a lesson.

Peter: A Disciple Who Was Given a Second Chance

Peter is perhaps the best all-time example of a disciple who needed more than one chance to learn a lesson. In John 21, Peter has failed big-time. Just as Jesus predicted, Peter denies he knows Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest and betrays his Lord. And yet, Jesus doesn’t reject Peter in his failure.

After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Mary Magdalene and other women find an angel in the empty tomb, and he gives them a message from Jesus, saying, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’ ” (Mark 16: 6, 7). Did you get that? Jesus asks for the guy who had failed him miserably just a few days earlier by especially singling him out by saying “the disciples and Peter.” Peter responds to the Lord’s call, and Jesus initiates a conversation with him, as recorded in John 21:15-18:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’ Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.

It seems a little surprising that Jesus would seek out Peter and spend time with him after Peter had so obviously failed him. But there are two important lessons we can learn from Jesus’ actions:

1. Our failure is an opportunity for us to grow.

So many of us view failure as a final end that we can never recover from. However, we see from this passage that God never wastes an opportunity. He uses everything in our life — even our failures — for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

As described in these lines, Jesus uses Peter’s failure to teach him and help him grow. However, Peter’s growth doesn’t come without some personal angst. The second chance Jesus offers Peter has eery parallels to the time he failed. Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus asks him if he loves him three times. As the IVP New Testament Commentary illuminates, Jesus’ questions are probing, and most likely, make Peter uncomfortable. Each time Jesus poses the same question, he is reminded of his failure, and that is painful.

Similarly, for us, as much as the second chance God offers may be one we’re relieved to see in front of us, it may also be painful as we enter circumstances that resemble those we left. We have to face what we did wrong and change. Yet, here, we can see Peter is already changing. When Jesus inquires of him as to his love, Peter doesn’t brag as he has in times past (IVP). Before the crucifixion, Peter had insisted he would never fall away, even if others did (Matthew 26:33). Here, he simply answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (vv. 15, 16).

In addition, the third time Jesus asks, Peter answers with a variation saying, “Lord you know all things; you know that I love you” (v. 17, emphasis mine). By his acknowledgement of Jesus as all-knowing, Peter further shows a new humility that points to God’s sovereignty and knowledge, rather than his own (IVP). Jesus further explains how Peter will have to continue to deny himself by being a disciple, saying, “When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (v. 18). Jesus loves and forgives Peter, but spells out clearly to Peter that being a disciple with entail continued humility and dependence on God.

2. God wants us in our failure.

God’s love is a concept that many of us struggle with. I remember years ago struggling to feel God’s love, and He told me I couldn’t feel it fully because of my unbelief. As I’ve begun to believe in God’s love, I’ve begun to recognize the ways God is intimately involved in my life — how recklessly He loves each of us, and how He’s willing to pursue us when we get it wrong and stray (Matthew 18:12).

Though God loves us so much that He comes after us when we fail, we have to accept His love and pursuit of us. Jesus includes Peter’s name with his instructions because he wants it to be clear to Peter that he is included. But Peter still had to make the choice to return and accept the forgiveness and acceptance of His Savior. He had to allow himself to go through the uncomfortable heart surgery Jesus performed on him when it would have been much easier just to cut off ties and go his own way. But despite how uncomfortable it must have been for Peter to face Jesus when he had just denied him and submit to Jesus’ discipline, Peter returns and became stronger and better equipped for his role as a disciple because of his willingness to learn from Jesus.

As I discussed in a previous post, not everyone who is offered that love chooses to return when they fail. But how amazing that God offers us unconditional love knowing that some will reject Him. When we “love” as the world loves, we love with a conditional love. This type of love loves until the person fails and then casts out so that there is no hope of restoration. But God teaches a different way, a way that says, “I want you no matter how bad you mess it up, no matter how you get it wrong.”

Truly, this knowledge shouldn’t give us a nonchalant attitude where we take advantage of the grace offered and knowingly make bad choices with the excuse of, “It’s OK, God will forgive me.” God does forgive us when we repent, but the Bible warns us to be sincere in our repentance (Romans 6:1, 2; 14, 15). And we should know that while God’s grace is lavish, earthly consequences can come as a result of our choices and should help deter us from not doing what is right.

But how wonderful that God never leaves us in our failure. When we’re not strong enough to make the right choices, we can turn to Him, and He sustains us and gives us what we need to do what’s right.

Psalm 54:4: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.”

Isaiah 46:4: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he. I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Related Resources:

Want some more posts on Easter? Check out last week’s post on Jesus’ feelings as He went to the cross. We can learn from Him how to handle seasons where we feel lonely in our calling or wonder if God has left us.

