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Ten Steps for Walking Through the Tough Times with God

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.
—Twila Paris

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.

Lord, what do You have for me today?

I have found a simple prayer to be very helpful in my spiritual journey:

Lord, what do You have for me today?

As I arise and go about my day, I try to place this prayer within my thoughts.  As I think and meditate on it, it can become a prayer of:

Humility—Asking this question of God reorients me to His sovereignty and control over my life and all of the universe.  I am not in control; God is; and as I humbly look toward Him for the answers to my life on a moment-to-moment basis it keeps me aware of my place and focused on Him.

Trust—Asking this question of God implies that I am going to accept His answer and know that it is best.  I acknowledge that I as a finite & fallen being cannot know what is best for me, and I also trust that my loving Father does know what is best for me.

Hope—I can pray this question in joyful expectancy, because I know that my Father both loves me, knows what is best for me, and has the power to bring it about.  God will bring people, things, and situations into my life today that will be for my benefit and His glory.

Thanksgiving—When I ask God this question and then receive his answers to my prayer throughout the day, it naturally prepares my heart to remain God-focused and thank God throughout the day for the blessings He brings into my life.

Wisdom—This prayer is in essence a prayer for wisdom, for the Spirit to help me discern how to respond to the people, things, and situations that God is bringing into my life. Only through God’s wisdom can I respond and live my life in a way that both benefits me and glorifies God.

Service—Asking this question orients me to God’s purposes in the world, especially concerning the people that God brings into my life. It takes me from being self-focused to God and others focused.  Another related question to ask God that I first heard from Dr. Walt Larrimore is “What is God doing?”—in the life of people that I come in contact with, and how can I enter into that work that God is doing for His glory and their good.

Release and Freedom—Finally, this is a prayer of freedom and release.  I once heard a Christian psychiatrist say that much spiritual and psychological turmoil and pathology comes from people simply trying to stay “in control”—to have control of situations or people that they have no way of controlling—and that his goal in therapy was to get the person to realize the futility of trying to be in control, and to let go.  For us to be able to let go of our immature and tainted preconceptions and desires for control in our lives and simply release our lives to God, it will free us to live lives of peace, joy, and fulfillment in the love and grace of God.

The Radical Paradigm of Thankfulness 2

paradigm:  A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality

 

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV

This short verse gives us a radical way of viewing reality that is only possible through being “in Christ” through the new birth.  At first glance, it appears to be a simple command to do something– “give thanks.”  But the 2nd phrase “in all circumstances”—like so many of the Biblical commands, should bring us to our knees in realization that in our own strength it is impossible to fulfill.  Give thanks in all circumstances?  All the time?  In everything?  No matter what?

Yesterday we examined how we forget, redefine, and ultimately reject God when we fail to thank Him in all circumstances.  This is the natural and inevitable response of our natural hearts.

What is exciting, however, to know is that God has given us both a new heart and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit so that we may be able to keep all of His holy commands, even to give thanks in all circumstances.

How can we grow in thankfulness?  Three key facets of a life growing in thankfulness include a loving gaze toward God, humility toward God, and repentance toward God.

There can be no thankfulness without a loving gaze toward God.  As we lovingly contemplate God as we go about our day, thinking about His blessings, praising Him for His mercy, singing in our hearts of His grace, thankfulness will fill our heart.  As we look toward God, we acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17), and we see that in Him we live, and move, and have our very being (Acts 17:28).  We gaze at God, we see His blessings in our lives, we thank and praise Him for them, which causes us to love Him even more and turn our gaze ever more intently upon Him. These two streams in our soul, lovingly gazing at God and thanking Him, strengthen each other and flow together into a mighty spiritual river.

Another stream in our soul which powerfully strengthens thankfulness is humility.  Humility, acknowledging that all we have is from God, causes us to turn away from self-sufficency and self-reliance and more clearly see God’s love and work in our lives. As our thankfulness grows, so does our realization of God’s rightful place and our humility before Him.  Conversely, pride destroys thankfulness in our hearts.

Finally, as we repent of our sins our hearts become softened to become more thankful.  This is especially true of the different lusts in our hearts.  A person who is bound by envy of another’s possessions will not thank God for what he has.  The person who is bound by sexual lust thinks only of it, and not what God has graciously provided.  A person whose heart is captured by food will not be captured by thankfulness toward God. But as we become more thankful, the reality of God’s goodness shines brighter in our hearts, and that God’s kindness leads us to greater repentance (Romans 2:4) and helps us break free of sin’s bondage.  And as we turn from sin and go deeper into repentance, our capacity for true thankfulness toward God increases.

