“Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty” is an apt subtitle for this book, for just like Jacob wrestled with God many centuries ago, Joni has been wrestling with God for decades, ever since she took that dive into a too shallow lake as a teenager and became a quadriplegic.
Joni doesn’t speak on suffering & healing as a lofty theologian, or as some shallow social commentator, but as a real woman who has walked through real suffering and pain for all her adult life. Unlike many sufferers, however, she has developed a rock-solid conviction of both God’s love for her and God’s sovereignty over her quadriplegia. This fusion of personal experience with Biblical truth is what makes this book so powerful.
She starts the book with a quote by John Stott: “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.” She then launches headlong into a discussion of the question of healing and God, both personally and theologically. Further chapters discuss the benefits of suffering, how the sufferer can bring God glory, regaining perspective, and the impact of suffering on the Kingdom of God.
The title of her final chapter is a phrase she has earnestly repeated over the years: “Thank you, God, for this wheelchair.” In it she opens her heart to say that she really is content, for contentment is “realizing that God has already given (me) everything that (I) need for my present happiness… If there were anything more that I needed, God would have given it to me.”
A Place of Healing is a rich treasure of wisdom & comfort to share with anyone who is struggling with any kind of suffering. Highly recommended.
“The idea that Jesus will make everything better is a lie. It’s basically biblical theology translated into the language of infomericals.” — Donald Miller
That quote, from his upcoming book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, doesn’t sound right to many people raised in Western Evangelical Christianity. They would wrinkle their brow, and say something like, “But Jesus loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life. I know He only wants the best for me. He’s here to give me an abundant life, to free the captives, to heal the sick.” Some would even quote Bible verses scattered here & there to support their conviction.
Others of us, a bit more jaded, would answer back that life just doesn’t work that way— people lose their jobs, they are hated & mistreated, they get sick & die. But when asked, “Why? Why don’t those abundant life Bible verses always apply to me? Why does God allow bad things to happen to me?” we start to stutter & stumble, often not coming up with anything really better than “Well, that’s just the way it is.”
To Understand the Answer, You Must Understand the Story
To come up with a real answer, one that is true to the Bible and to God and to our plain sense of how the world really is, we have to do two things. First, we have to cast aside a common but faulty understanding of how to read & understand the Bible. We are so tempted to find a verse in the Bible that sounds appealing, and claim that verse as our own. And so we find a verse that says Jesus is here to give us an abundant life, or a verse that says that God will grant us our desires, and we take that to be the God’s message to us. But when hardship & suffering seem to prove our cherished verses wrong, we end up thinking that either we did something wrong or that the Bible isn’t trustworthy after all.
However, we can understand God and His Word in a different and better way, by the way of story. You see, God is telling us a story with the Bible, a big story, an epic story— HIS story of the universe. Once you see the Bible as story, you realize that you can only understand the parts of a story by looking at their relationship to the whole.
Take the example of any movie. If you only see one scene of a girl yelling at a guy, you can’t say “Oh, that movie is about how she hates him!” They, more than likely, will be married by the end of the movie— but you have to watch the whole movie to understand how each scene fits into the whole story.
In precisely the same way, if you take one promise of God, whether it be blessing or cursing, and quote it by itself, without seeing how it fits into the whole story of what God is doing in the universe, you can wind up with a very distorted view of the whole picture. Professional Bible studiers actually have a name for this: they call it Systematic Theology, and there are books and books written just to help us fit all the pieces of the Bible together so we can more easily see the whole picture.
The Story Tells Us How God Works in Our Lives
For us to understand the Bible, to understand God, to understand ourselves, we must understand God’s story. In John Eldredge’s wonderful book Epic: The Story God Is Telling, he starts by asking a very important question:
What sort of tale have I fallen into? It is a question that would help us all a great deal if we wondered it for ourselves. It just might be the most important question we ever ask.
Indeed, it is the most important question we will ever ask: what is God’s story, and how do I fit into it? What is God up to in my life?