Don’t have time to read many posts but want to listen instead? Check out this post in podcast form or past episodes by stopping by our brand new podcast archive.

 

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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When You Feel Lonely in Your Calling

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“I feel so alone,” I told my husband in a hormone-induced crying spell.

We had transitioned to a new house and a new community, and the transition had been fairly smooth, but as I moved into my last weeks of pregnancy, I felt alone.

Alone when I drove my kids to school, and I didn’t know a soul in the building.

Alone when we went to our new church, and I didn’t recognize a single face.

Alone when I went to my new doctor, and I didn’t know any of the medical staff.

Alone when I contemplated the difficult situations that had seemed to pile up the last year as I did what God asked of me.

Alone.

Jesus knew loneliness in his journey to the cross. However, as relayed in Matthew 26-28, although much attention is often given to those that opposed Him and betrayed Him and the suffering He went through (and rightly so), He was also defended and aided by His heavenly Father.

That though Jesus was mocked by those who didn’t believe His words, there were ways that the truth of His words reached the eyes and ears of those in His community. In re-reading His story recently, I was reminded that perhaps if we find ourselves feeling alone in whatever assignment Jesus has given us, we may be tempted to quit or believe God has forgotten us.

But we can see from the Easter story how God’s plan may lead us to what feels like a solitary path — but in the midst of that path, God is there — at work.

A few takeaways we can get from the Easter story:

1. We should stay fixed on God even when we feel forsaken.

When we observe Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked His disciples to be vigilant and pray with Him. But each time that He asked them and went away to pray, they fell asleep. No one stayed awake with Jesus through the intense moments He experienced before His arrest.

But Jesus remained fixed on God and His Father’s will even when others around Him didn’t understand or were not there for Him when He needed them. The third time when He went away, He came back to find them asleep once again, but He simply said, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:45, 46).

Similarly, when Jesus hung on the cross, before He breathed His last breath, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Although many disagree on what happened on the cross and after Jesus died, Jesus felt a separation from the presence of His heavenly Father as He took on the sin of the world.

I find it amazingly comforting that Jesus, the most perfect human being, felt deserted. That whether Jesus was abandoned by His Father or just felt abandoned, the truth was that He experienced this right when He was in the center of God’s plan!

And, if indeed Jesus did endure this separation, one benefit that we have that Jesus did not is that although we may feel that God is not with us, as Derek Gentle points out in an article, “[Jesus] was forsaken that God might never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5, Romans 8:31-39).” Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice so that we would never have to be completely alone.

Therefore, if we find ourselves feeling isolated in following Jesus’ plan for us, we may be tempted to give up or assume God has deserted us. We may feel that others have fallen asleep on us — are not near when we have needed them most — but that does not mean that we should fall away from what God wants us to do or assume that God has done the same.

2. God provides for us and is present in our process.

We can see in Jesus’ story how even though God allowed Jesus’ suffering and allowed Jesus to be betrayed and abandoned by those closest to Him, He also provided for Him. Yes, undoubtedly there may have been a momentary separation as Jesus became a propitiation for our sin, but we see that God cared for Jesus’ needs and was very present in the process.

Earlier, before Jesus was arrested, a woman came and washed Jesus’ feet with a jar of expensive alabaster perfume. The disciples objected to this lavish display, saying that the money could be used for the poor. However, Jesus responded by asking, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:7-10).

Later in the passage, a man whom apparently none of the disciples even knew provided a place for Jesus and His disciples to eat the last supper. The Luke account says that an angel came down in the Garden of Gethsemane to strengthen Jesus when his disciples could not be counted on (22:43). After Jesus’ death, a rich man named Joseph, who had become a follower of Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed the body in his own tomb that he had just cut out of rock.

Clearly, even as Jesus felt deserted by His closest friends and even God Himself at one point, God provided those who were available to minister and care for Jesus in the midst of carrying out His will.

Likewise, if we look around during the times we feel the most alone or afraid, we will most likely be able to trace God’s hand and see how He gives us supernatural aid or the help of kind people in our journey — people we not know or necessarily solicit help from. But people who step up and offer us the support we need even as we’re facing our darkest hours.

3. If we face opposition doing what God has told us to, He will defend us.

There are times when we should give an answer to those that question us, but there are other times when we don’t need to say anything. God will do it for us.

When Jesus was brought before Pilate, Scriptures tell us that He was silent when accused, and they were amazed that He did not respond to any of the charges they brought against Him. He was mocked by the soldiers, the crowd, and the religious priests. Later, when He hung on the cross, they told Him that He should save Himself and prove He was the Son of God.

