Maintaining a Firm Faith in Difficult Circumstances

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“This world is shaking, but we will not be shaken / My heart is breaking / but it’s not broken yet,” a popular worship song says.

All of us can attest to living in a world that is shaking us and may even be breaking our heart. Even if we’ve been fortunate not to have tragic circumstances in our lives at the moment, we only need turn on the news or talk to friends to hear about appalling situations causing havoc in people’s lives. In fact, this week as I’m writing this, a few headlines are as follows … Category 5 hurricane hitting the Bahamas … man pulled over at traffic stop goes on rampage killing 7 and injuring 22 … man imprisoned for putting his baby in the freezer.

Many of us have circumstances we’re walking through that are shaking us … breaking us … and yet, how do we live in a world that is broken and walk through circumstances that devastate us without shaking us and breaking our hearts beyond repair?

Revelation 3:8-12 says this:

‘I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept the command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.’

The church of Philadelphia knew about being “shaken.” They lived in an area prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity — while the soil was rich and fertile for planting, it made day-to-day life unsettling and scary. Residents never knew when another earthquake would hit, and yet, this church that was situated in a place notorious for its unstable ground and tremors that would send city dwellers running for safety was also known for its steadfastness and faithfulness.

In looking closely at the church of Philadelphia and Jesus’ message to them, we see in such a vivid way what it looks like to do God’s will even when life is a little shakier than we planned.

What can we learn from this passage to help us in our own time of trial?

1. We must build our lives on the firmest foundation of all.

The most obvious truth that we can observe is that the church makes their place of stability the truths of Christ rather than any worldly possession. Jesus tells them that they have “kept [His] word and have not denied [His] name.” They have prioritized serving Him and holding fast to His truths and being held by these when times have been tough.

While they live in the world and must deal with the challenges that everyone else in the city faces, they have a hope that anchors them in the midst of their daily trials that helps them to rise above earthly circumstances and ground themselves in truths that are stable and unchanging. Jesus tells us in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Trouble can be expected, but we can take heart when we draw strength from a firm foundation that can never be moved.

2. When we walk with Jesus, we will be victorious in our difficult situations.

Within the passage is another idea that their stability and steadfastness will be that which even their enemies take note of. Verse 9 says, “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”

In other words, the turmoil in their lives wasn’t merely due to their physical landscape. They had enemies that were shaking things up for them. For Philadelphia, these were most likely Jews persecuting them that claimed to know the truth but were blind to the truths of the Gospel. In our own lives, this could be people claiming to be believers that are not actually following God’s commandments.

Jesus says that this church will be vindicated in that even their enemies will “fall at their feet and acknowledge that [Jesus has] loved them.” This could mean several things, but we can take away from this that if God is calling us to walk through a tough season or we are in the midst of one, when we persevere, our enemies will not be victorious over us and may eventually acknowledge that we belong to God (whereas before they may have mocked and opposed us). In addition, they may even come to Christ when they see how we navigate our tough situations with calm and steadfastness, as we rely on Christ.

The natural instinct in all of us in the midst of difficult situations is to instantly get out of those situations, but sometimes, God will urge us to stay in the difficulty and we have no idea why. We don’t feel release from our current job, church, or ministry — even though we have been mistreated. We may say, “God, why do I have to stay?” He may be working out in others repentance and salvation. We are encouraged here to persevere and see what God can do in the midst of our tough situation.

3. When we walk with Jesus, we receive protection and special aid in the midst of our trials (as well as other promises).

Not only will Philadelphia see their enemies bow at their feet, they also are promised to be kept from “the hour of trial” that is coming to “test the inhabitants of the earth.” We don’t know what trial Jesus is referring to, but some circumstance is coming in their lives would be that which would cause them trouble. While it is not entirely clear what is meant by being “kept out of trial,” this could mean that God would keep them out of the trial or could simply mean that God would give them special help and grace in the midst of their trial.

Secondly, they are promised that they will be “pillars in the house of God” and “God will write His name on them.” As the city of Philadelphia was prone to earthquakes, it is possible that the image of pillar is given as a contrast. To these people that constantly feared the shaking of the ground and had great uncertainty in their lives, they had the promise of contributing to God’s kingdom in a way that could not be shaken or taken away.

