A friend was telling me about a lady who went to his church. Her son was in his twenties and had started serving the Lord when he passed away unexpectedly. She was devastated over it, but she still tells people how good God is. She was asked, “How can you talk about the goodness of God when you have had such heartache?” She replied, “My circumstances don’t change the goodness of God. Who know what could have happened to my son in the future? Perhaps it was the kindness of the Lord to take him home early.” Her perspective on God is right on and contrary to how so many would feel. Most of us would get bitter towards God or be ad at Him at least. Her story reminds me that o matter what comes my way, God is still good.
Job was a person in the Bible who also experienced great loss. In a matter of minutes he found out that his livestock and animals was stolen taking away his wealth and income. His workers who were planting crops were also attacked and killed taking away his future food security. Then his children were killed by a collapsed house taking away future generations. In that moment, he tore his clothes in grief and dropped to his knees. Instead of cursing God or asking Him “why”, he worshiped God. He reiterated God’s goodness and acknowledged His sovereignty. Even though he didn’t understand why it happened, but he still made sure to keep the proper perspective on things. He came into the world with nothing and he would leave with nothing. God gives and God takes. He then blessed the name of the Lord.
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose” (AMP). There are times when your circumstances don’t look good, but God still is good. Things may be a mess right now, but messes are incubators for miracles. Difficult circumstances are the things that God uses to work out His plan in our life and to grow our faith in Him. I don’t know what you’re facing today or what you’re going through, but I do know that God is good and He is working things out for your good through it. Stand on this promise as a firm footing when everything else seems to be slipping away. Be like Job and profess God’s goodness even when it may not feel good.
In Job 1. we read one of the most devastating stories a person could ever go through. In one day, Job lost all his possessions, his servants, his shepherds, his livestock and his children. One bad report came right after the other. In under a minute, he had lost everything. His knees buckled and he fell under the weight of everything. Verse 20 says. “Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship” (NLT). I imagine him face down with his hands raised up in surrender. He didn’t understand why everything was happening, but he did understand that God would care for him. The final verse in the first chapter says he didn’t sin by blaming God.
Every one of us are going to experience hardship that we don’t understand. Every one of us are going to unexpectedly lose things and people that we love with no answer as to why. Jesus said in Matthew 5:45 that God causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust just like He causes it to rain on both. We are not exempt from pain, disappointment or loss. Instead, we have an anchor to hold on to when all seems lost. We have hope that others do not have. We can still worship in the middle of a storm we don’t understand. We can still trust God’s plan when our plans are torn from us. We can still look ahead when we’re too weak to move.
Hebrews 12:12-13 says, “So be made strong even in your weakness by lifting up your tired hands in prayer and worship. And strengthen your weak knees, for as you keep walking forward on God’s paths all your stumbling ways will be healed!” (TPT) When we are at our lowest, we need to worship. When we are out of options, we need to worship. When all seems lost, we need to worship. When we are too tired and feel like giving up, we need to worship. Worship regains our perspective. Worship renews our strength. Worship gives us hope. Worship keeps us moving forward when we can’t see the path. We don’t have to understand what God is doing, or even why. Like Job, we have to trust that He sees the bigger picture and knows what He’s doing. When nothing makes sense and you can’t do anything else, worship. He inhabits the praises of His people. He will not abandon you in your greatest time of need.
In the darkest time of my life, I was so upset and angry I couldn’t eat or sleep for days. In the night, I would lay down, but I couldn’t sleep. As tears rolled down my face, I began to sing a couple of songs I learned as a kid. The first one was “The Joy of the Lord is My Strength,” and the other one was “Rejoice in the Lord Always”. As depression and bitterness we’re trying to make theirselves at home in my mind, I could only combat them with these songs. I knew that I was in a bad situation and that adding in those two things would make things worse. I tried to remember that God knew what I was going through, even if He wasn’t stopping it, and that joy would give me strength to endure anything.
When I was younger, someone once told me that there’s a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is based on circumstances so it comes and goes based on my condition. Joy is internal and not based on any external situation. It comes from understanding that no matter what my condition is, I’m still loved by Jesus and there is nothing that can separate me from it. When you learn to look at your life through the lens of Jesus’ love rather than your current circumstances, you learn to have a joy that gives you strength no matter what you’re going through.
