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:
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).
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart~ Jeremiah 29:13 NIV
I love the church.
I believe with every fiber of my being that the local church is God’s chosen instrument for proclaiming truth to the world, training believers for works of service and transforming heathens and moral reprobates into faithful Jesus followers. For that reason, I am convinced that every Christian ought to regularly attend a local church and contribute their time, energy, and treasure into making that church a great place to worship, learn and grow.
That said, I also have a whole host of weird pet peeves when it comes to church and how we do church at this time in history. Basically, I have an aversion to anything weird, gimmicky or shallow. Those things include (but are not limited to) fog machines, unfriendly congregations, worship songs that remind me to breathe, Pastors that dress like homeless people and a lack of relevant teaching or opportunities to learn.
These peeves (and many others) have been well documented in some of my previous blog posts. I just sort of assumed (until recently) that I had discovered and explored every single one of my many peeves related to church and had nothing left to write about on the subject. I was wrong.
I have discovered a new one.
Everywhere I turn these days I am being told that I should speak the name of Jesus over my problems and worries. If I am afraid, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have cancer, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I need money I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have a drug or alcohol addiction, I should speak the name of Jesus. This advice is usually followed up with the instruction to “just walk in it”.
Whatever the heck that means.
My concerns with this trend might appear to be a bit silly and trivial on the surface, but unlike some of my other peeves this one really isn’t all that petty. This one actually has some potentially serious practical and theological ramifications.
Christians should understand that nowhere in the Bible are we told to speak the name of Jesus over anything. We are told to believe in the name of Jesus (1 John 3:23). We are told to openly profess the name of Jesus (Hebrews 13:15). We are also told to baptize people into the name of Jesus (Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5) and we are commanded to speak the name of Jesus as we teach the truth about God and call people to repentance (Matthew 28:16-20). Not once are we told to speak the name of Jesus over our problems, anxieties or doubts.
Speaking a word (any word) over something in an effort to change it, is a practice that has more in common with witchcraft than it does with Christianity. I am NOT suggesting that someone who tells you to speak the name of Jesus over your problems is a witch or is active in witchcraft. I am saying that simply speaking the word ‘Jesus’ over a problem, worry or concern will not solve it and might even distract you from doing the things God wants you to do in order to solve your problems.
I promise you that God does not want you to speak the name of Jesus over your bratty two-year-old, job loss, addiction, crumbling marriage or serious medical condition. That’s just not how God works. Instead, God wants you to do these three things:
Understand that tests and trials are simply a part of this life-
We live in a fallen world, and sadly bad things happen in our fallen world (1st Thessalonians 3:2-4, 1st Peter 1:6). People get hurt and sick, they lose their jobs, and sometimes they turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with negative feelings and traumatic experiences. Other times people are evil and cruel and the innocent get hurt or exploited. On the positive side of all of that, God will use those trials to make you a better, wiser more compassionate person if you ask Him to (James 1:2, James 1:12, 2nd Corinthians 1:3-6).
Seek God on a deeper level-
More than anything God wants you to work at getting to know Him better in the midst of your trial. He wants you to become a student of the Word and someone who runs to Him in prayer with all your fears, sinful inclinations, insecurities and problems. Doing that will give you a supernatural source of strength, knowledge and wisdom that will empower you to deal with whatever trial has come into your life, in a way that pleases God and benefits you.
Become increasingly more obedient to God-
We solve our problems in this life by first identifying areas of sin in our lives, repenting of those sins and then doing more and more of what God instructs us to do in His word. Romans 12:1-21, 2nd Peter 1:5-8, Colossians 3:1-26 and Ephesians chapters 4-6 give believers abundant instruction on the behaviors Christians should be embracing and eliminating in their lives. However, eliminating sinful behavior is not enough. We also have to ask God to help us (sometimes repeatedly) change our hearts, hate sin and see life the way He sees it.
Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there~ Genesis 39:1 NIV
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I believed with all of my heart that I was one of those unicorn-like individuals who actually liked and even thrived on change.
I know now I was an idiot who probably aggravated the fire out of everyone unfortunate enough to have a conversation with me about the subject. I am sure there were those who contemplated homicide, as I waxed eloquent on my love for change and ability to adapt to whatever came my way.
Then along about five years ago I had an unpleasant reality check in the form of at least a dozen different changes I did not like, want or understand.