If you had to summarize God’s story in one sentence, it might read: God is creating a family of people who will be like Jesus and who will together love each other and love God forever. His plan started ages ago, before He created the universe, and has been the reason behind everything that has happened throughout history. The great writer C. S. Lewis said,
This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else… The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs… God became man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.
So our first step in understanding why Jesus won’t make everything better is to understand the story God is telling in our lives.
Pain is Part of God’s Process
Once we understand what the whole Bible is telling us, the story of how God is changing us to be more like Christ, we are ready to move to the second step: to answer the question of why bad things continue to happen to us in this life. As we study the Bible and study life, the answer becomes plain: pain is part of God’s process to make us more like Christ.
I wish that wasn’t the answer. I wish that God would make me perfectly loving and perfectly wise & perfectly humble without suffering. But the simple fact is, in his infinite love & wisdom He has chosen suffering as part of the process. It has been so with all of God’s saints, from Job to Joseph to (yes) even Jesus, who bore more pain than any of us will ever have to.
Pain can accomplish change in our souls in a way nothing else can. It is part of God’s story. Indeed, it is a part of every story we read or hear or see. Robert McKee, considered one of world’s experts on story-writing, says,
Writing a story isn’t about making your peaceful fantasies come true… You didn’t think joy could change a person, did you? Joy is what you feel when the conflict is over. But it’s conflict that changes a person. You put your characters through hell. That’s the only way we change.
McKee is right: joy feels good, but it’s not usually what changes a person. What’s true in a story is true in our lives, as well. Someone who has experienced how Jesus “won’t make everything better” is Joni Earckson Tada. Having endured over forty years as a quadripelgic, she writes,
Desperation is part of a quadriplegic’s life each and every day. For me, suffering is still that jack-hammer breaking apart my rocks of resistance every day. It’s still the chisel that God is using to chip away at my self-sufficiency and my self-motivation and my self-consumption. Suffering is still that sheepdog snapping and barking at my heels, driving me down the road to Calvary where otherwise I do not want to go.
She sees suffering as a “sandblaster” to peel away the layers of sin in her heart so she can more fully dwell in the presence of God. Suffering accomplishes this and much more in our lives, but only through God working in us. We must understand what God is up to, accept & embrace it, and pray for God to change us. Larry Crabb expresses it well in his prayer:
Work in me until more than anything else I long to become a little Christ who loves the Father as He does and who lives in this world as He did, even when loving and living like Jesus requires suffering the loss of everything I mistakenly believe is necessary for joy in this life.
So you see, Jesus won’t make everything better in this life, for to do so would ruin the story, would defeat his highest purpose of making us holy, of making us just like Him. To more deeply understand why & how God uses suffering in His story, I would commend to you the book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, which contains the writings of people like John Piper, who has suffered prostate cancer; Steve Saint, who suffered growing up in the very Amazon tribe that murdered his father, and Joni Earckson Tada. The book can read free online here.
Every Good Story Has a Happy Ending
Every good story has a happy ending. The hero may have went through much pain & suffering, but it is eclipsed by the final joy. Frodo and his companions embrace and celebrate; Maximus is reunited with his family; even old Scrooge ends up cracking a smile.
God’s story has a happy ending too; one that can fill us with hope as we look towards it. Jesus will make everything better, in His time. He will remake the world, and remove all that can hurt us. He will wipe away every tear, and then we will have our happily-ever-after, forever and ever. John Eldredge ends his book Epic with the following:
One day soon we will round a bend in the road,
and our dreams will come true.
We really will live happily ever after.
The long years in exile will be swept away
in the joyful tears of our arrival home.
Every day when we rise, we can tell ourselves,
My journey today will bring me closer to home;
it may be just around the bend.
All we long for, we shall have; all we long to be, we will be.
All that has hurt us so deeply will be swept away.
And then real life begins.
Pain is an unavoidable part of life. We all experience it, in different ways and in different degrees every day. All of us are confronted with the question, “How do I deal with the pain in my life? How do I get past it?”
Meaning is Key
One key in effectively dealing with pain lies not in what pain we experience, but how we experience it. The “how” that makes the difference is the meaning that we assign to the pain.