But Jesus did not speak in response to their insults at the trial or on the cross. However, what we can observe is that God’s defense was all around for the observant one taking note. When Pilate questioned Jesus, he received a message from his wife imploring Pilate to let Jesus go as she had had a dream about him that day. Pilate himself knew the religious leaders had a personal agenda. After the message from his wife, he washed his hands in front of the crowd to let them know that he had reservations about their accusations and didn’t want Jesus’ blood on his hands.

Not only was evidence of Jesus’ innocence given through the words and actions of people, the natural world gave further witness. The afternoon that Jesus died, darkness came over the land from noon to three; “the curtain from the temple was torn from top to bottom”; and an earthquake shook the earth so that tombs opened, and “the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life” (Matthew 27:45, 51, 52).

As if that were not enough evidence for the unbelieving that Jesus’ had spoken the truth, after Jesus was placed in a tomb, an angel rolled the stone of his tomb away, and Jesus rose from the dead! He then appeared to some women that had come to his tomb, later to His disciples. Clearly, as a worship song by Elevation Music says: “The evidence is [or in this case, was] all around.”

If people don’t believe us or listen when we do or say what God asks, we needn’t worry or waste our effort trying to convince them. God, in His own way and timing, will make His message abundantly clear to all who are listening. The truth will prevail without unneeded energy wasted on our part.

4. God’s power cannot be contained or minimized.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that Jesus was the Son of God as He claimed, the chief priests and elders in the Jewish community were so threatened by Jesus that they didn’t want to know the truth. They just wanted Him out of the picture. However, they had to do quite a bit of manipulating on their end to have Jesus crucified. They convinced the crowd to ask for Barabbas rather than Jesus when Pilate asked which prisoner they wanted released.

Later, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and asked that Jesus’ tomb be made secure until the third day so that the disciples couldn’t come and steal the body and claim that he was raised from the dead. Pilate agreed to have the tomb sealed and even gave them guards to protect the tomb.

Clearly, the religious leaders were doing all they could to make sure that the people did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God — but what they didn’t realize is that they were trying to minimize God’s plan and power. As is apparent in the passage, no man is able to contain His power.

As I touched on in my previous point, just as Jesus had said, three days after He died, He rose again. After a violent earthquake, an angel of the Lord came down and rolled back the stone on the tomb and sat on it. Mary Magdalene and another Mary found the tomb empty and the stone rolled away. The guards that Pilate had sent were afraid at what they saw and went and told the chief priests what they had seen (yes, the very priests who had mocked Jesus’ claim that He was the Son of God).

The chief priests made the decision to give the guards money to lie about what happened, and a false story was circulated in the Jewish community. But for those paying attention, it was obvious that Jesus was the Son of God and God’s plan was being accomplished despite the resistance of the religious leaders.

We can know that we may be persecuted and opposed as we do what God asks of us, but God is not derailed by human schemes. His plan will be accomplished whether people believe us or not.

If You Feel Alone

Perhaps this Easter, you feel some of the same emotions our Lord did when He was crucified. Perhaps you feel marginalized, misunderstood, or mocked. Perhaps as you have attempted to give the message God wanted you to or walk in the path He has laid out for you, you have faced loneliness, rejection, and scorn.

Remember this: His resurrection power cannot be contained. Whatever assignment you are on, however difficult, is one that cannot be thwarted. God’s purposes will be accomplished no matter how bleak the circumstances or how daunting the opposition.

Though we may not hear an immediate response when we cry out “My God, why have you forsaken me?” — we can rest assured that although God may not take away our suffering, there will be victory in the storm.

Hopefully, in reading this, you will be encouraged to keep plugging away at the task God has given you! Leave a comment in the box below if you would like to share what you are going through or you would like us to pray for you.

*Updated version of a post originally posted May 26, 2016.

Related Resources:

Want to read more posts on Easter? Check out last week’s post on a scene that happened before Jesus’ death where Mary anointed the feet of Jesus and prepared His body for burial, and Judas rebuked her. We can learn much from Judas and Mary about the cost of following Jesus and how giving up what we want for Jesus enables us to have something even better.

Don’t have time to read the post or others but want to listen instead? Check out the post from last week in podcast form or past episodes by stopping by our brand new podcast archive.

 

 

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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Believing God Knows and Loves You

known and loved by God

God’s calling you out.

I jumped when I saw the words in front of me from the Lysa Terkeurst devotional. They echoed the words I had heard from my pastor that Sunday. He announced he was doing a study on the book of Exodus. And he had used a few variations of the same phrase, God’s calling you out, at least a dozen times during the course of his sermon.

It was one of those sermons that had pulled at every fiber of my being. I knew God was speaking to me through it, but there was a little question deep inside that was small and tentative: He is?

