(Presented by Lisa Bishop)
What do you do when the hard days come?
Several years ago, a friend recommended a book to me. I was eager to get it and start reading. When I cracked the book open and turned to the first page, the first three words were, “Life is difficult.” I didn’t know whether to throw the book across the room and regret paying $14.99 or to keep reading and risk being bummed out for the remaining 243 pages. Who starts a book with “life is difficult?” But it’s the truth isn’t it? Life is difficult. You will have hard days, weeks, months…. sometimes years. Maybe you are having one now. Maybe you are in a long season of “difficult” and you see no end in sight.
Maybe you are experiencing the pain and loneliness of singleness. You feel isolated and alone. Or, your kid is struggling and you don’t know what to do. Your marriage is on the rocks and it seems irreparable. Perhaps you are experiencing the repercussions of poor choices. Maybe it’s job loss. Sickness. Deafening silence in a broken friendship, heartbreak or the demands of a job that are overwhelming. Financial troubles. Depression. Anxiety. Aging parents. Facing your own mortality.
What do you do when life just seems hard to bear? As a friend of mine says, “Life is complex and messy, sometimes brutally so, but…… there is a way to look at the mess.” How do you live in the “but?” How do we live in the mess with the lens of heaven?
It will take disciplining your thoughts. It will take trust in God, and oftentimes it takes sheer determination to remember and hold onto truth. It will take courage, the state of mind and belief that enables you to face difficulty and pain. With the shield of faith and the belief in God’s nearness and faithfulness, over the filter of fear.
It will take resisting the temptation to deconstruct your faith when life is hard and take the disappointment and pain as a cue to lean into Jesus. When you are in pain or doubt, it can be tempting to run from the only source of comfort and trade God in for manmade gods. To be lured away from standing firm and lulled by things you think will bring comfort and relief but are only temporary and will never fulfill the deepest longing of your soul that only Jesus Christ can fill. Instead of lashing out and running away from God, how do we remember to cry out to Jesus and run towards him?
It doesn’t take long to realize the multitude of examples of the men and women in the Bible whose stories tell us how they faced major trials in their lives, and how God proved himself faithful every single time. We need these stories as reminders because sometimes in the midst of our own pain, we forget. That is why as a follower of Jesus it is absolutely essential that you are in the Word of God, daily. God’s Word is what renews your mind and reminds you of what is true. There are so many things vying for your attention and affection on a daily basis, it can be easy to be pulled off track. It can be easy to forget God’s character. It can be all too tempting to fail to remember his faithfulness. In order to acknowledge that “life is complex and messy, sometimes brutally so, but…”. In order to live in the “but” we need to look at the Word of God. We need to remember the character of God. Because the world and your circumstances will scream loudly at you. Tempting you to turn away in defeat and forget.
One story that you may be familiar with is the story of Job. Now, before you have an allergic reaction to the word Job like I have in the past, hang with me because I promise you when you read and understand Job’s story in the way God intended, you will be encouraged in the midst of whatever struggle you are facing. The story of Job seems so complex yet so poignant. The story ultimately and beautifully displays the sovereignty of God in the midst of suffering.
Before we look at Job’s story there is a quote from A.W. Tozer that has always stuck with me that I want to share with you. “What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” What do you think about that quote? I like it because it reminds me of the importance of my beliefs about God. If you believe God is who he says he is and you trust in his character, even though you cannot avoid suffering and trials, you know God is with you in them.
If what comes to mind when you think about God is that he is omnipresent, all knowing, all sufficient, all powerful, your provider, protector, defender, The Almighty, sovereign, compassionate, merciful, and kind and that he will never leave you or forsake you. If you ground yourself in those truths, weathering the storms of life will be a different experience. If you look at the mess through the lens that God is distant and doesn’t care, it will be a lot harder to hold on to faith when the winds of life try to toss you around. So, what comes to mind when you think about God? Equally important is what you imagine God is thinking and feeling about you. If you have an incomplete or distorted image of God’s heart for you, when times are tough, you may see God as mean and distant rather than loving and kind.
Let’s talk about Job. We see his story in the book named after him in the Old Testament. In the opening lines of the book of Job we read, “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (1:1). Right out of the gate the author wants to make it clear that Job loved God and lived his life with integrity and in obedience to him. We also read that Job was blessed with a big family, a wealthy estate and a very large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all of the people of the east. It seemed as though everything was going well for him. From the world’s perspective, he had it all.
Until one day Satan comes to accuse Job before God. He insists Job only serves God because he protects him and Satan seeks God’s permission to test Job’s faith and loyalty. God grants his permission, only within certain boundaries. In the testing, Job loses his family, his wealth, and his health. Job’s wife even suggests that he curse God and die. Initially Job’s response is, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). Everything is stripped from him and the 42 chapters of the book of Job unfold with Job’s wrestling, conversations with friends who are less than supportive, and most importantly his crying out to God as his life is in shambles and his best friends add insult to injury in his suffering.