You see, part of what it means to be human, to be conscious, is that we assign meaning to our lives, to our life as a whole and to every individual part. The meaning we assign to something, even something very painful & hurtful, determines how we experience it. Even more to the point, the meaning you attach to something is your life, is your whole experience, and not the event itself.
A Simple Example
Here’s a very simple example: let’s say I wake up this morning and I am aching all over, I’m stiff, and I have pain even getting out of bed. I can experience this pain by thinking to myself, “I’m hurting all over. This day is going to be hard. I’m not going to be able to do everything I wanted to do. I know other people who aren’t hurting. This isn’t fair or right. I don’t know how long this is going to go on.”
That interpretation is probably my automatic, or natural, or subconscious way of experiencing the pain that starts in my mind without me even thinking about it. As I assign that meaning to what I am experiencing I am living out that experience as a function of that meaning.
However, I can step back from that automatic pattern, survey the situation, and choose differently. I can say, “The rose bed I planted yesterday looks stunning. My whole family and the whole neighborhood is going to enjoy it for years. It is beautiful. My muscles are going to heal in a few days and be stronger. I am so thankful that they served me well.”
Choose Your Meaning, Change Your Life
You see, I can choose either way to experience that physical reality of pain in my body. One way would only lead to more pain, while the other way leads to peace and strength and joy and gratitude. One physical experience of pain, two very different lives lived. Choose your meaning, change your life.
Now, I know that we all experience pain that can’t be dealt with so easily. There is physical pain that is unrelenting and seemingly purposeless, that the best medicine cannot help and that isn’t directly connected to anything good like a rose garden. There is emotional pain like the loss of a loved one or a broken relationship, there are shattered dreams of things that will never be, and there are the pains of financial, work, & commitment pressures. How do we deal with these, when there is no simple “happy face” to put on them?
What Meaning Are You Choosing Now?
To make this article real & beneficial, go ahead and think of something in your life that is painful right now. No, I don’t want a stubbed toe from last week, make it something that is causing you real & serious pain, something that is coming again and again to your thoughts and that you’re struggling with. Write it down on paper and take a hard look at it.
Got it? Good. Here’s your first step: remind yourself that it’s not a “Can I deal with this?” question, but a “How am I already dealing with this?” question. As a human, it’s not a question of if you are assigning a meaning to something painful: you are assigning a meaning, even if you don’t realize it. As humans assigning meaning is a function of being conscious and alive. So the question really does become asking ourselves, “How am I dealing with this pain? What meaning am I assigning to this hurt?”
The answer to that all-important question may not be obvious, especially if you’re not in the habit of asking it, or if the pain is strong enough to be clouding your thoughts. So let’s go over some common ways to deal with pain, to see if you can recognize which one you may be using:
It’s not that painful: this is the “making a mountain of a molehill” perspective. You hurt, and you tell yourself that it’s not that big a deal, that it’s a small thing. This works fine if the pain really is small, but if the pain is a mountain in your soul no amount of creative accounting is going to make a molehill out of it.
It will go away: this is the “time heals all wounds” strategy. Just give it time, ignore it, and it will go away. Tell that to people wracked with pain decades after the betrayal that collapsed their world. Yes, some pain does go away with time, but if the pain is serious it is not time itself that makes it spontaneously fade away, but that the person has actually actively done something to move beyond the pain.
I shouldn’t feel it: this is the guilt trip remedy— “I really shouldn’t feel this way.” Well, that may be true, but is simply saying that helping any? Know anytime that taking a guilt trip has resulted in substantive personal growth? I thought so. Bad plan.
There is no pain: This is a variation of common Eastern religious thought, to say that evil is not real (“there is no spoon” for you Matrix fans), that it is just to be accepted as part of reality with no real difference between it & good. You come to accept that evil & good, darkness & light, yin & yang are actually part of one reality.
If you can get your mind to buy into this version of reality, it’s probably more helpful than “it will go away” or “I shouldn’t feel it. ” However, there’s one little problem: it’s not true. There is evil, and it’s not a mirror image or inevitable companion of good, and this world was originally designed without it, and one day will be remade to be without it again.
