The Real Reasons Bad Things Happen to Good People

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead~ 2ndCorinthians 1:8-9 NIV

 I had a bad week.  

 I will not weary you with all the details.  I will tell you that my misery involved some irritating and insane demands on my time (which I didn’t have a lot of this week). Then there was a hostile, ungrateful and foul-mouthed person who shall remain nameless, a puppy who has zero intention of ever being house-trained and some hurt feelings that were mostly over a misunderstanding but my feelings were still hurt. Sunday and almost all of Monday was spent dealing with a (normally very sweet) teenager who is doing her level best to remind my husband and I that she is still a teenager. My misery was made complete with a badly pulled hamstring.   

 Sigh.

 By midweek, I was feeling pretty dang sorry for myself. So, I spent some time grumpily telling God my troubles and complaining about the obvious injustice of it all (like He didn’t already know). About half way through the list I swear I heard a still small voice say quite clearly:

 Count it all joy.

 I was neither amused nor joyful. Truthfully, I was more than a little irritated with the Almighty for whispering that particular Bible verse into my heart at that exact moment. All I really wanted from life right then was to vent a bit, feel sorry for my wretched and pitiful self and have the Almighty place His seal of approval on my pity party.

 Seriously. Not amused. Not joyful.

 Shortly afterward, I had a weirdly painful moment of spiritual clarity. It occurred to me that as a 21stcentury American I probably (obviously) have some fairly twisted views on what exactly constitutes a trial and what I was put on earth for. Truth-be-told in my heart-of-hearts I tend to think (unconsciously, most of the time) that the point of life is for me to be happy, milk as many experiences out of life as possible and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

 It occurred to me that this isn’t exactly a biblical view of life, but in the interest of proving myself wrong I spent some time diligently searching the Scriptures and I could not find a single verse that commands God’s people to “enjoy life” or “work towards personal fulfillment” or “have an awesome week”. Rather the Scriptures have a lot to say about hardship and why even good people seem to experience so much of it in this life (1stThessalonians 3:3). Following are four reasons Christians experience trials and hardship:

 Crummy experiences mold us into the image of Christ-

 I sincerely wish trips to Disney land made people more Christ-like but in my experience, they simply do not get the job done. It is the tough stuff of life that prepares us for future events (Genesis 37-47), eliminates our rough edges and molds us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Sigh.

 Difficulties in life build compassion for others and can be the catalyst for future ministry-

 For some reason I will never completely understand human beings are nearly incapable of understanding the needs of others until they experience those needs for themselves or they find themselves in a similar situation. Because God wants His people to be lovers of justice, doers of good and compassionate towards one another (Ephesians 2:10, Ephesians 4:32, Hebrews 10:24). There are times in life when God will allow His people to experience a hurt or injustice so that we will have a desire to fight injustice on behalf of others or provide comfort to the hurting (2ndCorinthians 1:3-7).   

 Hardships allow us to see our blind-spots and weakness more clearly-

 Regrettably, salvation does not spontaneously bring spiritual or moral perfection (Philippians 2:12, 2ndCorinthians 4:17).  The fancy-pants theological term for the oftentimes slow process of being perfected in our faith is called sanctification. Sanctification is a process that begins at the point of salvation and continues until the moment of our death. There is nothing like seeing our own negative or ugly response to a difficulty, problem or unpleasant person to help us clearly see what still needs to be sanctified (perfected) in our character.

 Difficulties in life drive us to prayer and prayer is an important part of the sanctification process-

 Prayer is the way we build intimacy and friendship with God (1st Peter 3:12). It is also the only way for sinful, fallen people to understand God and His plans (Philippians 4:6, Hebrews 5:7) clearly. Sadly, most of us (including me) are a lot less likely to pray when life is easy and everything is going our way. So, God in His infinite wisdom sometimes brings trouble into our lives so we will take our troubles to Him. In the process He provides love, comfort, strength and peace in our times of trouble as He mold us into the image of His son.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winning the Battle Everyone Has to Fight at Some Point

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged~ Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

It’s been a long couple of weeks and I have found myself in a nasty battle with the d-word:

Discouragement

 It wasn’t one great-big-awful-thing that had me feeling down. Rather, it was just a bunch of irksome stuff that coalesced into a brutal case of discouragement.

 Part of the problem is situational: I live in Washington state and it’s January. I have not seen even a glimpse of the sun for more than a couple of minutes at a time in months. The vitamin D tablets I’ve been munching on are simply not getting the job done anymore. I am in desperate need of some actual sunshine. Some other problems compounding that issue were a tense meeting, our beloved little dog died and I have a problem that affects me personally that I have zero control over. On top of all that a mean person said some hurtful things that hit a little too close to home and I had a hard time getting over them.