The good news is that I got to be a lot less annoying really quickly as I figured out that I (like all normal people) really only like change I have at least some control over. Change is wonderful when you’re discussing it in the abstract or contemplating something fun, like a move to a new city or a job promotion.
Change is just not nearly as thrilling when it is thrust upon you like ugly and impromptu blind date; or when it comes in the shape of something awful and unwanted like a job loss, a car accident, a death in the family, a grim diagnosis or a divorce you didn’t want.
As a Christian I have confidence that nothing enters our lives without God’s foreknowledge. I also believe that if we seek to live for God in the midst of circumstances we do not like or understand, good will eventually come out of even the ugliest of situations (Romans 8:28). Because I truly believe all that, I had to come to terms with the fact that God had a purpose for the changes disturbing my peaceful reality.
I learned a few lessons during that period in my life; and not just to shut my pie-hole about circumstances I had yet to experience. I also learned that whether or not we barely survive changes or thrive in the middle of it all depends on whether or not we understand and live-out these four truths…
Unwelcome change brings losses that should be grieved-
I am not intimating that the trauma of an unexpected pregnancy is somehow equal to the trauma of the death of loved one. However, both changes involve loss and all losses deserve at least a quick trip through the five stages of grief. Taking the time to feel the feelings that come with loss, rather than pretending those feelings don’t exist, will prevent emotional problems (such as depression) and spiritual problems (such as bitterness) in the future.
Guard your heart against bitterness and hate-
The greatest danger in unwelcome change is bitterness. We can easily become embittered towards the people who wronged us, didn’t see our value or who betrayed our trust in some way. We can also become bitter towards God for not working our circumstances out in a different way. Bitterness towards anyone is poison to our souls and must be dealt with decisively by grieving the loss, forgiving the jerks that hurt us and accepting the new normal.
Embrace the opportunities change brings-
When one door closes another opens. However, we can get so caught-up in what we are losing that we don’t see the opportunities that opening up right in front of us. If you are in the center of an unwelcome change, ask God to show you the doors He’s opening on your behalf. I guarantee you there are some.
Unwanted changes are a time for reflection and self-improvement-
I don’t believe God brought unwanted change into my life because I was doing anything wrong or sinful. However, in retrospect I was really bad at saying “no” and standing-up for myself. As a result I was going in a direction others had chosen for me and I had little inclination to do the things I was actually called to do. That period in my life gave me the downtime I needed to self-analyze and eventually form more of a backbone. I also got to know God and myself a whole lot better. In the process of all that reflection I figured out who I really was, how to say “no” and what I was really good at.
Joseph (Genesis 37-50) is the poster-child for surviving and prospering in the midst of unwelcome change. He was sold as a slave by his brothers, jailed for a crime he didn’t commit and forgotten by the person who had the power to rescue him and yet he never stopped learning, growing and serving God. As a result of his willingness to embrace the opportunities that came with unwelcome he literally changed his world.
And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God”~ Genesis 44:5a, 7, 8a
I rarely worry during the day and I’m usually out like a light within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. I would love to tell you it’s because I am some sort of a super Christian who has completely conquered the sin of worry.
However, that would be a terrible lie.
I do worry sometimes. Sadly, it’s never at an hour when I can constructively deal with issues or problems. For some reason I will never entirely grasp, my brain simply prefers to focus in on all the unsolvable problems of life around three-o-clock in the morning. It never fails to amaze me how I can feel perfectly relaxed and anxiety-free at ten only to wake up with an extensive list of thoroughly bizarre concerns that appear to require my full attention just a few hours later.
I was back at it the other night, wide-awake at 2:45 a.m. staring at the ceiling, mulling over an issue that has been vexing me on and off for months. The situation in question can only be categorized as an interpersonal disaster. I cannot figure out for the life of me how exactly the situation got to be so bad or even where it all went wrong in the first place.
Looking back, there are things I could have (and probably should have) done differently. That said, I’m not sure doing things differently would have improved the outcome all that much. The whole thing is a big, stupid mess that appears to have been fated to become a big, stupid mess from day one. And the mess just keeps getting messier no matter what I do (or stop doing) to fix it.
As I lay awake in the wee hours of the night praying for wisdom, it struck me that there are times in this life when it appears as if God has simply ordained trouble for people. It happened to some of God’s best and brightest. Paul, Joseph, Naomi and David are just a few examples of people who found themselves in serious trouble they did not create and were powerless to escape without God’s intervention.