The bottom line on all these choices is that any interpretation of reality that is inconsistent with reality is a fancy convoluted way of saying that you’re living a lie, & living a lie will one day fail you.
The God-Focused Alternative
What’s the alternative to all these different meanings? Just this one: God loves me, and is still in control of my life. This choice, to look to God & trust Him, can be a hard one to grab on to when our heart is battered by a raging storm. If we believe in a God who loves us, then it is genuinely hard to understand why He allows evil in this world, why he allows our dreams to be dashed & our hearts to be hurt. But the bottom line is that this is the only choice that works, because it’s the only choice that’s real, & it’s the only choice that gives us true hope that there is a path out of our pain.
Acknowledging that God is God, even when we’re hurting, opens our heart to have Him comfort us, and opens our eyes to see beyond our present hurt. As the writer of Hebrews said, God indeed rewards, but only to those who believe in Him and seek Him. Like Job, we must throw ourselves on God’s mercy, & rest in His arms.
A Path Beyond the Pain
Often the path of opening our heart to God in our pain is a gradual one. Step by step we are able to realize more, accept more, & be healed. Here are some steps we can take with God in our pain:
Pray: Cry out to God, and ask for His comfort and wisdom.
Meditate: Focus on passages in the Bible (like Job or the Psalms) where people are suffering and relating to God. Memorize Scripture, or repeat an affirmation like: My Poppa, out of His great love for me, allowed this pain in my life, for my good and His glory.
Read: Several good books on the problem of pain include The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis, Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants by Philip Yancey & Paul Brand, & Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.
Write: Journal your thoughts, your prayers, your insights, & God’s comfort.
Share: Open up to a few trusted friends & allow them the privilege of ministering to you in your pain.
Release: Eventually, you will be able to release the pain and hurt. It can’t be put into words how to do it, but you will know when it happens, for the pain will no longer have any power to hurt or imprison you. You will be free.
Pain is a problem for all of us. Let’s all help each other, to comfort, to heal, & to grow as we deal with the pain we face in this life.
The book of 1 Samuel begins with the story of a remarkable woman of God named Hannah. As I meditated on her life I marveled at her heart towards God. This woman’s simple faith allowed her to walk with God through her deepest valley. God placed her story in Scripture as an example of how a follower of God walks with Him through adversity. Here are seven lessons we can all learn from the heart of Hannah:
Lesson One: Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty
“the LORD had closed her womb.” (v.5)
The very first thing we learn about Hannah is that she knew ”the Lord had closed her womb.” It’s clear that she and her husband saw her infertility as being under God’s sovereign hand. Without any help from sophisticated theology textbooks or philosophy courses, they were able to see the obvious truth that the being who created the universe must also be the being who orders its every event. Acknowledging God’s control over all our life’s circumstances is the essential first step to a life of walking with Him.
Lesson Two: Affirm God’s Righteousness
Next, we can see that Hannah saw God as righteous. Even in her deepest distress, she never accused God of being unloving or unjust. There is nothing in her prayers to suggest she cried out, “Why did you do this to me?” Her attitude parallels Job 1:22, where the Bible says that Job never “charged God with wrong.” If the first step of walking with God is to accept that He is in control, the second step must be to affirm Psalm 145:17 that, “the Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.”
Lesson Three: Keep Following in God’s Ways
“So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord” (v.7)
When confronted with deep soul pain, many people make the choice to walk away from God. Not Hannah. Year after year, she remained faithful to worship Him, even if it meant traveling to Shiloh with another woman who delighted in making her miserable. She could have feigned illness, or could have outright refused to go. Instead, she continued to obey God’s commands year after year after year, fully knowing how hard the road of obedience sometimes was.
Lesson Four: Go to God With Your Pain
“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” (v.10)
Acknowledging God’s sovereignty and righteousness and remaining faithful to Him does not mean we have to stuff away our pain or pretend it doesn’t hurt. God is a loving Father and He both understands our pain and desires that we pour out our heart to Him. Hannah, David, even Jesus in the Garden freely poured out their pain to God. He always received them, and He will always receive us. We can freely pour out our heart to God.