 I am keenly aware of the fact that none of my problems are truly significant. I have a roof over my head, a solid marriage, healthy children, a relationship with God and some close friends that I trust. In other words, all the truly significant stuff in is still okay in my world.

 However, knowing all that did not stop me from wallowing around in negativity like a pig in the mud. I spent the better part of a day eating my feelings and focusing endlessly on the negative.

 Just as I reached the apex of my pity-party, I had an uncomfortable but essential insight into the situation. I knew at that moment that if I didn’t find a way to get a grip on myself I was going to fall into pit of discouragement and stay there indefinitely, and the longer I stayed the harder it was going to be to get out.

 Discouragement left to fester is potentially dangerous from a spiritual perspective. Discouragement is not a sin (thank God). However, it is a reaction to circumstances that can easily mutate into something more permanent like despair or more sinister like bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). After my recent epiphany, I have come to believe that the key to dealing with discouragement effectively is to firmly grasp hold of the four following principles.

 Understand that discouragement is simply part of living in a fallen world-

 Admittedly, recognizing this reality changes exactly nothing. However, embracing the fact that EVERYONE goes through periods of discouragement does help put our feelings in perspective and it keeps us from buying into the lie that the universe is picking on us in a unique or personal way (John 16:33).

 Do not fall into the trap of focusing only on what can’t be changed-

 One of the truly dangerous things about discouragement is that it can blind us to answers that are right in front of us (Exodus 6:9). Discouragement transforms even really smart, really spiritual people into one of those annoying souls who always has a really great reason why whatever solution is offered (no matter how practical, workable or wise the solution might be) will not work in their particular situation. Unless you want to be that guy (or girl) it is essential we don’t let the emotion of discouragement drive our decision-making or willingness to apply solutions to our problems.

 Find something to be thankful for-

 Thankfulness alone will not magically transform an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one (sorry). That said, Christians are commanded to be thankful (Hebrews 12:28, Colossians 3:15, Colossians 4:2) even in less than ideal circumstances (1st Thessalonians 5:18). I think this is because the act of offering gratitude to God takes our focus off our problems and frees us up to see possibilities that we were previously blind to. Thankfulness reminds us that there is more to this life than problems and trouble, it reorders our focus and helps us to see the good in life. The ability to see something (anything) good in a bad situation really is a game-changer when we are stuck in a pit of discouragement.

 Trust that God is working on your behalf in spite of what circumstances are telling you-

This is obviously easier said than done, especially when negative circumstances look and feel insurmountable. But believing the truth of God’s word, rather than what circumstances are telling us, really is the essence of faith (Hebrews 11:1) and it is how we please God (Hebrews 11:6, Galatians 3:9).  

Why We Should All Stop Blaming God for Stuff He Had Nothing to Do With

 Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God~ Job 1:21-22 NASB

 It’s been a strange couple of weeks.

There have been moments when I felt as if I might be stuck in a slightly off-kilter version of the movie Groundhog Day. I have had numerous conversations with all sorts of different people who all have vastly different stories but the exact same problem.

 At the heart of their individual problems is a situation most of us will experience in our journey through this life. The details of our individual stories differ but at the root of problem is always a terrible or unjust situation that is completely outside of our control.

 Sometimes we are born into said situation.

 One of the saddest consequences of living in a fallen world is the untold number of children who (through no fault of their own) lose the parental lottery at conception. Those children are subsequently born to immoral, inattentive or sometimes even sadistic parents. The fallout from being born to selfish or cruel parents is experienced well into adulthood.

 Other times the situation manifests itself later in life.

 A spouse we assumed would always be loyal isn’t. Someone we love is the target of senseless violence. A friend who claimed to be a Christian betrays our trust. The child we raised right goes terribly wrong. A boss or colleague steals the credit. We are the victims of injustice or prejudice. A loved one dies before we think it’s time. Someone tells a lie and our reputation is hurt by that lie.

 The problem always begins with being wronged or cheated in some profoundly unpleasant way. Hurt and anger follow, anger takes root in hearts and we do what humans do when we get angry about things that are unjust, unreasonable and completely outside of our control.

 We blame God for stuff He had nothing to do with.

 We blame God because blaming God gives us an outlet for our rage and because it makes us feel better, at least temporally. Nonetheless, blaming God for things He had nothing to with actually compounds our problems rather than solving them.

 Anger is not necessarily a “bad” or a “sinful” emotion. There is such a thing as righteous, just and even healthy anger. Some things in this world are simply horrible, and horrible things ought to make us angry. If they don’t there’s a problem.

That said.