Similarly, we have the same promise that what we are building in God’s kingdom is that of stability and permanence. While our earthly projects may crumble, we are working on that which has eternal value when it comes to God’s kingdom — the results of which will always stand. We aren’t mere observers or receivers of God’s works. We are co-workers: we work with God as we yield to His plan for our lives, and He works through us to accomplish His will. In doing so, we become part of what God is building (1 Corinthians 3:9; Philippians 2:13).

We “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). On us, God writes His name. He gives us a place and position within His kingdom that is ours alone — and is one we can’t manufacture ourselves.

In addition, we are further reassured with the idea that “never again will [we] leave it.” While we may be in great pain in our current circumstances, we can look forward to a time when we enter eternity and never again face hardship, loss, instability, pain, or persecution. Heaven awaits believers and provides us a hope to cling to on our worst days when we anxiously long for a resolution of the conflicts and pain that grip us here. Theologian Albert Barnes says on this, “Happy moment I when, emerging from a world of danger and of doubt, the soul shall settle down into the calmness and peace of that state where there is the assurance of God himself that the world of bliss is to be its eternal abode!”

Conclusion:

Friend, whatever situation we’re walking through that may be breaking our heart or shaking us to the core is not too big for God. We have an unshakeable God who is immoveable, steadfast, and unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. While He doesn’t always change situations to give us the outcome we want, He walks through them with us and gives us His strength, comfort, wisdom, and encouragement to make it through.

This should give us great confidence to continue walking through our hardship knowing that Jesus is with us helping us every step of the way.

Related Resources:

Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.

Check out Part 1: “Stopping the Drift Into Spiritual Apathy,” Part 2: “Heeding God’s Warnings in Our Spiritual Life,” and Part 3: “The Work That Pleases God” to get a better understanding of what spiritual apathy is and how to guard against the drift in your life.

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast where co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker sit down at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop to chat about spiritual apathy. They walk through the points of the post but also add in a few bonus extras that you don’t get in the written version.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

Correction: Update: The man in shooting spree cited at beginning of podcast killed 7 and injured 22.

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 to Keep Going When You Want to Give up

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There have been times that I have been discouraged in writing and ministry. Times when I doubted if I had an impact on anyone or spoke to anyone with my words.

A year or so ago, I went through an interval where I felt spiritually depleted. Pregnant with our third child, I wasn’t feeling so hot physically. Our house was for sale and wasn’t selling. Our financial circumstances had taken a turn for the worse when my husband accepted a new job (and a pay cut for the first year). We were in transition looking for a new church and attending one where we knew hardly anyone. I was overwhelmed and distracted by my situation and didn’t think I could keep up with blogging.

In this state of mind, I went to church one Sunday. There was a point in the service where the pastor paused and asked us to close our eyes and pray individually about whatever we wanted to talk to the Lord about. As I shut my eyes, I didn’t utter a word out loud but let a torrent of anguished words escape inside. I told God what I really thought — how tired and hopeless I felt.

Immediately, a vivid picture of a window with four panes of glass popped in my mind. The sky behind the panes was brilliant blue and bright light streaming through. For whatever reason, I got the impression in that moment that the picture was this blog — that it was a window into God. That people could see who God was and learn His secrets by reading the writing here. This was not because of any extraordinary ability on my part or on the part of other writers here (although we certainly have some talented ladies on our team), but because we simply share the lessons God is teaching us.

I was so moved by God’s answer to me, I felt the heavy burden of despair lift. I walked out of church in awe. God knew just the thing I needed in the moment to continue on in writing.

Perhaps in this moment, as you are reading this, you find yourself in a challenging circumstance that feels heavy. Maybe the medical diagnosis just came in that has you feeling dejected. Maybe the marital problems keep escalating and don’t improve no matter how much you pray. Maybe the wayward child that doesn’t respond to discipline keeps having troubles at school. Life can throw us challenges that we don’t always feel equipped to handle. Thankfully, we have a God who is always a step ahead of us and can rescue us or comfort us in our worst life events.

Hagar: A Woman Who Needed God’s Help and Encouragement

A woman who knew much about being in the hard places of life was Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant. She was given by Sarah to Abraham to conceive a child when Sarah remained barren. However, when she did get pregnant by Abraham, problems cropped up between Sarah and Hagar.