Lesson Five: Ask God to Intervene
O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant…” (v. 11)
Trusting that God knows best does not mean we do not ask for our desires. God does not answer to Hannah, “Why are you asking me for a child?” For that matter, can you remember anytime God reprimanded anyone for asking Him for a good thing? No, that is not the way of a loving Father with His children. Part of walking with God is putting our requests before Him every day.
Lesson Six: Trust God With All Your Heart
I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life (v. 11)
Hannah’s vow here is not an example of mere crass bargaining with a deity. No, it is a mighty expression of her faith. Hannah declares to God that she knows that He can open her womb, and that she is more than happy to respond to His grace with her faith in dedicating this still future child to Him.
Lesson Seven: Let Your Joy in God Transcend Your Own Desires
Lastly, Hannah’s song of joy in 1 Samuel 2 shows us that her joy in God transcended her own desire to keep her son by her side. There is no hint of regret or misgiving in dedicating her beloved son for the sake of the Kingdom. She rejoices in God and sings:
My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
There is none holy like the Lord;
there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
May we all strive to have a heart like Hannah that exults in the Lord everyday as we walk with Him.
Note: The following is article #28 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
“Grace in suffering”— it seems like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Yet experience affirms that people suffer, and the Bible teaches extensively about God’s grace in suffering.
Suffering Comes to Those Who Live By Grace
First, the Bible teaches that people who follow God, living by grace, will suffer in this life:
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:19)
through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12)
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29)
John Piper in Chapter 28 of Future Grace goes so far as to say that “the way of life that comes from living by faith in future grace will very likely involve more suffering, not less.” That is a very sobering conclusion, but history bears it out. The first 300 years of Christianity were marked by intense persecution, and there are still tens of thousands of people who die every year due solely to their faith in Christ. For many Christians facing death is the ultimate test of what they love more, life & comfort or God & His glory.
The more you are willing to forsake trust in yourself and the things of this world, the more you will open yourself up to situations where you may experience suffering for God. Piper states:
When you know that your future is in the hands of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God who promises to work all things for your good, you are free to take any risk that love demands— no matter the cost…. In regards to spreading the gospel today, we talk so much about “closed countries” that we have almost lost God’s perspective on missions— as though he ever meant it to be safe. There are no closed countries to those who assume that persecution, imprisonment, and death are the likely results of spreading the gospel. And Jesus in Matthew 24:9 said plainly that these are the likely results.
God Has Purposes in Suffering
Which brings us to the next great truth that the Bible teaches about suffering, namely that God has purposes that he intends to accomplish through suffering. Piper states that we need to see suffering “not merely as a consequence of living by faith in future grace, but as another gift of future grace.”
How is suffering a gift? The Bible teaches us that:
Suffering Shapes an Unshakeable Faith—
There are many stories of amazing faith in the lives of the early church, faith that grew stronger in the face of suffering. Paul recounts one of his experiences in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, and the purpose that he saw in it:
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
When we suffer, it turns our eyes away from the world and our own resources and focus on God. When God “comes through” and brings us through the trial or gives us the strength to endure it, then our faith in His love and goodness increases. The key, however, is understanding the nature of God and His purposes. Piper states:
If you think your suffering is pointless, or that God is not in control, or that he is whimsical or cruel, then your suffering will drive you from God, instead of driving you from everything but God.
Suffering Shapes our Character
Paul had learned God’s purposes in suffering well, by both revelation from God and by intense personal experience. In Romans 5:2-4 he states:
Paul mentions that suffering grows our endurance, our character, and our hope. In the Greek the word “character” means “proven character”— when we endure suffering well, we prove that our faith is real.
Although it seems paradoxical at first, suffering infused with God’s grace actually increases our hope. Piper observes:
The people who are most unwavering in their hope are those who have been tested most deeply. The people who look most earnestly and steadfastly and eagerly to the hope of glory are those who have had the comforts of this life stripped away through tribulations. These are the freest of all people. Their love cannot be daunted by threats or calamities.