Psalm 31:7 says, “I will be glad and rejoice because of your constant love. You see my suffering; you know my trouble” (GNT). God is very much aware of your pain, your suffering, your stressful situation or whatever you’re facing, and He knows how to work it our for your good. Even though you can’t see how anything good can come from it right now, keep trusting in His plan and resting in His love. Let joy spring up from within you and turn the ashes of what used to be, or what could have been, into fertile soil for God to do something new and unexpected. His joy will strengthen you and His love will sustain you through whatever comes your way. Keep trusting in His plan.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
How do you respond when life doesn’t go according to your plan? How do you handle it when things go wrong? I usually complain, get mad and let my outward demeanor show it. I then start trying to fix it, figure out what I need to cut to get back on track and go faster. When that doesn’t work, the previous response get elevated and I try going faster. It’s my wife who usually has to bring me back to reality. She’ll say something like, “Remember this may not be part of your plan, but it could be part of God’s. Have you tried praying yet?” Most of the time that works. It helps me refocus on God’s plan instead of my own. When it doesn’t work, she starts praying out loud for the situation and me.
Job was the model person for how to respond when our plans go wrong. Things were going great in his life until one day when a storm knocked down the house his kids were in. Then his property was raided and the people stole his livestock and killed his shepherds. All he had worked for was gone in an instant. Instead of getting angry or blaming God, Job 1:20 says, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped” (ESV). He didn’t run to his vice. He didn’t go try to fix things or make a new plan. He mourned for his losses and found a way to return his focus to God.
I love the prayer in Habakkuk 3. Verses 17-18 say, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” When everything is going wrong in your life, it’s time turn towards God and try things his way. When the enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy, find a way to worship and rejoice in the God of your salvation. I know this is easier said than done, but it takes a conscious effort to refocus and recognize that it’s not God destroying your life or taking things away from you. That’s not who He is. When we worship like Job in difficult times, it gets our focus back on the only one who can sustain us and help us. Remember, His plan is greater than ours and He can restore what was taken from you.
If you’ve ever read the book of Job, you may have found yourself feeling sorry for him. There may have been times in your life when you’ve even related to him too. I know I have had those moments. When you go through periods of loss or continuous disappointment, Job is a great book to read. You will find that there’s always someone who has it worse than you, there is purpose in pain and that you can endure anything. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the book, but I can tell you that I’m still amazed when I come to the end of the first chapter. After Job has lost all his livestock, his riches and his children, he doesn’t curse God. He doesn’t cry out, “Why me?” Instead, it says he fell to his knees and worshipped God. He recognized that everything he had came from God, and if God took it all back, he was good with it.
I can honestly say that during my times of great disappointment and loss, that was not my attitude. To stand on rock bottom in life, look up from the hole you’re in and bless God seems unfathomable, yet Job was able to. If he was able to, you and I are to. He made the choice to worship instead of to whine. He chose to bless God instead of to curse Him. He made the choice to recognize everything he had belonged to God and wasn’t a result of His own work. The perspective he had challenges me to readjust and calibrate how I see God and how I react in the bad times. It’s easy to worship when things are going well, but can we worship when everything seems to be going wrong? Can we praise Him when our prayers are unanswered? Can we thank Him when we don’t see a way forward? Can you say, “Even though I’m broken, yet will I praise you”?
Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” (NLT) There’s a very similar picture here to the attitude Job had and that we are to have. Joy is not something that is circumstantial. It doesn’t rely on what’s going on around you. Joy looks at where your strength comes from. It looks at who your hope is in. It is defiant in the face of any circumstance you may face, and it says, “My hope is not in al, these things. My hope is in God. No matter what comes my way, I know that my God is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than I can ask or pray for. Even though things look bad now, yet will I praise God! He is my rock, my fortress and my salvation.” You and I have that same spirit of joy within us. In tough times, activate it and worship. Remind yourself that God is in control, He has a plan and that no matter what happens you will continue to trust and to praise Him.
One thing I’ve learned is that God is more concerned with your spiritual condition than your physical comfort. He will do whatever it takes to get your attention. At one point in my life, i was off track and headed in the wrong direction. God stepped in to get my attention. When I ignored His voice, painful things began to happen. I went through a period where my life began to unravel. Everything I tried to grab onto slipped through my hands like sand. Finally, when I was down to nothing, I gave in to His voice. God said if I would follow where He led me, I would find joy unimaginable. Over the last 15 years, He has led me out of that valley into a greater relationship with Him.
