Okay, imagine you’re in the process of having to make an important decision in the midst of rough times. You’ve prayed, consulted wise people, read the Bible, and devoured a whole bag of Cheetos. You’ve done everything you know to be smart, (except when you left orange fingerprints on the pages of your Bible). It’s finally settled now. You’re going down what feels to be the right road, and you’ve made your choice. There is peace to move forward at last, and the Holy Spirit has directed you to take what seems to be the wisest path.
However, wait….something has gone wrong. The outcome hasn’t gone as you had hoped. Things don’t seem to be working out, and in fact, may feel worse than before. What in the heck is God trying to do? Doesn’t He know you have better things to do than to feel thoroughly confused, especially since you’ve tried so hard to be wise, and you’ve prayed for hours over it? (And now, you’re looking for a good sale on M&M’s.)
If you will refer back to my last post, “Don’t Be a Fool!”, you may recall I wrote, that if you follow a wise path in making important decisions, faithful obedience isn’t an insurance policy to guard against future struggle or discomfort. Just because you’ve tried to be prudent doesn’t guarantee a pain-free outcome. Knowing this, begs two questions in my view:
1) What is God’s purpose, in light of the fact that your decision now seems to feel like the wrong thing?
2) Why even try to be wise and prudent if it’s only going to put your situation in flux, or at best, if the decision has gained you nothing, but stress and extra fat?
First things first….
When my husband, Joe, and I became believers back in the 70’s, we were doing financially well. We had a large home in a Chicago suburb, we had the latest gadgets, and I was driving a Mercedes. Joe had a fashionable office downtown in the big city. Our household income was sufficient, so I didn’t have to work outside the home. Life was good. And, to make things even sweeter, I (we) had a new faith in Jesus, a renewed perspective on hope, and I was no longer fighting a deep depression (see my prior posts on “Depression I and II”). How could things be any better, right? As a result of much discussion, and because Joe and I had experienced a “spiritual awakening”, we decided it would be a good move to relocate back to Virginia where all of our families lived. We had been gone for 10 years. The decision seemed like the right thing for us to do, and we wanted our daughter to develop a deeper connection to her relatives. We prayed about it, talked to family, and sought God’s will through the whole process. We felt the Lord leading us to make the big move back home. Joe immediately started looking for gainful employment in Virginia, and fortunately landed a job. We made arrangements to move from Illinois to Virginia, we sold the house we loved, and very shortly things seemed to fall into place. We thought, “We must be doing the right thing. We’re absolutely sure this move back to family is good. It will honor Jesus that we’re putting relationships first, even though we love Chicago. Goodbye friends, goodbye beautiful city…. hello family.”
Shortly after we relocated to Virginia, the bottom fell out of our situation. Joe’s business dried up, leaving us in such a bad financial position that we had to sell many treasured possessions just to get by each month. Our lack of income forced Joe to take on a job which required him to sell various goods by knocking on doors, and even at times, to market designer junk out of the trunk of our car in a store parking lot. (He didn’t sell Elvis paintings, but very close.) It was extremely humiliating, to put it mildly. As an extra help, I took on an afternoon newspaper motor route. I navigated through many miles of countryside, with our daughter as my sidekick, in the Mercedes. My shiny, luxury car had to endure ditches and mud and many miles of rough, country roads, which pained me greatly. (Sigh) My 2-axle, metal idol had never been so abused. Life was no longer good. It was hard, sacrificial, and confusing. Our good life had suddenly come crashing down with a depressing thud when it hit a new bottom. I wrote a bad check for 52-cents when I had to pay for a loaf of bread. (Have you ever written a check for less than a dollar? I wasn’t even sure how to do it.) As an honorable mention of sacrifice, we had to sell my precious Mercedes. I was now driving an older model car, sporting plastic bags tightly stuffed in the roof to plug the rusted holes. Grief upon grief. How could God let this happen, especially when we had tried to be so careful about our decision to move. Things were worse than ever. I can vividly recall sitting forlornly on a huge rock in the woods adjacent to our home, and crying rivers of tears. I held my hands up to the sky and shouted, “God, what are you doing? What could be your purpose in all of this? We sacrificially tried to do the right thing, and this is how you respond? There was a time I didn’t believe in you, and life was really good.” (Short memory….note to self: I had been deeply depressed, remember?) As a Christian, it felt as though my world had fallen apart. It didn’t make sense or feel fair. I was misguided in thinking life would get even easier as a new believer if I just did the right thing. It was upsetting beyond words, and I wondered if this ‘faith thing’ was doing me any good.