Early on in the story of Job we see that “he did not sin or blame God for anything,” (Job 1:22) and as the story unfolds, we get a first row seat into Job’s humanness as his faith (understandably) wavers as the trials of life hit him on every side. Job’s life is a window into the life of a man who has been faithful to God and under immense loss doubts God’s faithfulness in his suffering. But his doubt does not cause him to take a detour in his faith. Job did not reject God, but he did question God, argue with and defend himself to God. We hear the angst in his voice.
“I will speak with anguish in my spirit. I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
“I am disgusted with my life. I will express my complaint and speak in the bitterness of my soul.”
“I wish I had never existed.”
“My spirit is broken.”
In the midst of the mess we see Job straining to remember and declare God’s character when he says.
“I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh. I will see Him myself. My eyes will look at Him and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me.”
“My feet have followed in His tracks; I have kept His ways and not turned aside. I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily food…. I am not destroyed by the darkness.”
…….“I am not destroyed by the darkness.” …….The darkness was trying to win in Job’s life but he declares, in the midst of doubt and despair, he will not let the hard days win.
Job continues to come honestly before God as he seeks to experience God’s sovereignty in the midst of life’s suffering.
In the final chapters of Job we hear God’s response to Job’s anguish. Chapter 38:1. “Then Lord spoke to Job.” It’s in God’s response that Job is reminded of God’s sovereignty. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4). “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?” (Job 38:12). “Who makes the rain fall on barren land, in a desert where no one lives?” (Job 38:26). God is basically asking Job, “Who are you to question Me?” Yet, it can be easy to question God in the pain because it does not seem to make sense.
When you are in the midst of deep pain and suffering, “trust God” can seem like a trite statement. But it is solid Truth. God is trustworthy.
In the midst of his suffering, in the middle of questioning why God would allow him to bear such tragedies in his life, Job recognizes and acknowledges God’s infinite power and accepts the constraints of his human understanding. Even though it is a fight, he is determined to trust God’s power, wisdom, and authority.
If I am honest, it is not always easy for me to trust God when life is hard.
Where does the pain in your life seem unbearable? It will be if you try to endure it alone. When you are in your darkest pain moments do you isolate and retreat? Maybe you lash out in bitterness and anger. Or perhaps you look to something else to soothe your pain. Alcohol, drugs, sex, harmful behaviors.
Pain inevitably afflicts each one of us. Suffering is unavoidable in this life. The question is will your relationship with God be enough when trials come? Will you trust him through your suffering? I encourage you to read Job 38-42. Spend time with the Lord Almighty. Pray for strengthened faith in the powerful Creator described in those chapters. Pray for a right perspective of God and ask the Holy Spirit to see your situation through his eyes.
Instead of asking where God is in the midst of your pain, the book of Job affirms God’s control and asks us, “Where are we in our pain? Are we trusting our Creator, even though we cannot understand our circumstances?”
Throughout his story we see that Job questions God. As Job questions God himself, he learns valuable lessons about the sovereignty of God and his need to totally trust in the Lord. Job’s story teaches us to trust God under all circumstances. Not only when we do not understand, but because we do not understand. In Psalm 18:30a the psalmist tells us, “As for God, his way is perfect.” If God’s ways are “perfect,” then we can trust that whatever he does—and whatever he allows—is also perfect. This seems impossible, doesn’t it? Yet we need to remember that our minds are not God’s mind.
It is true that we can’t expect to understand his mind, as God declares in Isaiah 55:8-9 when he says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
When you cannot understand the ways of God, remember and cling to the truth about God. In the midst of the messy times of your life, your response to God is to lean into him, to trust him, and to submit yourself to him, whether you understand it or not. Open up your hands and heart to receive his steadfast love and mercy in the midst of your disappointments and pain. To remember his character. To remember, “Life is complex and messy, sometimes brutally so, but…… there is a way to look at the mess.” And that lens is through truth. The truth of God’s Word. The truth of God’s character, the truth of Jesus’s love for you and the power of his Holy Spirit at work in you.
I am not sure what your trial is right now. You may be in the biggest battle of your faith. Hear me. You are not alone. Truly. It may feel like you are but do not let Satan win. You have people who love you and are for you. God is for you. Jesus is with you right in this very moment. In your times of despair get honest with God. Tell him how you are feeling. He already knows. Throw up your fists. He can handle it. Cry out to Jesus. Ask him to help you. Tell him you want to experience his presence. Fight to lean into him. Recite the words of Lamentations 3:21-24.“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
You are not alone in the trials of life. God is with you. Don’t let the hard days win.