All throughout the Bible, this is what God has done. He has tried to get our attention. When the nation of Israel, or individuals like Balaam, Saul and Moses refused to hear His voice, He did whatever it took to get their attention. Israel would turn away from God and then enemies would attack, famines would come and all sorts of things would happen just so that they would turn back to God for help. He uses trouble in our life to get us to quit trying to do things on our own so we can return to our relationship with Him.
Hosea 2:15 says, “I will give back to her the vineyards she had and make Trouble Valley a door of hope” (GNT). God was speaking this to Israel saying if they would return to their relationship with Him, He would turn their valley into a pathway of hope. I can testify that in my life, God took me out of the valley and created a door of hope when I turned back to Him. It didn’t happen over night and things didn’t go back to where they were. As I walked through that door of hope, God rebuilt my life and led me to a place beyond anything I could have imagined. When I surrendered to what He was trying to do, the door or hope opened and I walked through. He wants to open that door for each one of us, but the key is to surrender your will to His.
Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
As we sat around the dinner table last night, the conversation began to focus on Heaven. We went around the table asking who would be the first person we would want to meet in Heaven aside from Jesus. As we discussed different people from the Bible, I decided to post on Facebook asking others who they would like to meet. I was surprised by their answers. Instead of people from the Bible, most came back with family members they had never met. Several spoke of children they had lost through miscarriage.
What I read in their responses was there are so many of us who live our lives with the hope of being reunited and being made complete. Family units will be as they could have been. We’ll be able to see from one end of the family tree to the other. Heaven, for many, will be a great big family reunion. We’ll be joined together with families who were with us here on earth and with fellow heirs of Christ. I don’t know how it will work or how we will be known, but I do know that there is a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on to complete our race (Hebrews 12:1). Those who have gone on before don’t want us to quit.
When I think of eternity and the prize that is waiting, it always encourages me to keep going. Let’s face it, living how God called us to live isn’t easy. It’s difficult to be successful at it in a world that cheers us on to live like them. There are days where it’s just easier to quit running this race than to take another step forward. There are times when things happen that we don’t understand and we want to be angry at God. In those moments when I get frustrated and doubt that God really cares, I think of those who have already made it to Heaven and how I want to see them. I look beyond the pain of today toward what is to come.
Yes, life is full of loss, hurt and pain, but God didn’t leave us without hope. He gave us the Comforter to guide us and to remind us of God’s promises. He gave us the hope of being reunited with lost loved ones. He gave us that cloud of witnesses who are cheering for you to keep going. Can you hear them? Can you imagine them standing all around you wanting you to complete the race? When I doubt or want to quit, I hear those cheers and it encourages me to keep going. They’re cheering for you too. Your family members, unborn children and a host of others will be waiting at the finish line to welcome you home. You just have to keep running even when they’ve gone on before you.
I’ve combed through the book of Jeremiah looking for things to learn and grow from. What I found was a man who obeyed God, said what he was supposed to say, and was rejected because of it. He was beaten, thrown into a public prison, dumped into a cistern to die, dragged off against his will, and called a liar when people didn’t like the messages God gave him. Before he even gave the messages, he knew that the people were going to reject the messages. He even tried to keep quiet at one point, but he said the word of God felt like a fire trapped in his bones until he spoke it.
I can only imagine what he felt. In Lamentations 3:16-19, he described some of it for us. He wrote, “He has made me chew on gravel. He has rolled me in the dust. Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is. I cry out, ‘My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the LORD is lost!’ The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss” (NLT). Powerful words describing a bitter time.
Even though this period of life was bitter for him, he didn’t become bitter. For me, that’s been one of my goals in life. When times get tough and all hope is lost, find a way to not get bitter through the process. When we have to endure bitter times in our lives, we have a choice. We can dwell on our losses, our disappointments, our failures, and our suffering or we can choose to dwell on God’s faithfulness through it all. One choice will make you as bitter as your circumstances and one will give you strength to endure.
Jeremiah chose the latter. In Lamentations 3:21-23 he wrote, “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” No matter what you’re having to go through, God has been faithful to you and He loves you. Concentrate on who He is and what He’s done for you throughout your life instead of your present situation. A smooth life isn’t guaranteed to any of us, but the love and faithfulness of the Lord is.
