As I write this article, many of my friends are enduring painful circumstances. Please take a moment and consider the travail that each situation offers. One friend lost her mother just a few days ago. Another friend is overwhelmed with sorrow, because he lost his fiancé in September.
A relative lost his job and he has been unable to find work for months. Another relative is going through a bitter divorce and his parents (who have been intimately involved in the children’s lives) are distraught. Another friend has been forced into bankruptcy. Another friend is struggling with complications from heart surgery.
Another friend is facing bankruptcy because of medical bills. Another friend is struggling with the side effects of chemo treatments. Another friend has succumbed to drug addiction. One friend has undergone surgery for stomach cancer and has been given less than four weeks to live. Another friend is recovering from a near fatal stroke. Another friend is in the hospital with a clot in her lung. I could offer more situations, but you get the picture. We live in a world of hurt. Sooner or later on this earth, everyone gets hurt.
Even though difficult situations can develop without notice, they have one thing in common. There is no escape. Tribulation is like crawling into a narrow tunnel—everything is dark, disgusting, foreboding, and the exit is unknown. Anxiety, depression, and pain overwhelm you, and there is no way to get out—but to crawl forward. Because all people find themselves in a difficult situation sooner or later, and since there is no easy way to go through times like these, I thought a few words about getting through a difficult time might be helpful.
Note: This short study addresses some of the spiritual issues that attend suffering. Because each difficult situation has a unique set of parameters, a single solution to life’s problems is not possible. In each situation, there are practical steps that can and must be done, but there are also elements in some difficult situations that we can do nothing about. In this study, I want to focus on the importance of maintaining a healthy attitude, especially during situations that we are powerless to resolve.
All difficult situations become much worse when we allow a negative attitude to prevail. Therefore, I hope that this study will encourage anyone stuck in a devastating situation that seems to be unresolvable. The statement, “there is a silver lining in each cloud,” may seem trite, but it is true. Even though we may not be able to see through the dark clouds of despair, we know the sun always shines. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning!” (Psalm 30:5, KJV)
Four General Principles
When people are trapped in difficult situations, how do they overcome feelings of helplessness, depression, and despair? How do they focus on a bright outcome when there is nothing but heartache, darkness, and the unknown? How do they keep from getting frustrated with God when day after day, their prayers seem to have no effect? These are important questions and although each difficult circumstance is unique, here are four general principles that all people should keep in mind when they find themselves trapped in a difficult situation:
God is love (1 John 4:8), God sees everything (2 Chronicles 16:9), God hears everything (2 Samuel 22:7), God understands everything (Matthew 10:26), but God, in His infinite wisdom (Proverbs 8:12, 22–28), does not usually produce the outcome that we want. (Daniel 3:17–18)
It is our privilege to ask God for anything that we want as long as our request is subject to His infinite wisdom. Faith in God means believing and trusting that (a) He has heard our request, and (b) He will produce the best possible outcome in due time. This can be a very hard pill to swallow, but there is no other way to have peace when trapped in a difficult situation. Even Jesus agonized with the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42, KJV)
When desperate circumstances force us into a tight corner, many people are unprepared to exercise the power of faith. The concept of faith is often misunderstood and to understand it, you must realize that faith has two sides. One side is accepting the facts listed in Principle #1. The second side of the coin is total surrender to God’s infinite wisdom. Let me make a blunt statement: We take the place of God when we presume to tell God what the outcome of our tribulation should be.
The Bible says that human beings are inherently rebellious toward God’s authority (Romans 8:7). Therefore, it should not be surprising that we are tempted to get angry with God when He refuses to carry out our will! However, as God’s children, we should strive to overcome our inherent rebellious nature.
Born again people “live in accordance with the Holy Spirit and they have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (Romans 8:5) If we are unwilling to let God use His divine wisdom, if we are unwilling to accept God’s will in all matters (big and small), then we set ourselves up for a situation where rebellion toward God can be justified. This is exactly what happened to Lucifer when he lived in Heaven and rebellion led to his fall. I assume you know the dismal outcome of that story.
God does not ask us to put our faith in Him without first giving us sufficient evidence that our faith in Him is not misplaced. This is why we have the Bible. Unfortunately, most people today know nothing about the Bible! As the Bible traces God’s actions over 4,000 years of human history, it provides the evidence that intelligent faith requires.
The Bible reveals that God is love, and that God sees, hears, and understands. Even more, it assures us that God will surely produce the best outcome possible for everyone who is willing to surrender to His wisdom and to His perfect timing. Consider these examples: Look at Jesus. It was Gods will that He die on the cross.