I knew the dangers of falling into doubt and unbelief, but the events of the last few years had been so challenging, I was beginning to fear what God had said to me would ever come to pass. And yet, the words all around me, even before this sermon, were those that indicated in every way that I was about to walk out of my current season and into the promise He had given me.

And thus, that Sunday, I soaked in every word, marveled at it, took notes, thanked God for speaking to me, and went home.

Yet here again, right in front of me, in my morning devotional was the same phrase: God’s calling you out. He surprised me. Again. And the way God orchestrated for me to encounter the exact right words I needed at the exact right moment boggled my mind.

How did He know what precise thoughts I would have this week? How did He know what words to say? How did the pastor decide to put together this particular series and choose this book of the Bible to study for this particular week? Similarly, how did Lysa Terkeurst, not at all in connection with me or my pastor, choose to put together that devotion and her team publish it the week they did?

If you consider the logistics, it’s pretty much impossible how God supernaturally gets our attention — and yet He speaks to and guides all of His followers who rely on and pray to Him. He communicates what words we need at just the right time. Millions of people — intimately connected and involved with us on a level that will at times take our breath away.

What Psalm 139 Tells Us About God’s Love

In Psalm 139, David is struck with the same awe over the knowledge of how much God truly knows him and chooses to interact with him. In verse 1-6, he says:

You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all of my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (emphasis mine)

Did you catch that? In just 6 lines, David uses the word “know” three times. Not only that, he uses other words that mean similar things like “perceive,” “discern,” and “familiar with.” The word “know” in Hebrew in these instances is “yada” — and means an “intimate knowledge” of someone. As the passage indicates, God knows everything about us: what we do during the day, our thoughts, every word we speak (even before we speak it), and our motives. The psalmist says this knowledge is “too wonderful” and “lofty” for him to grasp (v. 6).

Later in the psalm, if we skip down to verses 13 and 14, we see that David continues on along the same theme, saying, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” While I had previously read these lines in isolation from the vantage point of these words expressing God’s amazing power as evident in His creation of us — and it certainly tells us that — there is another message embedded in these words.

While David is celebrating God’s power as Creator, He is also celebrating, as I mentioned before, how much God knows us. “Fearfully” in the verse means to “cause astonishment and awe” or “make afraid”; and “wonderfully” means to be “separated or distinct.” David highlights the idea here as he did in verse 6 that he is literally shocked by the level on which he is truly known by God. And this is a knowledge that will catch all of us by surprise as we walk with Him and discover how much God is aware of every detail that affects us.

A God Who Not Only Knows Us, But Loves Us

The other piece that we need to take away from Psalm 139 is that not only are we known by God — we are loved by Him. The reality that God has taken the pains He has to know you in such an in-depth way points to His love for you. If you think about the people in your life that care about you the most, those are the people that know the most about you — and are around you the most. Conversely, the people who don’t care about you don’t know that much about you or what you do on a daily basis.

When faced with the truth of how much we are both known and loved by God — as David is here in the psalm — we have no choice, as commentator Warren Wiersbe observes, but to exuberantly respond in praise and thanksgiving to God.

In addition, as Wiersbe continues, not only should our natural response be one of gratefulness, we should also be encouraged to submit to God in all things because He knows everything about us and what is best for us. David ends the psalm by saying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv. 23, 24). In these lines, he gives God full reign to keep searching and leading him. Because a God who knows and loves this much is a God that can be trusted with his life.

So many of us struggle to feel that God knows or loves us, but Psalm 139 gives us a look at the truth of how much God does both. Though many a time we encounter a situation where God’s love shows up for us in a tangible way — like I had the other morning in reading the same phrase in my devotional as I had heard in the sermon — we don’t always take a moment to thank God or acknowledge His lordship in our life. Let’s do that today!

Let’s pray: Lord, thank you that you both know and love me. Help me, like David, to not rush past those moments where you show up and reveal how intimately aware of and involved you are in my life, but choose to pause and express my gratitude. In addition, help me, like David, continue to open myself up to you and trust you even when the way is hard and doesn’t make sense. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Related Resources:

Check out the podcast episode (located above this post) that ties in with this post. In it, co-host Suzy Lolley and contributor Rachel Howard join me for a conversation about this passage where we further explore how God involves himself in our daily lives. Suzy shares about how God is with her currently on her journey with infertility and Rachel talks about how God is with her in her struggles as a full-time working mom.

Want to read more from Suzy and Rachel? Check out Suzy’s “How to Worship in the Waiting,” where she explores the tension of worshipping God while waiting on His promises; and Rachel’s “What Does God Expect of Me?,” where she talks about laying down her expectations of herself to embrace God’s.

Not yet a believer and want to learn more about salvation and how to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ? Stop by our Know God page and learn more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

 

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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