Sing this hymn to yourself today to help you remember:
I’ve often heard that joy is not circumstantial, but happiness is. To many of us, the two are the same. I believe that happiness is an external expression as a result from a feeling. Joy, on the other hand, is what creates hope and optimism even in the face of circumstances that tell you otherwise. Joy is what gives us the strength to put one foot in front of the other, to breathe in and breathe out and to get out of bed when all we want to do is curl up and cry. Joy gives us peace in troubled times.
The Bible speaks a lot about Joy. In one instance, Job had been faced with great loss to his family, finances and health. Things got so bad that his own wife told him, “Curse God and die!” She had let the circumstances steal her Joy. She saw no way out of the situation. She had no hope for the future. She was mad at God, mad at life and mad at her husband. She couldn’t understand why her husband still held onto his faith in God in such trying times. It just didn’t make sense.
I’ve found that a lot of life doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand why things happen the way they do. I don’t pretend to know why God doesn’t answer my prayers the way I pray for Him to. Just because He doesn’t, I shouldn’t stop praying. I shouldn’t grow bitter against Him. I shouldn’t sever our relationship. It’s easy to do those things in the midst of a trial if you don’t have Joy. It’s easy to want to quit, renounce your faith and walk away because you’re mad at God. But Job proved that you can go through unimaginable pain and maintain your Joy. Was he sad? Yes. But even in his sadness, he did the hard thing. He held onto Joy.
I’m sure he began to wonder why he was holding onto it after a while. I’m sure over time the situation, the questions and longevity of his trial began to wear on him. During that time, a friend named Bildad came to encourage him. In Job 8:21, he reminded Job of who God was and what He promised His people. He said, “He (God) will once again fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.” He reminded Job that the circumstantial sadness was only temporary.
I believe that verse is God’s promise to us today. He will once again return laughter and joy to your life no matter what your circumstances have brought you. I love Psalm 30:5. It’s very familiar to lots of people. You’ve heard it read as, “Weeping may endure for a night, but Joy comes in the morning.” I especially love how the Message puts it. It says, “The nights of crying your eyes out will give way to days of laughter.” Circumstances will tell you those days will never come, but Joy says it’s on its way. That’s a promise from God.
In the summer between my Fifth and Sixth grade years of school, my parents informed me that they were taking me out of the school system I had attended all my life and we’re putting me into a Christian school. I was devastated. All I could think of were the things I was going to lose and miss out on. There was no social media so I was going to lose all the friends I had been making since kindergarten. The Christian school was small and didn’t have much of a sports program. I went from a class of 20 something students to an entire grade that had only six students.
All I could focus on we’re the things I was losing. I pled with my parents about their choice. I wasn’t happy about it and let them know it! They were focused on my bigger picture. They knew that there was a higher percent of Christians in the Christian school than where I was meaning I would more than likely make friends with good influences. They knew that a grade that had six students would mean I would get a more individualized learning situation. They knew that even though sports were a big deal to me, I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete so they focused on things that benefited my future.
Thirty years later, I can see now what I couldn’t see then. I appreciate the choices they made even though I disagreed with them. As an adult in life, I forget that ultimately I’m a child of God. Even though I call Him “Father” in my prayers, I don’t often think of us being in a father / son relationship. I think of myself as an adult and He is more like my guide. I don’t think that’s how He wants it though. The truth is, I don’t know anything about what’s best for me long term just like I didn’t as a Fifth grader.
When God makes choices to take things out of my life, I still stomp and tell Him it’s not fair. All I can see are the things I’m losing. I’m too focused on the short term comforts rather than His long term goals for my life. I feel like God speaks to me sometimes in the way he did in Job 38 to get my attention during my tantrums. In verses four and five, He asked Job, “Where were you when I made the world? If you know so much, tell me about it. Who decided how large it would be? Who stretched the measuring line over it? Do you know all the answers?”
I don’t always agree with the decisions God makes in my life, but I’m learning that He knows what’s best long term for me. He may take away people or things from my life so that He can put prepare me for what’s ahead. He may do things that look like sacrifices now only to reveal years later that it was for my good. I wasn’t there when He laid the foundations of the earth. I don’t have the answers, but I do know the One who does. In times when I feel like I’m losing important parts of my life, I’m learning to trust His overall plan because He will do what is best for me long term.