Then, God resurrected Him and placed Him on Heaven’s throne. Look at Joseph. It was God’s will that he go to prison. From there, God put him on Pharaoh’s throne. Look at Daniel. It was Gods will that he go into the lions den. From there, God placed him in the courts of Darius’ kingdom. Look at Esther.
It was God’s will that she risk her life to save her people. She was willing to perish if that was God’s will, but instead, God saved an entire nation as a result of her faith. It is clear that submission to God’s divine wisdom always produces a glorious outcome even though the current situation may be imprisonment or even death.
When it comes to seeing God’s handiwork, patient endurance and faith-fullness are nonnegotiable. If we have no patience, the incredible experience of seeing God’s direct involvement in our difficult situation will be lost. (James 1:2–8) The experience of receiving strength from God on a day-to-day basis will also be lost.
Faith in God is not to be confused with living in denial. Many people believe that positive thinking is the equivalent of faith in God. While we should try to look on the positive side of everything, positive thinking is no substitute for faith. Faith in God starts with complete surrender to His divine wisdom and waiting patiently upon the Lord for His solution. That means you trust God to give you wisdom, courage, strength, and whatever you need in order to deal with your situation.
Be realistic. God rarely suspends the laws of nature to accommodate the needs of anyone. If God suspended the laws of nature every time someone asked for a miracle, nothing on Earth would be predictable! God put the laws of sowing and reaping in place for a reason. If we sow good seed, a good harvest will follow.
If we sow wild oats, what should the harvest be? Of course, God can suspend natural law when divine wisdom and a higher purpose dictates, but only then. When God, in His infinite wisdom, cannot suspend the laws of nature on our behalf, He sends the Comforter. The Holy Spirit imparts strength, courage, and grace to deal with the situation—one day at a time! (Matthew 6:31–34; John 16:5–15)
Some people do not want the gift of the Comforter, but instead, want God to simply make their problem go away. God does not work like this. Let us keep in mind who God is and who we are. He has omniscience. He knows best and He is intimately acquainted with our needs and it is through the tough times that Jesus comes very close to us if we are willing to patiently wait for Him.
God has two wills: Intended and permissive. (I call them Plan A and Plan B.) For example, when God led Israel out of Egypt, He “intended” to take Israel into the Promised Land within two years (Plan A). When the twelve spies returned from the Promised Land and gave a report that caused the people to distrust God, He became angry with that rebellious generation.
He confined them to the desert for thirty-eight more years so that specific generation could die off (Plan B). Individuals can rebel against God and ruin Plan A (Gods intended will for our lives). Unfortunately, this may mean that they may have to wander in the wilderness for what seems like forty years (Plan B).
Moses, after killing the Egyptian, fled to the wilderness and spent forty years tending sheep before God called him to lead His people out of Egypt. I am reminding you of this story because sometimes our pain and suffering are self inflicted. We reap what we sow. But be of good courage. God will implement Plan B if we are willing and Plan B will have a glorious result if we stay with it!
So, repent if necessary! Let go of your bad attitude toward God and man. Turn from your carnal thinking and evil ways because God will lead His children out of the wilderness if they are willing to walk in His ways. God is in the business of making lemonade out of lemons for the people who love and obey Him. It may take a while, but with God, the end is always better than the beginning!
Everyone born into this world is a victim of sin’s power. It is imperative that we understand this curse because the curse of sin explains a number of things that are otherwise unexplainable. The suffering of my friends is common to all mankind.
Death, sorrow, illness, addiction, bankruptcy, and broken relationships never end. Millions of people have asked, “Why does a God of love permit all of this suffering? How can Almighty God sit on His throne and ignore our problems?” These are reasonable questions and the following response to this question may surprise you.
But first, let me put a frame around this topic. Please consider the following: God has omniscience (all knowing), God has omnipotence (all power), God is love (all giving), God is constant (never changes), God has perfect wisdom (never makes a mistake), and God is impartial (reasonable and fair). These attributes of God have been stated so that the following three facts will make sense.
In the beginning, there was no sin (Plan A). Then, sin began. First, with Lucifer and his followers in Heaven, then with Adam and Eve and their offspring on Earth. God, in His infinite wisdom, decided that the curse of sin should exist for a predetermined period of time (Plan B).
Get this: Before sin began, God foreknew that sin would occur and He predetermined the duration of the curse of sin to exist for the eternal benefit of the universe. Read the previous sentence again. When God brings the curse of sin to an end, everyone in the universe will have a very clear understanding of good and evil. This knowledge, along with those who were redeemed from sin’s curse, will insure that sin will never invade God’s universe again.