Hagar began taking pride in her pregnancy and putting on airs; Sarah, in return, began mistreating Hagar. In desperation, Hagar fled to the desert. And God met her there. We pick up the story in Genesis 16:7-14 where an angel of the Lord shows up to Hagar and the following events transpire:

And he [the angel] said, ‘Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ ‘I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,’ she answered. Then the angel of the Lord told her, ‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her.’ The angel added, ‘I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.’ The angel of the Lord also said to her: ‘You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of you misery … She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’ That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi [‘well of the Living One who sees me’]; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

It’s important to note how God reacts to this situation in which Hagar felt desperate, beyond help:

God tells Her He knows about her situation. Notice, the angel tells Hagar to name her child “Ishmael” — which means “God hears” — and then goes on to say that God has “heard of [her] misery” (v. 11). What I love about this is that God takes the approach of a father and lets Hager know that He is aware of her painful situation.

Sometimes when we are in adverse circumstances or treated badly, it helps so much to have someone notice and say, “I know what you are going through.” It helps especially to hear God say that! We may feel like God doesn’t care about us, but we need to know that God is versed in everything we are experiencing and can step in at any point He chooses.

He gives her hope to cling to in the midst of challenging circumstances. God tells Hagar to go back and submit to her mistress. Clearly, even though both Hagar and Sarah are at fault for how they treated each other, God tells Hagar to be the one to go and patch things up (most likely with an apology). And, unfortunately, that is often the case. We want so badly at times for God to fix it and make it work the way we want, but while God is capable of doing that, He chooses to solve it the way He determines — in a way consistent with His precepts and character.

However, while Hagar may have been disappointed that she had to return back to Sarah, God gives her hope she can cling to. He tells her that she is having a son, and this son will have many descendants. I believe that God does this because He knew that she would need something encouraging to cling to not only in the moment, but in the days ahead — when she had to go back to the difficult situation she left.

And he does the same with us. There are times when we will reach the end (in our minds) when our situation is such that we will say, “I’ve had it God. I can’t take it anymore. I want to quit.” And God — like He did with Hagar — will speak to us through a sermon, through a friend — maybe directly to us, letting us know that He sees us and that we shouldn’t give up. Because He knows us so intimately, He will give us just what we need to continue going — to keep on when everything in us wants to give up.

Trusting God in Our Difficult Circumstance

I don’t know why God allows the circumstances He does or why certain events happen the way they do, but I know this: there is only One who can give us the resilience and resolve to get through life’s injustices and trials and have the courage to continue on.

In a past sermon, Rick Warren stresses this: When we want to give up, we need to tell it to God. We need to get all those bad emotions out. We need to tell Him we’re angry. That we’re hurt. That we want to die even. He’s OK with our tough emotions. He listens, and He offers comfort and hope in the midst of our difficulty.

And Warren recommends something else. There are some questions we just need to put in what he calls the “Why God? File.” There are some questions we will never know the answers to. Why is this happening to me? Why did I have to be the one to go through this?

Because there are some questions that will eat us alive if we keep asking them. It’s not wrong to ask God “Why?” — but if we are asking and asking, and He hasn’t answered, maybe it’s time to file that why away. Instead of asking why, we can ask what? What God would you have me do here? Maybe we won’t know why this side of eternity.

Hagar decides to file her why questions away and instead embraces the what answer that God gives her. She accepts her situation, however unfair, and puts her trust in God, saying, “You are the God who sees me, I have now seen the One who sees me.” She trusts His judgment and goes back to her mistress. Trusts even though her situation didn’t go the way she hoped. Trusts because not only is He the God who sees and hears — He is the God who knows.

What situation are you struggling with today? Have you brought it to God? There is no situation that is too far out of God’s reach. The same God who showed up to Hagar in the desert is available to you today. Share with us in the comments!

*Updated October 29, 2018.

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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An Anchor in Illness

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Recent stories in the news have brought individuals to the forefront that have chosen to die on their own terms. My last post focused on Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old terminal cancer patient, who decided to take her life this past weekend rather than suffer with the pain of cancer.