Suffering Magnifies the Worth of Christ
Lastly, the Bible teaches that suffering magnifies the worth of Christ. Again here, Paul is our teacher:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
Here God directly speaks to Paul and explains His reason for this instance of suffering in Paul’s life, and God specifically says that it is to show His strength on Paul’s behalf. And Paul’s response?
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Let us, then, grow in grace so that we will be able to join Paul in being content in any suffering, knowing that Christ will be glorified as His power rests on us.
Suffering. No one needs to explain what it is. No one is a stranger to it. It’s never a question of if we will suffer, but how and when. And in every moment of suffering, where the pressure and pain weigh so heavy against us, we face a choice: What will we do with the pressure, with the pain, with the burden?
We can choose to be conformed to the world, to respond to suffering with the answers that the world provides us. Just as Job’s wife told him to curse God, the world tells us that suffering proves that God is not strong or good or even alive. The world tells us to lash out in anger or stew in bitterness or give up in despair. If we, through friends or books or culture let the pressure of suffering press us into the world’s mold, then we will become the very thing that Paul warns us about in Romans 12:2, a soul that acts no differently than one not saved.
We can choose to try and escape the suffering, escape the pressure and burden. We sometimes do it literally, by leaving the spouse who has hurt us so much or moving away from the parents who constantly harass. Sometimes we do it with substances or activities, a little football, a little beer, a little sex. Sometimes we just “check out” only in our minds and pretend the suffering really isn’t there.
For the Christian, there is another choice. We can enter into the sufferings with Christ. Instead of the burden pressing us into the world, instead of vainly trying to escape, we let the burden press us into the heart and mind of Christ. Just as gold being stamped under pressure into a mold, suffering can mold us, change us, create something beautiful within us, if we are in Christ. It’s not easy, and it’s not pain-free. But it is the only way. Please choose wisely.
There are dozens of books on the topic of God and human suffering, both in the popular press and from the halls of academia.
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, however, is different from all of them.
Born out of the 2005 Desiring God National Conference, this is an anthology from seven different authors. All of the authors and their essays are deeply rooted in two things: suffering and the sovereignty of God. All of the authors have personally experienced suffering: two are paralyzed, two are suffering from prostate cancer, two have tragically lost loved ones on the mission field. And all of the authors share an unshakeable conviction in the absolute sovereignty of God, and how standing on this firm foundation makes human suffering both bearable and indeed meaningful as part of our salvation and God’s glorification.
Piper starts with a theological overview of why God has ordained suffering in this world, as well as chapters on the role of Satan and the particular role of suffering in the lives of saints. Stephen Saint, son of the murdered missionary to the Aucas Nate Saint, reflects on the role of suffering in missions. Carl Ellis discusses ethnic suffering, while psychologist David Powlison opens up the grace of God in suffering. David Schramek gives an intensely personal essay on the pain of waiting for God during suffering, and Joni Eareckson Tada closes with an essay on our real hope.
Intensely personal and thoroughly Biblical, this book gives true insight and comfort for the hurting and those striving to help them. Highly recommended.
For more information on this book from Amazon click here.
So, have you ever been through a tough time?
I thought so.
As the saying goes, you have either been through a tough time, going through a tough time, or preparing to go through a tough time. So wherever you are now, here are ten steps to help you walk through any tough time with God.
One caution before we start: these steps are only for those who have been adopted by God as His children through acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Lord of the universe and the Lord of their lives. God does not care if you are a “good person” or “believe in the right thing” or “been baptized” or “pray & go to church” or “wouldn’t have made it this far without Him” or even “deacon for forty years”—none of those things matter one bit to God unless He has already adopted you into His family.
1. Yes, You Can Ask God “Why?”
Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3 NKJV)
Joseph said to his brothers, “…You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good”. (Genesis 50:19-20 NKJV)
This passage from John clearly states that it is ok to ask God why you are going through a trial. God wants us to tell Him all that is within our heart. Sometimes, like the disciples questioning Jesus, we will get an immediate answer. Sometimes, like Joseph, we will get an answer, but only years later when we look back with hindsight. Sometimes, like Job, our only answer is that God is God, and we are not. Regardless, we can ask any question of our loving heavenly Father.
