God, Our Champion in Hard Times

Did you know God promises to put you back together after a hard season is over?  If you’re in a trial, a time of suffering right now, there are brighter days ahead.  I know it might not seem that the sun will ever again shine as brightly as it once did, but it will, because God says so.  Days darkened by death, disaster and disappointments will give way to the light of new hope, provision and direction.

1 Peter 5:10 is a powerhouse of promise for your future. “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So, after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. “(NLT) First, he indicates that suffering will pass. Second, he assures us that after the storms of life deplete us, he will replenish us. Some tag team verses to this idea are: Psalm 34:19, 2 Corinthians 1:5, Jeremiah 29:11, John 16:20, John 16:33, Psalm 27:13-14, Job 5:11, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and Isaiah 61:1-2.   I encourage you to put these on sticky notes and plaster them around your house if you’re in the thick of it right now.

Remember, the hideous torture of Christ’s cross turned out to be the beginning of new life for millions of people, not the death of God’s agenda, as Satan imagined.  Our enemy is no different today than 2000 years ago.  He sees us up against the ropes and he works to convince us that this is our new life, defeat and anguish.  Lies, lies and more lies.   Jesus said, in John 10:10, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  We must decide who we will listen to and believe during dark days.

Here are more strategies for holding onto hope, peace and the belief that once again, “you will see the goodness of God in the land of the living. “(Psalm 27:13)

  • Memorize scripture. You can’t see sticky notes in the dead of night when you are awakened by fears and troubling thoughts.  Truthfully, Satan will try to dump his garbage anywhere he thinks you might be vulnerable.  I often become gloomier about problems when I am ill or tired.  Be prepared with a well-sharpened Sword of the Spirit, to cut through his strategies and keep moving forward.

The work of the cross establishes us as victors.  We battle, but it is from a position of victory already accomplished by Jesus Christ.  Filling our hearts and minds with key verses keeps us in a victor mentality instead of a victim mindset.

  • Stop sharing your troubles with everyone.  Let’s follow the example of Christ and not talk about our crosses all the time.  Yes, he spoke of his coming suffering, but he talked so much more about the power and beauty of his Father’s kingdom and its truths.  Share the good things God’s done for you during your troubles.  Talk about his goodness, mercy and faithfulness.  It’s up to you whether people will inwardly say, “Oh nooooooo….” when they see you coming, or “Oh good.”  Do you want to be known as an encourager or a complainer?
  • Set aside time to listen to God.  Struggles can tempt us to talk too much during our prayer times.  God asks us to present our requests and he loves to hear us speak his word out in faith.  He’d also like to get a word in edgewise.  Yes, he speaks to us through the Bible, but he also speaks to us.  I’ve become more certain that he is talking far more than we are listening.   Psalm 42:7 tells us that “deep calls to deep.”  God hungers to commune with us, spirit to spirit.

In our culture, this requires discipline.  My pastor often says that Satan makes the best to-do lists for him during his prayer time.  Our own flesh and the enemy will constantly try to shanghai our thoughts when we still ourselves before God.  Keep a pad of paper handy and write important thoughts down to attend to later.  Ask God to cover your mind with Jesus’s blood and to quiet you.  Then, don’t doubt what you hear.  Expect to receive some confirmation from other sources but rest in the knowledge that you are his sheep, and you do know his voice.  My former pastor used to say, “The first voice you hear will be God’s.  The second one will be Satan trying to convince you that you didn’t hear from God.”  Truth.

God knows the intimate details of what you are facing today, and he cares deeply.  He’s given you his own dear presence, his word and the countless resources of the body of Christ.  Grab hold of every sermon, song, book, conversation, blog, podcast or whatever, that will speak life into your situation.

Finally, remember, no matter what is against you, he is always for you.

 

Hard Times Part Three

When Ken first entered the insurance field, we went without any incoming salary for five long months.  We drained our savings, racked up credit cards, and I panicked daily.   Novices to such financial lack , we felt a sense of drowning and despair.  He never did make any money with that first company, but unexpectedly, another company granted him an interview, hired him and immediately started him with a generous salary.

I nearly said a permanent, earthly good-bye to Ken at the age of 27.  A rare form of pneumonia reduced a previously healthy man to a condition of total life support, hovering between life and death for several weeks.  Every day I faced the possibility of widowhood and all that meant.  God chose to spare Ken’s life and restore his health, in time.

When you read these two stories of hard times in my life, some of you might be tempted to say, “Well, I’m sorry you experienced those things, but let me tell you about MY hard times.”  Maybe you ARE a widow or widower.  I suspect some of you, in the past or present, experienced much more severe and long-lasting trials than the two above.  There are also countless other challenges and mountains that some of you are living through, which will never touch my life.

Regardless of who wins the “my suffering is greater than yours contest,” some people like to engage in, everybody experiences measures of setbacks, roadblocks and destruction.  We cannot understand fully, the depth of pain and sorrow a problem brings to each unique individual.  Our temperaments, upbringing and past experiences are all different.  Something that might flatten me, you may chug through quite quickly.  Here are some strategies I’ve learned to help me respond more like the mind of Christ than the flesh of Sharon!