Lord, grant us hearts filled with thankfulness in all our circumstances.  Let us lovingly gaze at You and see Your many mercies, let us remain humble before You, show us our sins and grant us repentance.  In Christ’s name, Amen.

The Radical Paradigm of Thankfulness 1

paradigm:  A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality

 

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV

This short verse gives us a radical way of viewing reality that is only possible through being “in Christ Jesus” through the new birth.  At first glance, it appears to be a simple command to do something– “give thanks.”  But the 2nd phrase “in all circumstances”—like so many of the Biblical commands, should bring us to our knees in realization that in our own strength it is impossible to fulfill.  Give thanks in all circumstances?  All the time?  In everything?  No matter what?

No, this is more than a simple command, it is a radical paradigm shift that influences every waking minute of our lives, that is fundamentally different than the paradigm we were born with.

Today we will look at our “original” paradigm, how we fail to thank God in all circumstances, and tomorrow we will look at how our new nature gives us the power to transcend our old nature into a new way of viewing reality through continual thanksgiving to God.

Our innate lack of thankfulness toward God originated with our first parents, Adam and Eve.  Their actions in the garden served as the prototype for all their children.  They (and we) will forget God, then redefine God, then ultimately reject God as we manifest a spirit of ingratitude toward God.

It has been well said that sin often begins with forgetting God and His blessings.  With all of the tremendous beauty and bounty of the garden, with anything but the one tree available freely to them, Adam and Eve forgot all that God had given them while they concentrated on what they didn’t have.  We see this pattern repeated over and over again in Scripture.  When David sinned with Bathseba, Nathan the prophet challenged David to remember all of God’s blessings, implying that if he had been thankful for all that God had given him he would not have fell to temptation:

 ”I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.  Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” (2 Samuel 12:8-9 ESV) 

Forgetting God’s blessings effectively causes us to despise both them and the God who gave them.  God knows well our propensity to forget Him:  Eight times in the book of Deuteronomy alone he warns Israel not to forget Him or His blessings.  Yet it is so easy to forget:  I didn’t get the promotion I wanted, so I forget God’s blessings of providing me a job.  The church’s carpet looks hideous, so I forget God’s blessing of living in a country where worshipping Christ isn’t against the law.

Once we have forgotten God and His true nature, we are but a step away from redefining God to suit our liking.  In the garden Satan redefined God to Eve; “Did God actually say…?…God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened…”   Now Eve is thinking, “Why God is not being good to me at all—He’s keeping something good from me”—and she moves from merely forgetting about God to redefining Him as someone not worthy of her gratitude.  Paul speaks of the human heart universally doing this in Romans 1:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Notice the sequence: they started out knowing God, but they stopped giving thanks to Him, which eventually resulted in their redefining God into idol images. 

How often does lack of gratitude make us redefine God?  How many marriages have been destroyed when people have said, “I know God would want me to be with this person who is not my spouse, God wants me to be happy.”?  How many callings have been rejected when someone says, “God would never ask me to do THAT.”?  Whenever we are not thankful for what God has given us, we will end up finding an excuse to sin, and often finding a way of not calling it sin by changing our view of God and His holiness.

The final step of ingratitude is a wholesale rejection of God.  That’s what Adam & Eve did: they rejected God’s blessings and goodness and rule in their lives to pursue what they felt was right, to their (and our) ruin.  When we sin, we have both forgotten God and rejected Him.

Many people who say they are atheists will trace the origin of their conviction to something tragic or evil that they could not reconcile with their definition of God.  Although it is impossible for the finite minds of humans to understand all the reasons God acts and why evil exists, to reject God because we cannot understand Him is the mark of a rebellious fool.  Sorry those words are harsh, but, after all, they are not my words, but God’s: “The fool says is his heart, “There is no God.”" (Psalm 14:1 ESV)  It has been said that at the heart level most people’s rejection of God is not on an intellectual basis (as they often maintain), but actually on a moral basis, because to accept God is to accept His rightful place as the ruler of your life, and a subject who is not grateful for his King will always attempt to overthrow Him.

This pattern of forgetting God and his blessings, then redefining Him, then rejecting Him is deeply inground in our psyche—how will we escape its destructive grip?  Tomorrow we will examine how our new heart gives us the ability to both change our paradigm and continually grow in thankfulness to God in all circumstances.