Ultimately, we must keep our heart focused on what the Westminster catechism teaches: What is the chief purpose of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. And so, we must realize that everything in our lives, including our trials, is “for God’s glory and our good.”
2. Go Ahead and Grieve
Now as Jesus drew near, He saw the city Jerusalem and wept over it, (knowing it would be sacked by Rome in 35 years for its unbelief) (Luke 19:41).
So often we feel it is more spiritual to put on our “happy face,” to say that since God is good that the bad things that happen don’t matter. Well, baloney, life still sucks sometimes! I have people almost every day breaking down in my exam rooms and crying and almost always apologizing for crying. They have the mistaken notion that weeping over a dead parent or a failed marriage or a wayward child is some lack of moral strength. I remind them that Jesus was a “man of sorrows, and well acquainted with grief.” Grief is not sinful. Go ahead and grieve.
3. Acknowledge God as Sovereign Lord
Jesus prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42).
God is the ruler of this universe and we must submit to His rule over our lives. It’s not wrong to pray that God restore a marriage or heal a loved one or mend a broken heart, but we must pray for something deeper as well: that God be God, and that He be glorified and that His will be done whatever the outcome. Acknowledging that God’s glory is more important than our comfort is the only path to peace in our lives.
4. Trust God’s Love for His Children
For You are my hope, O Lord GOD; You are my trust from my youth. (Psalm 71:5)
Once we cry out to God, grieve, and acknowledge His rule over all, only then can we be in a position to trust His love. Trust is sometimes so hard when the storm winds are furiosly blowing around you, but, then, that’s why they call it TRUST.
Sometime my little heart can’t understand
What’s in Your will, what’s in Your plan
So many times I’m tempted to ask You “Why?”
But I can never forget it for long
Lord what You do could not be wrong
So I believe You even when I must cry
Do I trust You, Lord, does the river flow?
Do I trust You, Lord, does the north wind blow?
You can read my heart, You can know my mind
And You’ve got to know I would rather die
Then to lose my faith in the One I love.
Do I trust You?
I will trust You, Lord, when I don’t know why
I will trust You, Lord, till the day I die
I will trust You, Lord, when I’m blind with pain
You were God before, and You’ll never change
I will trust You, Lord.
5. Ask God for Wisdom
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5).
God earnestly desires to help us in our trial; He promises to give us the wisdom we need. Often we need to take some type of action in the midst of a trial, but we don’t know what to do. God is not some mean-spirited deity who is watching to see if we take the wrong step; He is our loving Father who wants to guide us. Ask Him for wisdom.
6. Be Patient with God’s Timetable
knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (James 1:3).
God specifically chooses not to solve all our problems immediately. He wants us to learn trust & patience through that magical thing called WAITING. If we try to get ahead of God’s timetable, we will pay the penalty.
Moses wanted justice for His people, but he did not wait for God. He ended up taking matters into his own hands & killed an Egyptian, and had to wait on the sidelines for forty years. Jesus had to wait until he was thirty years old before he started His ministry. The Bible is filled with people who tried to hurry up God’s timetable with disastrous results, and of people who waited patiently for God to move and were blessed.
7. Praise God
And Job said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (job 1:21).
Here is Job, a man who had lost everything, and what does He do? He praises God, after everything is lost, after He is confused, in pain, and totally abandoned. To bless the name of the LORD, to praise Him, even when we don’t feel like it, is both a commandment and a comfort.
8. Give thanks even for the trial
In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1thessalonians 5:18)
How can we give thanks? By knowing & trusting our loving Father, by ackowledging His rule, by living in all of the previous seven steps.
9. Rejoice in All Things
In this(knowing you have an inheritance in heaven) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:6).
We can rejoice in adversity, looking to our certain future with God. There are many stories in the early church of Christians laughing, singing, rejoicing while being burned alive and tortured, knowing that although their body could be killed, that nothing could separate them from the love of God. Hidden in Christ, we too can rejoice in all things.
10. Remember God’s wonderful works in your life
Praise the LORD!