God, in His infinite love, has given every being the power of choice. We can choose to submit to His wisdom and authority or we can choose to rebel against Him. The choice is ours and so are the consequences. (We must reap what we choose to sow.) Lucifer and his followers chose to rebel.
We see the consequences. Adam and Eve chose to rebel. We see the consequences. The amazing thing about understanding the consequences of sin’s power is that God’s wisdom is fully exonerated. In other words, once a person understands the power of sin, he or she finds that God’s laws are not arbitrary. God’s love is not manipulative. God has done everything possible to protect free moral agents from sin’s power. On the other hand, if we rebel against God’s laws, we simply reap the consequences. (Galatians 6:7–8)
Now we come to a fact that can be hard to understand. Sin causes people to hurt one another. Lucifer caused one third of the holy angels to lose their home. Cain killed his brother Abel. King David killed one of his best friends to have his wife. Wicked parents ruin innocent children. Sin is like radioactive material that radiates and kills whomever happens to be around it. When Adam chose to rebel against God’s law, the perfect world that God created changed drastically.
Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve had a predisposition for living righteously. They lived in perfect harmony with the ways and will of God. After Adam and Eve sinned, sin’s power changed them. Suddenly, they had a propensity for doing evil and this propensity was passed on to their offspring.
Therefore, death, sorrow, illness, and all kinds of problems began to multiply exponentially throughout Earth. Remember, God has ordained that sin’s curse should endure for a predetermined amount of time. During the last 6,000 years, the curse of sin has radiated and harmed people all over the world.
This planet is similar to an ant farm display with clear panels. The universe watches us and witnesses our evil deeds, rebellion, murders, and sexual immorality. They see endless cycles of pain, sorrow, death, and suffering. They understand the power of sin better than we do because they are observing the effects, but not living in it! Even more, they also understand a number of things about God and His ways that would not otherwise be possible to know!
Do you remember the story of the blind man in John 9? The Jews believed that birth defects were a curse from God. One day, “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi [Jesus], who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’
“‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’ “ (John 9:2–3, insertion mine) The blind man suffered from the curse of sin which came into this world through Adam.
The blind man was a victim of sin’s radiation. Jesus made it clear that the blind man was not suffering from a particular sin on his part or that of his parents. We live in a world cursed by sin and every deformity and every crime testifies to this curse. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God can make lemonade out of lemons! How many times have you seen a disabled person do something extraordinary? What you are actually seeing is the gift of God displayed in that person’s life.
The Faith of Jesus
Perhaps the above information will help us get through difficult situations. If knowledge is helpful, then yes, it helps to understand what God is doing and why God permits certain things to happen and why it often appears that God does not answer our cry for help.
It also helps to know that God will work things out according to His infinite wisdom. This knowledge is the basis of intelligent faith. To see God’s response, we have to patiently endure. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) On the other hand, knowledge is not our Savior. Information is not enough, but God has more to give! Consider this:
Jesus was deeply troubled by His approaching death. He said to His disciples, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12:27) Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
We see an interesting contest in these two verses. When facing death on the cross, the humanity within Jesus did not want to go there, but the divinity within Jesus knew that He had come to Earth “for this very reason.” Jesus experienced a great internal struggle because of these two competing interests and this is why I believe He sweat great drops of blood. (Luke 22:44)
Jesus said to His disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus’ victory helps us because He has walked in our shoes. He has suffered more than we can ever suffer and He overcame sin’s power.
Therefore, Jesus knows how to coach us through difficult times. He knows when to send the Comforter (the Holy Spirit), He knows when to give us courage, He knows when to give us strength, and He knows how to lead us into the perfect will of God because He has “been there, done that.”
Jesus is intimately acquainted with our suffering. “During the days of Jesus life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect [mature through suffering], he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7–9, insertion mine)
What an exciting thought to realize that when we suffer, God sees, He hears, He knows, He understands, and He will do everything possible (while sin’s curse is active) to see us through. Paul wrote, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) So, the bottom line is this: In this world, we will have trouble, but we have some facts to hang on to and we have a Savior who overcame the world.
He knows all about our troubles. Trust in Him, surrender to His will—and a peace that passes understanding will flood your soul—the Comforter will see to it! (Isaiah 26:3) Here is a perfect example of perfect peace that the Apostle Paul wrote (Paul was a man often persecuted for his faith): “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11–13)