We’ve all gone through difficult times and seasons in our lives. Some of those times we brought upon ourselves, poor choices that lead to more poor choices which lead to seemingly impossible situations; while others blindside us, cancer, stock market crashes, losing a job because times are tough–which is exactly the worst time to lose a job–and the list could go on and on.
And during those times we have had friends and loved ones share a verse of scripture with us. There’s really no need for me to write it, because you all know the one I’m talking about. But just in case you haven’t emerged from your protective cocoon yet….
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).
The intent, to be sure, is to give us light at the end our metaphorical tunnel. In fact, most of us have spoken that same verse to other people when they have been going through the mill for exactly the same reason. The reality, however, is that when we hear those words in our times of trouble we are often left feeling as though God is trying to “teach us a lesson,” that He is using our circumstances to mete out some sadistic justice to reform our wayward souls; or maybe we feel that God just doesn’t care. Or maybe that’s just how I feel sometimes.
While it may seem that some people never have anything bad happen in their lives, scripture tells us, “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45, ESV). No one is exempt!
For most of my life, even my Christian walk, I confess that I have had a negative attitude. I believed that the things I went through were because God wanted to punish me for my less-than-holy life and my penchant for sin. And in the full scope of things, what I went through didn’t even compare to what so many endure every day of their lives. I falsely saw my tribulations as being mountains of retribution, rather than lessons in the school of life and the school of the Spirit.
The truth of the matter is that unless we were born with an extremely sunny disposition, were raised to see the bright side of things, or have trained our minds to find something positive in every situation of which we can lay hold, we tend toward the negative when we are suffering. It’s only natural. But God has something much better in mind for us.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV). Emphasis mine.
When I read the above verse, “to give you a future and a hope” really stood out. It’s so easy to become wrapped up in what we’re going through that we can’t seem to see past the problem, or sometimes past our past! But God says that he will give us a “future and a hope!” I’ve found that I can make it through anything if I have even the faintest glimmer of hope. When we became Christians it was because we received a seed of faith in what Jesus accomplished for us. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that, “faith is the substance of things hoped for” (KJV). Substance. Substance! Faith isn’t just some ethereal concept. It has substance. It can be grasped like when Peter put his hand in the Lord’s hand when he began to sink after walking on the water (Matthew 14:31).
Most sermons tend to focus more on the fact that Jesus questioned why Peter had so little faith, why he had doubted. For me, I see that Peter had more faith than the other 11 disciples who stayed in the boat! And unlike most of us, he actually chose to step out into the crisis. I also see that when he found himself in trouble, when he became distracted by the wind and the waves, he knew he would be safe if he took hold of Jesus’ outstretched hand.
You see, we need to find Christ in the crisis. We need to look past our current circumstances to the hope and future that God has planned for us. We need to take hold of Jesus’ hand and let him lead us and teach us through every storm of life.
So how do we find Christ in the crisis? Here are a few things that we can do before and during a crisis that, when we have firmly secured them to the foundation of our faith we can withstand anything that life can throw at us.
1. Renew your mind
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV). Emphasis Mine.
We renew our minds by filling it with God’s word, memorizing scripture and by developing and nurturing the joy of the Lord.
Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart…” (ESV). Joshua 1:8 states, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8, ESV) Emphasis mine. This is best done before you are going through the wringer! You want to memorize what the Bible says before you hit crisis mode so that God’s word will be right there in your heart and mind when you need it most.
Joy is not like having blue eyes; it’s not something that is out of our control. We can choose to be joyful when all around us things are crashing down, but joy has to be cultivated, nurtured and grown. We were given the seeds of joy when we got saved. The Holy Spirit came to dwell in us and be our Helper. He tells us, “do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10, ESV). But like physical strength, joy is developed and sustained through practice.
Practicing joy is a choice. In fact before you have a deeply ingrained joy, you begin with a sacrifice of praise. “The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness… the voice of them that shall say, Praise the Lord of hosts: for the Lord is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: and of them that shall bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:11, KJV) Emphasis mine. We don’t just start out at unshakable joy any more than we start out with mountain moving faith; it’s an intentional act to stand up and say that regardless of what may come your way you will be joyful.
2. Renew your inner self
We are forever caught up in the battle between our outer self, our “fleshly” side, and our inner self which wants to please God in everything we do.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
”It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
(taken from https://deanyeong.com/fight-two-wolves-inside/)
Our inner self is strengthened and renewed when we “feed it” by giving it our time and attention. This process is called discipleship. It’s all about becoming more like Jesus.
I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s statement, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV).
3. Focus on a powerful, positive outcome
I have found that one of the most powerful things that we can do to move our thoughts from despair is to think about others. When we do this we necessarily aren’t thinking about ourselves. Revolutionary, I know. But it is true nonetheless. When I’m suffering, I try to conceive how God could possibly use what I’m going through to minister to someone else. 2 Corinthians 1:4 says that, “[God] …comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (ESV). What we receive from the Lord we can in turn pass on to others. First Corinthians 12 tells us that we are all a part of one body. If you have ever had a back injury or, as in my case, chronic migraine you understand that when that one area is in pain the entire body suffers. We are brought into community with other believers so that, as one body, we can grow together as one. When one finds comfort or strength through a difficult time that wisdom can be shared with others and the whole body benefits.
So if we desire to find Christ in the midst of our crisis, we need to renew our minds by memorizing scripture and cultivating a life of joy. “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22, ESV). We need to renew our inner self by becoming disciples and feeding ourselves by focusing on becoming more like Jesus. And we need to focus on a powerful, positive outcome that transcends our circumstances and reaches others with God’s comfort and hope.
I would love to pray that we would all be spared from ever having to endure hardships, but that would be unscriptural. We are encouraged to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus…. If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:3, 11-12, ESV). Now that’s a powerful, positive outcome!