I will praise the LORD with my whole heart,
In the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.
The works of the LORD are great,
Studied by all who have pleasure in them.
His work is honorable and glorious,
And His righteousness endures forever.
He has made His wonderful works to be remembered;
The LORD is gracious and full of compassion.
He has given food to those who fear Him;
He will ever be mindful of His covenant. (psalms 111:1-5).
Look for God to work, and when He does, remember it. Write it down, talk about it, share it, pray it back to God, make it part of your life. As we remember how God has been mighty to save us in the past, it strengthens and enables us to do all the other steps, to trust, to pray, to rejoice, to acknowledge, to live a life well-pleasing to God as we walk with Him though the trials of this life.
This week a patient was in my office, struggling with her ongoing rejection by her family. “I’ve tried and tried to get past it, to understand why they treat me like this, but I can’t.” We talked briefly about how universal her feelings were, about how everyone has things they have trouble “getting past,” and how answers often don’t come. We talked about Job and his questions, and even after he encountered God directly he still didn’t have the answers he had originally asked.
After she left, I thought: Whose story is it? Who is the main character of the “story” we are “reading” as we live our lives? I think we all have a tendency to see our lives as a story, THE story, with us as the main character. We interpret the events of our lives as if the world indeed revolves around us.
The problem is that often the “script” doesn’t make much sense if we really are the main character. “Wait a second, that isn’t supposed to happen to the main character!” “That’s not how it is on TV!” We all have things in our lives, in our “story”, whether petty nuisances or heart-rending tragedy or just boring tedium, that we would not have written in, that makes no sense at all to happen to the main character. After all, nothing boring ever happens to Jack Bauer on 24. And lots of bad things happen, but they’re all exciting, dramatic bad things that he is able to heroically overcome in the space of 24 hours. If I’m the main character of the story, why isn’t my life like that?
The answer is one we would all acknowledge, but we need to be reminded of: It’s not my story. I’m not the main character. This universe is the story of God, of His joy, His battles, His creation, His sacrifice, and His victory. God didn’t tell Job the answer to why his story was written the way it was. God in effect told Job that he was reading the wrong story in the first place; that the story he was supposed to be reading and focusing on and cherishing was the “greatest story ever told,” the story of God.
When Christianity becomes something other than entering into and living out the story of God, it becomes something other than Christianity.
—Steven James in Story: Recapture The Mystery
In 1982, a group of educators looked at hundreds of applications submitted to them from West Virginia science students. They looked at various qualifications, including achievements and test scores, and out of all of the applicants they chose two students. Two students they considered worthy enough to be called the best science students in the state. Those two students greatly rejoiced that they had been counted worthy, for they received the honor of attending the National Youth Science Camp on behalf of the state of West Virginia that year. Yes, I know the story, for I was one of the two.
I mention that story just to give a vivid contrast to another story of people being counted worthy:
When they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:40-42 NKJV)
These men had been counted worthy by a greater authority than a review board; they had been counted worthy by God Himself. And these men rejoiced that God had counted them worthy. But what honor did God bestow on them? What were they worthy enough for? The honor of being beaten and suffering shame for the name of Jesus.
Writer and speaker Voddie Baucham has called the response of the apostles in this passage “one of the most personally challenging truths in the Bible.” There is much in the Bible that cuts against the grain of our experience and common sense, but perhaps nothing more than God counting people worthy of suffering for the sake of Jesus. Just a few chapters later God announces that the apostle Paul “is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16 NKJV)
I don’t know about you, but my game plan of recruiting someone to be a follower of Jesus doesn’t usually include showing him the “many things he must suffer” for the name of Jesus.
This passage raises a lot of questions in my mind, many that I don’t have simple, pat answers to. What does God look for to count someone worthy of suffering? What grace brought the apostles to earnestly rejoice knowing that God had chosen them to suffer for the sake of Christ? What would be my honest response if God chose me worthy to suffer, really suffer, for His name? I don’t know everything about this whole business of suffering and joy, but I think that humbly and honestly looking to God for the answers is a worthy endeavor.