When Jesus promised we would have trouble in this life (John 16:33), He was not overstating facts. Friends betray our confidence, the wrong people get elected, persecution occurs, financial misfortune appears seemingly out of thin air. As if all that were not enough, spouses are sometimes prone to wander, terrorists attack without reason or forewarning and kids who were raised right can still go horribly wrong. Even the seemingly most secure and peaceful of situations can and sometimes do transform in the course of a single day.
God’s purposes are largely hidden and almost always easier to understand in retrospect. Sometimes, as with Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth, God has a much larger plan that is unfolding, and our pain is simply a stepping-stone to our true purpose in this life. Other times, God uses trouble to prepare us for responsibilities or blessings beyond anything we could possibly imagine, as He did with Joseph and David. Other times, trouble or persecution is simply the natural consequence of a life of obedience, as with the apostle Paul.
God also uses trouble to reveal truth we need to see about ourselves. In the process of revealing those truths He refines us and makes us better people. Sometimes God uses trouble to draw us into a closer relationship with Him, and sometimes God uses trouble to reorder our priorities and steer us back to our original calling.
If you live long enough and serve faithfully enough you will likely find yourself in the middle of a mess you did not make and have no clue how to fix. When trouble comes and life feels out of control, the natural response is to wonder what we did wrong or if God has somehow abandoned us. That response makes sense on a natural level but is an enormous waste of spiritual time and emotional energy.
Rather, we should get busy praying for wisdom, direction and the ability to be flexible because something infinitely bigger and better is likely right around the corner.
The trouble you are facing today is simply God preparing you for the blessings and responsibilities of tomorrow.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength~ Isaiah 40:29-31a
For the most part my son was a sweet and obedient little boy. However, there was one area he struggled throughout his childhood. Alex was (and is now) a kid who routinely spoke his mind, irrespective of the appropriateness of the situation.
When Alex was six my husband took him to a local home improvement store where he saw a man dressed as a woman for the first time. Alex stared at the man for just a second or two, gave a slight nod, as if he had made his mind up about something significant and loudly declared that if men were going to wear dresses they ought to at least shave their legs. Alex charmed everyone within earshot with his thoroughly naïve but straightforward appraisal of the situation, except of course, the man wearing the dress.
My son’s inclination to boldly speak his mind was not limited to the questionable wardrobe choices of others. Nor did it start when he was six. It started in early toddlerhood. To my utter horror, He would routinely ask total strangers the most personal questions imaginable. He also made a regular habit of informing the parents of other children when he felt their kids were misbehaving. He was notorious for correcting or contradicting any opinion he believed to be based on misinformation. Regardless of the age or person giving the opinion.
As awkward, embarrassing and downright irritating all that was, nothing matched the level of humiliation I felt when my son would decide was ready to leave a gathering or a play date. Once he made-up his mind that he had enough fun for the day, he would approach me (he never once did this privately) and announce loudly that he was “done” and “ready for it to be over”. Once my initial inclination to hide under the furniture passed, I was typically overwhelmed with a very un-motherly yearning to murder my own offspring. For nearly a year of his childhood most of our outings ended with a lengthy lecture on the importance of not actually saying everything we think or feel.
Alex’s desire to be done with any situation he wasn’t enjoying anymore was maddening. However, I do understand his feelings. Sometimes even grown-ups are done with a situation or trial long before God has decided it’s time for us to move on.
Lately, I have found myself saying some things to God that sound remarkably like the things my toddler used to say to me.
It is not as if the trial we’ve experienced has been the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone. We have a great deal to be thankful for. We have a steady income, our kids are healthy, none of them are currently using drugs or openly rebelling against God, we have a roof over our heads and food on the table. My husband and I are healthy and our marriage is solid. In other words all the stuff that really matters in this life is still okay in our world.
All that said, having a house that has sat on a stagnant market for the better part of a year has been hard. Our lives are currently on hold. The youngest is struggling emotionally. Living apart has been tough (to say the least) and our checking account needs CPR. However none of those issues compare to the spiritual bewilderment we have experienced as we waited for God to act on our behalf.
There have been many times over the course of the last eight months when I have felt as if we were being tested (and failing badly). I now know I was wrong, at least about the testing part. We have been reading the situation all-wrong. It’s not a test.
It’s an opportunity.
