I previously wrote that Christians aim to live a life that is centered on God, but you can also avoid one. I want to discuss this by looking at the life of Jonah so that you won’t avoid a God-centered life but cultivate one. You can avoid it for a...
Sometimes I sit down to write and find myself staring at a blank screen, my head swirling with thoughts of what I know is true, yet struggling to connect those truths with the overwhelming emotions and circumstances that seem to say otherwise.
This has been one of those weeks. One where I know that God is sovereign, good, loving, and not wasting the pain he’s allowed while, at the same time, fighting feelings of discontentment, discouragement, anger, weariness, and uncertainty, which seem to drown out the peace and hope that I’m desperately seeking.
As I began my six-week stint on the couch after ankle surgery this past week (with four children, ages eight and under to care for), I hit a wall. After years of battling chronic pain and illness, and one trial after another, it seems that this final blow of surgery sucked the life right out of me.
I have been fighting for so long: fighting to press on, fighting to keep it together for my family, fighting to keep a smile on my face, fighting to not complain, fighting away feelings of anger, fighting the stress and pain that threatens my joy. Suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t fight anymore. I could no longer distract or busy myself with something to do or somewhere to go.
Despite the fact that I have seen God’s faithfulness and goodness to abundantly meet our needs through family and friends this week, I have been inexplicably distraught in my soul.
Perplexed and Shaken
Honestly, I believe that these are some of the hardest seasons to endure, ones that are wearing, not because of circumstances alone, but because the distress and lack of peace seems to come from within. Yes, this often does come in tandem with certain seasons of trials, but not always. This unsettled feeling, as though my head and heart are at war with each other, leaves me perplexed and shaken.
I know what’s true, so why don’t I feel like I believe it right now? I have seen God’s faithfulness time and time again through some of the most heart-wrenching trials in my life, so why do I feel like stomping my feet and “throwing in the towel” because of what he’s currently allowing? Why am I feeling so weak in my faith when just weeks ago I felt unshakable in the hope I have in the gospel?
I don’t have all the answers to these questions, and I’m sure I’m not alone in going through a season like this from time to time. We are intricate beings, with emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, and external factors all playing a role. However, I do know that God still reigns over each one and that none of these factors can divert God from what he purposes to do through them.
So how do we respond in a season like this? Do we stuff or push away the emotions that rattle us? Do we stop reading the Word because it feels as though it’s just hitting a brick wall? Do we distract ourselves with temporary pleasures and brainless activities so that we don’t have to face the questions, anger, confusion, and emotions that leave us unsettled?
Grounded in the Truth
I have read and reread through Psalm 119 over the past few weeks. As I read, the words of the Psalmist began to open my eyes to some fresh reminders that I needed to hear, and my hope is that these truths will speak into your own heart as well.
The Word of God is the source of our comfort, strength, hope, guide, and delight.
The Psalmist knew without a doubt that God’s Word was his source of life. Throughout the Psalm, he confidently proclaims his need and love for God’s law, realizing that it is the way to keep his way pure and will bring him all satisfying joy, give him unshakable hope, anchor his wandering heart, train him in righteousness, and comfort him in affliction.
Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! (vv. 1-3)
Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. I remember your name in the night, O Lord, and keep your law. This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts. (vv. 54-56)
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. (vv. 97-98, 111)
When we find ourselves in a season of hardness of heart, a broken spirit, long-suffering, indifference, or complacency, we have to throw ourselves into God’s Word, searching, mining, and allowing ourselves to be washed over with its truth, whether we feel it in our emotions or not. We need to take our doubts, questions, emotions, and desires to God’s Word with an unrelenting drive to be met with his life-giving promises and heart-changing truths. I believe that God allows these seasons to give us a greater longing for his presence, drive us deeper into his Word, and reveal sinful areas of our hearts that affliction tends to pull to the surface.
As I continued to read through the Psalm, however, I also began to see an equally, if not more important part of the Psalmist’s prayer.
We can obediently read the Word, but the Lord alone can change our hearts.
We can read the Bible, listen to sermons and podcasts, and read books on Christian living, but, without the power of the Spirit to open our eyes and enlarge our heart, we are unable to be changed.
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! (v. 9b)
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! (vv. 18-19)
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your Word! (vv. 27-28)
Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. Let your steadfast love comfort me, according to your promise to your servant. Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight. (vv. 73, 76-77)
With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord! I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. (vv. 145, 147-148)
The Lord knows our frame. He created us to bring him glory and for us to find complete joy and satisfaction in doing so. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows what distracts us, makes us stressed, overwhelmed, scared, weary, excited, motivated, and satisfied.
So where do we go when we are burdened beyond what we can bear or are struggling to understand our own emotions?
To the One who fashioned us and has ordained every circumstance that is surrounding our lives at this very moment. There is no better place to begin than by praying a prayer of dependence such as, “Lord, you know my frame. You know my weaknesses and you know how desperately I need you to soften my heart and give me a desire for more of you. By your mercy, comfort me, strengthen me, and open my eyes to understand your Word. Teach me to love and hold fast to you and your Word more than life itself.”
As I was reaffirmed in these first two truths, I came back to what had struck me most powerfully in Psalm 119, what I was now beginning to understand more clearly:
The Lord ordains and allows affliction in our lives to teach us his statutes and draw us into an all-satisfying, joy-filled relationship with him through his Word.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. (vv. 67-68)
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. (vv. 71-72)
I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. (vv. 75-76)
Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your Word. (v. 73b)
The Psalmist was praising God’s faithfulness in his affliction, not for rescuing him from it but for bringing it into his life. The Lord alone is the source of life, and affliction is his means of stripping us of false security, driving us into a deeper dependency and hope in Christ. Affliction drives us to the Word of God and enhances truths within it that we may not have been able to see as clearly before.
No, God’s Word hasn’t changed, but suffering has a way of changing the lens through which we look at it. Therefore, out of God’s love for us, he allows and even ordains what is necessary in our lives for the purpose of drawing us into his presence, training us in righteousness, and then comforting us in the very affliction that drove us there in the first place.
In affliction, the Lord displays his glory to those around us.
Lastly, as the Psalmist reminds us, our trials are never just about us. When we anchor ourselves in his truth and hope in God’s Word amidst painful trials, it gives encouragement and strength to the body of Christ and is a witness to those who have not yet grasped the hope of gospel. This truth can lift our eyes above our circumstances, encouraging us that our lives are being used as an incredible part of God’s redemptive story.
Despite the battle within me right now, there is no denying that the Lord has brought immense blessing through the trials he is allowing. It has driven me to his Word, expanded my understanding of the gospel, given me more hunger for his presence, provided a platform to share Christ with others, and molded me ever so slightly more into his image.
This season of weariness, although it is a daily battle right now, is reminding me again that every moment of this life, with all its intricacies, has been ordained to draw me deeper into my relationship with Christ; give me life, comfort, hope, and strength in his Word; bring him glory; and ultimately fill me with an unshakable joy in my Savior. In his faithfulness, he has afflicted me.
The Lord rules and reigns over all things.
Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts. (vv. 89-94)
No matter what is going on in our lives, the Lord is on his throne. Though circumstances change and we have a limited view in light of eternity, we can find rest and a secure hope in the unchanging Word of God. Even from the time I began writing this post until typing these last words, my eyes have been lifted and my hope has been strengthened.
In faithfulness he afflicted me.
May we all draw near to the sovereign, strong, faithful, loving, good, perfect hands of our Redeemer, remembering that he is for us, not against us. Brothers and sisters, we have a promised and glorious eternity awaiting us in his presence.
Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12-13)