In similar form, Robin Williams surprised everyone with his suicide a few months ago. In contrast to Maynard, Williams did not announce his decision to the public beforehand but instead went quietly into his room, armed with a belt, and never came out again. His widow cited that Williams’ depression over a Parkinson’s diagnosis had contributed to his suicide.

Although their methods were different, both Maynard and Williams had one thing in common: They wanted a say in their final moments. Death looked more appealing to them than a finale that involved uncertainty and a loss of control over their bodies.

The Stress of Illness

Illness is tough. I haven’t battled anything as monumental as a cancer or Parkinson’s diagnosis, but I have to admit that even my relatively small struggles to get my health back after my recent miscarriage and hospitalization added to my stress and depression. Even though I had been promised a full recovery after three months, I still felt pretty discouraged when I looked at the healthy, happy people around me, and I felt confined to the four walls of my house because a quick trip to the grocery store inspired my heart to race and my head to throb.

I couldn’t remember dates and names very well because my hemoglobin levels had dipped so low that my head was in a constant fog. Following my son around the playground for an hour made me tired enough to be in bed all afternoon. In addition, I felt a sting when family members didn’t exactly rush to my aid or even remember to check up on me. I felt very alone.

My husband reminded me that at least I had an end in sight, but what if I had been told that I didn’t have a chance of recovery? As I was pondering the effect of my own health situation, I felt the Lord speak to me about the hope He gives us to combat the challenges of illness.

Perhaps these truths will be of encouragement to you as well in whatever situation you find yourself in:

1. His hope is an anchor for the soul.

I love these words from Hebrews 6:18 that are now a line in a popular Hillsong worship song. His hope literally “anchors” us when we feel the worry and strain of what is happening in our body and feel that our emotions are getting carried away. A verse I felt really spoke to me after my miscarriage was Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” We can rest in health or illness because we can trust Him as the author and finisher of our life.

2. Another source of comfort for us is that we have access to the God of the universe.

The greatest physician of all, the Creator who formed our body. One of the benefits of being a Christian is that He heals all of our diseases (Psalm 103:3). He doesn’t guarantee a healing, and I don’t understand why some get healing and some do not; however, we have the hope that we can approach Him and ask for that healing.

3. Even if we do not receive healing in the way we want, we can trust in the fact that all suffering has to go through Him first.

If it His will that we do not get a complete healing, as believers, we can know that He will walk through the illness with us. He will provide comfort for us and strength along the way.

When I was on my way to the hospital because I was having symptoms that I suspected were that of a pregnancy loss, I felt the sun shining on me through the car window, and I felt the most wonderful sense of peace. I kept hearing the words in my head, “You can let this go. You can let this pregnancy go.” I just felt this sense of strength girding me up on all sides, even though I was in the midst of the crisis of losing my baby.

Once we made it to the hospital, I continued to feel a supernatural calm. When I was waiting to go into surgery after learning I was having a miscarriage, a wonderful woman from my church who just happened to be working in the operating room that night popped her head in and prayed for me before the surgery. I felt that God had sent her to my side to further ease me through the process.

And, again, when I was released and the horrible reality of what had happened had washed over me, I felt literally that the dark, bottomless hole in my soul I had fallen into was sewn up by a master surgeon.

This is not to say that I did not experience grief or pain — because I did and am still processing through that — but I had a wonderful help in the midst of my crisis.

4. Lastly, we have the hope that our trials and suffering are temporary.

I get so caught up in trying to have perfect circumstances, but that is not what the Bible tells me is the reality for this life. The Bible assures us that we can expect trials and suffering (John 16:33) but to “take heart” and not be thrown off by difficulty. Another “anchor” for us in our suffering is that we have hope that all of this present trouble will pass away. It encourages us to know that while our physical body is deteriorating, our spirit is ever being renewed — and we will experience the perfect circumstances we desire when this life is over. The longing we feel for this is normal; all of creation longs for it too (Romans 8:22).

Conclusion:

Illness is stressful and hard. It changes the dynamics of relationships and can be a heavy burden to bear. There is nothing easy about losing physical capabilities and having to rely on others to take care of us. However, God’s desire is not for us to succumb to worry or fear but instead rest in Him — the hope that “anchors” us in our trials.

*Updated November 18, 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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