Like any trial the last eight months has been an opportunity to learn to love and trust God even when life is a lot less than easy and the answers are hard to find. It’s been an opportunity to trust and to proclaim the goodness of God even when He has felt far away. It’s been opportunity to show the world what faith really looks like (Hebrews 11:1).
I know this likely won’t be last time I will be given an opportunity that feels like a test. I am hoping and praying that the next time an opportunity disguised, as a misfortune comes around I will have the wisdom to recognize it for what it is sooner.
I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept~ Genesis 50:17
They have become ubiquitous on Facebook.
Photos of a man standing at sunset, back to the camera arms spread wide in an expression of complete and glorious freedom. Or sometimes the photo is of a young woman dressed in white strolling serenely down a long tree-lined path, suggesting a future filled with joy and endless possibilities.
The quotes accompanying these images are sometimes spiritually questionable. Others are far too syrupy and sentimental for my taste. However, the vast majority of quotes on the subject are thought provoking and more than a little convicting…
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies~ Martin Luther King Jr.
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong~ Gandhi
Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness~ Corrie Ten Boom
Over the course of the last few years I have had the “opportunity” to work through two unrelated and dissimilar situations, both requiring me to forgive some massive and very personal hurts. I concluded after working through those situations that none of the quotes I have seen tell the complete story of forgiveness. Sappy sentimentalities and inspiring quips extolling the virtues and benefits of forgiveness inevitably miss a core truth.
Forgiveness is hard.
Sometimes it hurts almost as much as the offense that necessitated the forgiving. If the offense was particularly personal or the person who did the hurting was someone we trusted. The act of forgiving that person can hurt to the point of physical agony. Forgiveness is tough because involves a release of the right to seek revenge on someone who doubtless has earned some sort of retaliation. The letting go of what is logically a right can feel overwhelmingly unjust.
Forgiveness is a foundational (albeit sometimes unpopular) doctrine of the Christian faith. God forgives without hesitation, and He clearly expects His people to forgive in the same spirit. Forgiving is so important to God that it’s a prerequisite for obtaining His forgiveness (Matthew 6:15).
God knows enough about people to know that when we refuse to forgive, unforgiveness transforms us in a profoundly ugly way. We eventually become incapable of focusing on anything but our wounds and resentment. The relentless emphasis on the negative causes our patience to shrivel and our irritation with everyone to increase. Over time we inevitably twist into a hostile, unsympathetic and nasty version of ourselves.
Regrettably, knowing all this does not make forgiving any easier.
It is considerably more difficult (if not impossible) to forgive without God’s assistance and power. Some offenses are simply too great to forgive on our own; we acquire the help we need to forgive through persistent and sometimes prolonged prayer. Prayer keeps us connected to God, prevents bitterness from taking root in our hearts and empowers us to forgive the unforgivable. We pray until our feelings towards the person who did the hurting change.
Prayer also prevents people from blaming God for situations He had nothing to do with. Oftentimes, when Christians have suffered a serious offense they struggle as much with anger towards God, for allowing the hurt to happen as they do with the person who hurt them. It’s important to understand that God is not a puppet master who controls the choices of people.
Sometimes people hurt others because they are egotistical, callous or even evil. Most of the time people hurt others because they are stupid, insensitive or lack awareness of how their actions affect others. Either way, it’s profoundly unjust to hold God accountable for the actions of free people.
Forgiving would be easier if people were capable of simply forgetting offenses. We cannot do that. However, over time, with God’s assistance, we can reach a point where we are no longer held prisoner by the anger we feel towards those who have betrayed us. Forgiveness is freedom that will empower us to live a happy, useful and God-honoring life.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith~ Hebrew 12:1-2
There are a number of terms for it, some of them colorful. Sometimes it’s called “throwing in the towel” or “flaking out.” I generally refer to it as “calling it. ”The military calls it “deserting your post”, my kids call it “canning” and the English call it “bunking off”. I will not repeat the phrase my Father had for it; all you need to know is that it’s not the least bit appropriate.
Runners call it “hitting the wall.” I am partial to that particular expression because “hitting the wall” is about more than quitting. Hitting the wall is a moment in a race that appears to come out of nowhere. Suddenly the runner is overcome with negative thoughts and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead. Every muscle begs for mercy. The runner longs to just give up and go home.
