Joy in Difficult Circumstances

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Recently, 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 recent 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: new terrorist attacks, 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 2:9-15 (NKJV) addresses a group of shepherds in the field and assures them of the joy they can feel because of Jesus’ birth:

And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘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!’

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’

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.

As Dr. Ralph F. Wilson notes in his exposition of the passage, 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. It is clear from the outset that this wonderful news the angels declare 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).

We must note that in some versions the text says that the good news is for all people “on whom His favor rests.” As I explain in a previous post on this passage, 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 14:6; Acts 4:12; Matthew 7:13,14; Romans 10:9,10).

In addition, as Wilson also emphasizes, this extraordinary message was delivered to a group of ordinary shepherds. While shepherds to us may represent a certain 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 is kindness, 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 2:7, 2:22).

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 8:37-39; Eph. 2:4,5; 1 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 20:11-15; Mark 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.

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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What Jesus Came to Do (the Best News This Christmas)

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I have a Glorious Ruins Hillsong CD that is now worn out because I’ve listened to it so many times. But one of the songs I like in it is “God Who Saves.” Confession: I have an obsession with all Hillsong music, anyway. I love their worship songs because they are easy to sing, and I also like their tasteful guitar and drum-heavy arrangements. But the lyric goes, “You’re the God who saves / You’re the hope of all / Reaching out your hand / As your people call.”

I usually listen to such words (very common in many worship songs, by the way) and think of salvation: the work Jesus has done on the cross to save us from our sins. And that is an important (the most important) aspect to Jesus’ work here on earth.

However, as Mike Riches points out in Living Free, the saving work of Jesus in terms of a conversion of our souls at salvation is just the beginning. In Luke 19:10, the word translated as “save” is “sozo” in the Greek. This word “sozo” means not only to rescue one’s soul but can mean other things as well: to rescue someone from danger or affliction, to save someone from disease, and to set someone free from demonization. “Sozo” means to help someone thrive — and forms of this word are used in the New Testament to mean “cured,” “save,” “recover,” “made well,” among others.

The Saving Work of Jesus: “Sozo” Work

In other words, God’s work in sending Jesus does more than reconcile us back to God in terms of salvation. As we walk with Him, Jesus restores areas that the enemy has destroyed in areas of our health, relationships, emotions, etc. Certainly, we see how Jesus did this in His ministry on earth by healing the sick, setting free those possessed by demons, and ministering to the broken-hearted. As Riches points out, in terms of physical healing, not everyone was healed by Jesus in His day and not everyone receives healing now. However, this “sozo” work begins at salvation and will ultimately be completed in heaven.

This saving work of Jesus is proclaimed throughout the Bible, but is illustrated beautifully in the Christmas story. In Luke 2:10-14 (NKJV), the announcement of Jesus’ birth is given by an angel to the shepherds. A chorus of angels join in at the end of the proclamation with a celebratory song, singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (v. 14). We could easily skim past this chorus of the angels, but if we split apart the verse and look at the two halves separately, we see this emphasis on what Jesus’ birth did to save us:

“Glory to God in the highest.” In the first part of the verse, the angels express their worship of God in song. Note, they say “Glory to God in the highest.” As scholars note, this “highest” is above the angels, even. He is the God above all others, over all of the universe and creation. And the reason for their worship is given in the next part of the verse.

“Peace, goodwill to men.” The angels are singing praises to the Almighty God because of the great gift He has bestowed on the earth. He has sent His only Son in the form of a baby to bring peace on earth (Isa. 9:6). However, this peace isn’t just a “kumbayah” everyone hold hands kind of peace. This peace that the Savior brings is a reconciliation or peace in the relationship of humanity and God.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the communion God shared with man was broken. Man was sinful and could not approach God in the same manner. Men and women in the Old Testament were under Old Testament laws and had to rely on priests to both mediate between man and God and perform sacrifices to be cleansed of their sins. However, through Jesus we can be saved, and our relationship with God is restored. Jesus makes it possible for us to be in right standing with our Creator.

Even the name Jesus literally means “to save.” Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. This name was originally Hoshea but changed into Jehoshua or Joshua (Num. 13:8, 1 Chr. 7:27). After the Exile, it took the form Jeshua and then Jesus. It was given to Jesus because it denoted His mission, which was to save (Easton’s Bible Dictionary). In Matthew 1:21, the angel tells Mary that she will bring forth a Son, saying, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (emphasis mine).

Jesus’ Mission to Save Is Good News

This is exciting news for us any time of year: Jesus’ mission is to save. And continually save. Our spirits are sealed by the Holy Spirit at salvation, and we don’t have to continually ask God for rescue from eternal damnation (after we have already received salvation). But we do need to continually ask for help to live on this sin-ridden planet — and that is what Jesus does. However, as some theologians observe, the angels saying that God brought peace to men should actually be read “to men of goodwill” or men that had hearts open to the message of the Gospel.

Certainly, the New Living Translation reads like this, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” The Message Translation says this: “Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.”

The gift is there. It’s ours. But while His desire is that all be saved, only a select few will take Him up on His offer. Let’s make sure we have done so and are fully appreciating His “sozo” work in our lives. Because that is truly the best news we can appreciate this Christmas — having One who continually saves.

Related Bible Verses:

Isaiah 53:5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Mark 16:16: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Ephesians 2:14: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

*Updated December 1, 2017

Related Resources:

This post is part of a series of posts written in reaction to Mike Riches’ book Living Free. Mike Riches is a pastor of a church in Gig Harbor, Washington, and is head of the Sycamore Commission, a ministry committed to modeling Christian life and ministry after that of Jesus Christ. Living Free is one of several resources he has authored and is designed to help people know God’s original design when He created us, how Satan has attempted to thwart that design, and how to live “free” and healed — recovering areas of our lives (in terms of our emotions, health, relationships, etc.) that the enemy has stolen from us. As part of a training for our Beulah Girl team, we have been going through the book and are sharing the lessons we are learning with you here.

Are you new to the whole idea of salvation? Do you want to accept Jesus as your Savior or find out more about the steps to do that? Visit our Know God page or send us a note through our Contact page to learn more!

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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