Anger misdirected at God—rather than injustice— causes people to act out in sinful, inappropriate, and astonishingly self-destructive ways. Sometimes we indiscriminately vent our wrath on undeserving people or hurt others in the same way we were hurt. Others choose to abuse alcohol, engage in sinful sexual behaviors or use drugs in a misguided attempt to numb the pain and forget the hurt.

Sigh.                                                                                                          

 We blame God for the actions of people because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of God, human sovereignty and how God relates to His creation. God creates each person wanting them to do good things with the gift of life given to them. That said, God is not a creepy puppet master who forces people to obey His commands or do His bidding. God gave humanity freewill and we are able to use our freedom in anyway we please.

 Most folks are comfortable with this arrangement so long as it applies to their own personal choices. However, when individuals use their freewill in a way that hurts others we become enraged with God, the one being in all of existence that is the most outraged and brokenhearted by the depravity and ugliness of the human race.

 It is critical to our psychological and spiritual health we remember that God does not cause people to do cruel, insensitive or evil things. Nor does He endorse or support anyone’s bad behavior. God hates evil. That said, just because God allows something to take place it does not mean that anyone is actually getting away with anything.

 God promises in His word that there will come a day when every human being who has ever lived will be judged for what they did and didn’t do here on earth (Revelation 20:11-15). It is imperative we remember that NOTHING goes unnoticed by God and every deed, thought and motivation will ultimately come under His judgment (Hebrews 4:12-13).

 Until that day, we need to go to God with our pain, rather than blaming Him for it. Blaming God for stuff He had nothing to do with inevitably leads to shunning the only one who can give us the comfort, peace and healing we really need.

 

Surviving a Spiritual Dry Season

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord~ Amos 8:11

 Spiritual dry-spells or desert experiences typically begin with a sense that God is far away and our prayers are not being heard (Psalm 63:1). The sense that God is far away leads to the logical (but erroneous) conclusion that He is deliberately ignoring us. This predictably leads to an overwhelming sense of confusion. We feel lost and begin to believe we have been forgotten or abandoned by God. Every obstacle and disappointment feels like a rebuke and becomes a verification of the belief that God has turned on us.

 Some Christians react to their angst and confusion proactively. They step-up church attendance, pray with greater fervency, and work their spiritual tails off in a valiant effort to make God happy and get Him back on their side. Others become depressed and despondent. Some become irate and bitter, supposing God has turned on them. Spiritual pity parties and noble attempts to placate God are natural responses. However, these responses will not fix anything and may even lead to spiritual regression or rejection of the faith altogether.

 If this describes you, there are a few things you need to understand. First, you are not the only believer to experience a dry season. Some of the very best and most committed of God’s people suffered through a dry season at one time or another. Naomi, David, Elijah, Jonah, Jeremiah, Esther and even Jesus (Matthew 27:46) went through periods where they felt God was remote and uninterested in their situation.

 No matter how you feel at this moment, you must understand that God has not stopped loving you, nor is He punishing you. His silence is not evidence of desertion. He still cares. He has a plan for you and He has no intention of allowing your pain to go on forever. Hang on to that. Memorize and meditate on Isaiah 42:3:

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick, He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.

 A spiritual dry season is not the time for self-pity but it is a good time for some healthy self-examination. God never moves away from us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 37:28) . He is steady and unchanging. We on the other hand are prone to wander, sometimes without realizing it. I have learned that when God feels far away it’s a good time to ask some hard questions:

 Am I making a daily effort to connect with God through prayer and Bible study?

 Is there some area of my life that has become a foothold for the enemy (Ephesians 4:26-28)?

 Have my personal dreams or desires become demands that I make of God?

 Am I harboring resentment in my heart because God has not answered a prayer to my liking?

  If the honest answer to any of the above questions is “yes” then change direction as rapidly as possible. Make a determined effort to connect with God, repent of wrong attitudes, deal with sin and spend some additional time in prayer realigning your dreams with God’s will. If, on the other hand, none of the above seem to apply to your situation then you should assume that God is taking you through a season of refinement and growth.

 Because we live in a fallen world, spiritual growth rarely comes easy and is always incremental. Growth comes as we shed old behaviors and change the mindsets and attitudes that allowed those wrong behaviors to flourish. Letting go of old behaviors and attitudes empowers us to reach new levels of spiritual understanding. The process is agonizing because our flesh longs to hang on to the old ways of functioning and looking at life. This painful process is the only way we can be transformed into the likeness of Jesus.

 We can fight growth or we can embrace it. We fight it by willfully refusing to see the issues in our life that need to be addressed. We embrace growth by asking God with a sincere heart to show us what exactly needs to happen in our lives for us to become more like Jesus. It is this place of humility and submission that allows God to do in us what needs to be done and frees us up to reestablish our sense of connection with God.