Hitting the wall happens for a number of reasons, some completely outside the runner’s control. Poor weather conditions, outside distractions, fatigue, illness or lack of proper training for that particular race can cause even the most seasoned athlete to long to bow out of the race and hit the nearest Five Guys. Whatever the cause, the bottom-line is simple. When a runner hits the wall, they have a choice to make. Do they give-up and go home or do they dig deep and muster the strength to finish the race?
Runners are not the only ones faced with that choice.
At some point in the Christian life, every follower of Jesus hits a spiritual wall: a dark and ugly fork in the road where the walk of faith simply feels too hard and not worth pursuing. Deep down inside they don’t know if they can or even want to keep going. No Christian wants to admit they’ve hit the wall but everyone does at some point.
Hitting the spiritual wall can come as a result of deep grief or profound personal loss. Sometimes it comes after a long period of remaining faithful in the face of what feels like endless disappointment. Mistreatment by other Christians can cause even the most mature believer to hit the wall. Other times, it’s a result of relentless attacks from the enemy. It can happen because of lack of attention to our spiritual life. Sometimes it’s a result of chronic overwork or discouragement.
The causes matter, but not nearly as much as our response.
There are two common responses to hitting the wall. The first is to get angry and run as far from God as possible. This reaction is born out of the belief that God could have and should have prevented whatever circumstances led to our confusion and misery. This all-too common reaction makes sense on a human level. However, it inevitably leads to spiritual disaster and is exactly what the enemy of our souls wants us to do.
The healthy response to the hopelessness that occurs when we hit the wall is to run towards God. Running towards God begins with an honest conversation. We need to talk to Him about our situation and our feelings about it. This can be scary, many believers balk at the notion of being honest with God. It feels sinful and wrong to admit our anger and confusion out loud. Being real with God isn’t something we do for God. God already knows exactly what we think and how we feel (Hebrews 4:12). We get real with God for our own good, to keep from getting stuck in bitterness.
Once we talk things out with God, it is time for an evaluation of our life and attitudes. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions:
Is there sin we need to repent of (Acts 3:19)?
Are we spending time in prayer and reading the Bible (Hebrews 2:2-4)?
Are we isolating ourselves from other Christians (Hebrews 10:25)?
Are we blaming God for the devil’s work (Luke 22:31)?
Are we praising Him in spite of our circumstances (Psalm 22)?
Are we believing God will work out His plan for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28)?
Are we walking in faith or fear (Isaiah 41:10)?
Once any necessary repenting is done, it’s time to trust. Trust that God’s love for you has not changed or faded. Trust that He is still on your side. Trust that this miserable, awful trial you are enduring will make you wiser, more compassionate and better able to serve. Most importantly, trust that God is good and believe that better days are right around the corner.
Because they are.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed~ 1st Peter 1:6-7
Every December, as the year comes to a close, I try to spend some time during the final weeks of the month mentally recapping the past year. I mull over the good as well as the not-so-good. I spend some time thanking God for the good and pray for the wisdom to make the bad stuff better in the coming year.
As my mind meandered through the events of 2015, it did not take me long to conclude that this past year will not go on record as one of the better years in Price family history. It was, in fact, awful. 2015 was one of those years where everything was a struggle. Nothing worked out the way we hoped it would, or in a way that made any sense at all to any of us. There have certainly been blessings, but for the most part even the blessings this year were born out of enormous difficulty and came as result of some hard-fought battles.
Don’t get me wrong; I believe with all of my heart that God is firmly in control of all of the events of our life, even the less than perfect ones. I also believe that our happy ending will be arriving at some point in the (hopefully) near future but we sure haven’t experienced it as of this writing.
I am sharing our story not because I want to bum you out with my closing blog of 2015. I am sharing because I believe it’s imperative that Christians are truthful with each other about our struggles. If we always put on a happy face and pretend not to have have problems or stress or, in my case, an unbelievably crummy year, we will never really understand the reason God allows struggles and heartache in the lives of His people.
Not understanding the why of the tough, bothersome, tedious junk can be spiritually confusing. Living in a state of spiritual confusion tends to make us hard, bitter and resentful and can cause us to leave the life of faith altogether.
There are all kinds of reasons why God allows us to struggle or suffer through stuff that FEELS completely unnecessary. Sometimes struggles come because there are things we need to learn about ourselves. There is nothing like a little stress to show us all the attitudes and knee-jerk responses to pressure that are not exactly what Jesus would do in the same situation. We will never change what we can’t see, so it could even be argued that trials are a necessary evil that help us see what areas of our lives still need work.