In a way, my story reminds me of the Israelites in the desert. Their story in the Book of Exodus recounts their long journey to the Promised Land. They were people of faith. At first, they gladly followed Moses, their God-sent rescuer, to guide them all through the dessert for years and years. I imagine they were thinking, as I did in my story, that if they follow God’s wise way, then He would get them to the other side without pain or sacrifice. However, things became frustrating for them. They grew tired of waiting to end their journey. They couldn’t see God’s purposes in the whole desert experience, just as I couldn’t see His purpose for mine. They grumbled and complained all through their trek, even asking Moses to let them go back to slavery where they at least had been given food and shelter. Not unlike them, I had reached an emotional low, and couldn’t see how my difficult road could have any good purpose whatsoever. I was blinded by my own heart that longed for the ‘easy button’.
What’s really going on beneath the confusion, grumbling, and discomfort when we struggle? How can we view these circumstances differently? We often get stuck in wondering what God could be doing, and neglect to recall what God has already done. Of course, remembering the truth of God’s faithfulness doesn’t remove the pain. However, it does reorient us to ask God to strengthen us in spite of the pain. We neglect to remember He’s doing something much larger than we can see. I once heard someone say, “Pain is inevitable; misery is optional.” So true. During that difficult time in my life, I spent my days in misery calling out to God with questions. It’s quite normal as a human to do that. So, for a time, I didn’t land on anything solid….just more and more questions. My heart and mind were entirely focused on what I’d had to give up and what I’d had to sacrifice, just like the Israelites when they neglected to recall the goodness of God for setting them free. Their pain had blinded them to His purpose behind their long, desert struggle….namely, to humble them (Deut. 8:2). When we’re suffering, the pain often overrides our comprehension of God’s good purpose. Pain has real power to blind us from seeing what’s true.
In your difficult trial or circumstance, be encouraged. God is doing something. He never sleeps. Your present, uncomfortable season is not in vain. God isn’t capricious. He doesn’t just act for the heck of it. He doesn’t entertain himself by viewing your difficulty. He is carefully and lovingly purposeful in what He has ordained for you. I once heard someone say, “Faith is believing in advance, that which only makes sense in reverse.” Your life may not make much sense to you right now, possibly later as you look back, but rest assured your present story makes total sense to your Creator. Whatever situation in which you currently find yourself, take heart….He is at work in your life, and the lives of others you touch. If that sounds too simple, then you’ve made the meaning of life more complex than it is. Simply put, God has created us for His purposes and fellowship, His purposes are always good as He lovingly conforms us to the image of Christ, and He gets the glory when we persevere to remain faithful. This truth has to be the beginning, the middle, and the end of what holds us firmly through difficulty. If we consistently continue to grumble without repenting, then we really aren’t committed to the purposes of God. We are committed to the purposes of self.
Why should we even try to do the right thing if it seemingly gets us nowhere, or particularly if the road starts to get bumpier? Simply put, God has stated that He tests us to know what’s in our heart (Deut. 8:2). He humbles us in our trials. I couldn’t see my pride of life, or my lack of understanding of what it meant to live for Him. My story was deeply humiliating to experience, but God knew that I needed to become humble, and there’s a big difference between the two terms. Humiliation is when you’re undone in front of humans; to be humbled is when you’re undone in front of God. Humiliation leads us to hide; humility leads us to worship. Humiliation causes us to try and work hard to reestablish our reputation; humility causes us to rest in the reputation of Christ. The Lord teaches us humility through our circumstances to speak about what needs to change. We need to be exposed to the things our hearts hope in; we need to have the rug pulled out from under us at times so that we’ll be challenged to live out our professed faith in Jesus.
So, whether your carefully thought out decision leads to better circumstances, or if it makes matters worse, or anything in between, it still accomplishes God’s purpose for the change. Your purpose may be to improve on something; His purpose is to move you through as a means to an end…. namely, that He would be honored by your conformity to the likeness of His Son. This brings Him great glory and works for your good (Romans 8:28). Regardless as to the outcome, our perseverance in the faith will accomplish God’s purposes for us, and for Him. The gospel demands a response from those who believe it for the benefit of Christ.
We persevere to develop wisdom for His sake and for our good. Turn Around and see through the lens of Scripture. James 1:2-4 says,”Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Even though our carefully thought out plans may turn sour, it is a divine appointment to persevere in the faith as we develop the wisdom to trust the purposes of God.
Hold fast and press on for Him.
“Lord Jesus, may you be lifted high as I am brought low. Let my struggle in wisdom be an opportunity for you to build my faith, that I might witness your tender love and care for me. Let this difficulty accomplish your purposes to sanctify me for your sake…. that your name would be honored and revered. Amen.”