Trials also prove our faith. Not to God. God knows exactly how much or little faith we all have already. Persisting through a trial with our faith firmly intact proves to you and me and all people around us that we are not just flocking to God for what He can provide. Perseverance proves our love for God and is the truest sign of salvation that there is.
Last week I was given a reminder of perhaps the most critical reason of all that God allows us to experience trials and difficulties. I had the privilege of looking someone I care deeply about in the eye and telling them in all honesty that I completely understood the weird, crazy, absurd situation they were dealing with. I could do that because I had been through something very similar just a few years before. I could assure this person that they too would survive their shock just as I had survived mine. The Apostle Paul gives us an image of how the cycle of trial and comfort works in the life of a Christian in 2nd Corinthians 1:3-5:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
My prayer for all of us this coming year is that God will comfort us in tangible way through the trials that are sure to come our way. I also pray that He will give us all many opportunities to be the hands, feet and source of comfort our hurting world will undoubtedly need in 2016.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze~ Isaiah 43: 1-2
As a rule I am not much of a worrier. Nor am I super laid-back. I am definitely not someone who has conquered worry through spiritual efforts. Rather, my inclination to avoid excessive worry is strictly practical. I have learned the hard way that worry wastes time, squanders energy and has the power to change precisely nothing. I am an outcome-oriented person cursed with a bit of a lazy streak. Consequently, I typically avoid any activity that does not ordinarily result in some sort of payoff. Worry does not achieve any sort of tangible outcome. As a result, I typically don’t worry about all that much.
Over the last few weeks I have found myself worrying about all sorts of strange issues at the oddest times of the day and night. From a strictly commonsense perspective, some of these worries actually make sense.
When we put our house up for sale almost five months ago, the market was solid and houses in our area were selling at a steady pace. Within what felt like minutes of putting OUR house on the market, it dried up. Only a handful of properties have sold in our area since August. My husband and I have been living apart for months and the arrangement is expensive.
I worry the house will never sell.
My husband has been subsisting on microwaved popcorn and cold cereal for months now. I worry he will develop scurvy or beriberi or some other rare nutritional deficiency. My handyman skills are rudimentary (to say the least) and so all the chores my husband normally does are not getting done or they’re not getting done poorly. I worry the house will fall down on us while we are sleeping. Our eleven–year-old has began to revert back to some old behaviors recently. I worry about how all this is affecting her. I worry about moving in the middle of winter, I worry we won’t move until spring or summer or that we will never move. God has provided through this whole stupid mess but that hasn’t stopped me from worrying my head off about money.
And those are just the worries that actually make some level of sense. The really weird stuff hits me hardest around three in the morning. That’s when I worry about how the dogs will adjust to the move, global politics, scary viruses becoming airborne, fiber and if we are getting enough of it and whether or not I remembered to shut the garage door. Once I exhaust those worries I move on to questioning every choice I’ve ever made and then I wonder if painting the entire house a different color will make it sell faster.
The other day I came across some much-needed encouragement from an unexpected source. The seventh and eighth chapters of Daniel recount some rather peculiar dreams that foretell some unsettling future events. The implications of the dreams are at best a bit creepy and the content is so strange that it has kept scholars and theologians debating the deeper meaning of the text for centuries.
It was not the content I found helpful. It was the context. Daniel recorded his dreams at a point in history that was both personally and politically chaotic. He was a slave who had served as an adviser to one king (Nebuchadnezzar) for all of his adult life. Nebuchadnezzar was not a great guy. He was a brutal narcissist with a capricious streak. That said, he was also a capable leader, teachable and had over time he had developed a healthy fear of Daniel’s God. Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar had proven himself to be an even more erratic and cruel leader than his granddad without the leadership abilities, teachable spirit or fear of God.
I believe God gave Daniel a peek into a future he would never live to see, in the midst of what had to have been of the scariest times of his life, to remind him and, by extension, all of us. That God has this. Whatever it is, God has it. God has our future tightly in His grasp. Nothing surprises Him. He has whatever is keeping you up at night too. Whether it’s a house that won’t sell or a health problem or a job loss, or a kid that has gone off the rails, or something even worse.
God’s got it and He has you too.