  • Assess your behavior. Be honest with self-examination.  There needs to be an admittance of a problem before it can be solved.  I usually get rather snarky and easily irritated when I think I’m handling something, and I’m not.  Run your behavior, over the last week, through the Galatians 5:22 filter.  Quietly before God, ask him what qualities you’ve not been consistently demonstrating.  You may discover you are angrier, more frustrated, fearful, worried, etc. about a situation than you acknowledged.  Recognize the truth of where you are because the truth absolutely does set us free.

 

  • Stop berating yourself for your reactions. I’ll say things to myself like, “I shouldn’t be this upset about this.”   But, I AM that upset.  It’s so much better to acknowledge what your genuine feelings are than to try and pretend they aren’t there because they don’t seem very spiritual!  Then, instead of scolding yourself, repeatedly, for reacting to things in ways you know aren’t right, you can move on to the next step.

 

 

  • Confront root emotions. Lots of times I don’t respond rightly to life’s challenges.  Christ wept over sorrowful situations several times and became quite angry at others, so don’t think we can’t respond with genuine emotion.  We need to!  The problem is when we drift from righteous emotions and responses to unrighteous ones like fear, worry, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, rage, and even desires for revenge.

 

Our souls are like a pot of soup with some burned matter way down at the bottom of the pot.  Often, we don’t realize that stuff is down there until the fire becomes hotter, bringing the taste of the black stuff all the way up through the whole pot of soup.  That’s okay!  We need to figure out what that burnt stuff is down there, so we can deal with it.

 

When we don’t respond in a righteous way to unholy circumstances, there’s usually some junk hiding out in the corners of our hearts.  That’s why God allows the heat to go up, to expose it!

 

  • Realize God desires to purify us through trials.  As much as it pained Job and still bothers us, God is far more concerned about our character than our comfort.  He is unwilling to allow us to remain stagnant or worse, backslide.  The creator is continually sending circumstances and people our way to provoke those parts of our character that are weak and underdeveloped.

 

  • Accept that God allows our trials to advance the kingdom.  Job didn’t possess a clue that his story would inspire, comfort and challenge millions through the centuries.  We can become so immersed in our situation we lose sight of the fact that God will redeem and use our pains and sorrows to help others get through theirs.  Beyond God himself, the best comforters are those who say, “I’ve been in a similar spot, I’m praying for you. Is there anything I can do to help?” You don’t know but that God will use your victories to help keep someone else from totally wrecking their ship on the rocks of hard times.

 

Next time, I’ll share some more strategies for maintaining your joy and peace amidst hellish conditions.  For now, may I encourage you with one more strategy which helps me consistently?  Identify someone in deeper waters than yourself.  When you are tempted to keep rolling the details of your circumstance over and over in your head, stop.  Hand it over to God again and turn your attention to the needs of someone else.  Pray for them fervently every time you are tempted towards a negative emotion stemming from your challenge. It works, and it demonstrates faith to God.  You are trusting him to handle your stuff while you concern yourself with another’s needs.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16

 

 

The Truth About Hard Times Part Two

There are mornings when we wake up with elephants sitting on our chests.  Before we are fully conscious, our hearts race, minds spin, and emotions churn from the sheer weight of our current painful realities.   Whether it’s broken relationships, or a life-threatening diagnosis, joblessness, financial setbacks, death or something I’ve not named, this THING tries to crush you daily.

Hard times can last for years for some of us. Each day, we must choose whether we believe God and his promises are faithful and true or not.  At times. my prayers are darkly colored with anger because he didn’t come through as I expected, or he won’t release me from a trial.  I’ve learned to stay with Him, in that quiet place, until I am able once again, like Job, to acknowledge that he is God and I am not.  Frankly, He’s under no obligation to explain everything to me.  He asks me to trust Him without reservation based on what He has revealed to me in His word and the ways He has cared for me and kept me throughout my life.

When you can’t take a deep breath, when despair threatens to drown you, when you’ve cried so much your eyes hurt, don’t turn away from the only One who understands and has the power to keep you, strengthen you and change the dynamic of your situation. The best medicine for a tattered heart is fastening onto a good dose of who God is.

Wherever there are chasms in your life, between what you know he promises and what you are experiencing, that is where faith lives.  We trust God to be the One who fills a gap or puts a bridge across it.  He is always at work on our behalf to release the blessings of the abundant life Jesus died to give us.  While you wait for promises to be fulfilled, I encourage you to read the list of God’s character attributes, as revealed in the Old Testament, in my last post.  Grab onto the ones that speak specifically to your troubles and declare that’s who he is to you.

Today, here’s the rest of the list as God reveals himself in the New Testament to those who are suffering and hurting.  Be comforted and assured that although you may not be able to see what his hands are doing, his heart is always turned towards you.  He sees. He listens. He cares.

 

  • Matthew- He is our Messiah. He keeps his promises.
  • Mark- He is our faithful servant. He is more concerned with our needs and wants than his own.
  • Luke- He is the Son of Man. He understands all the joys and sorrows of being human.
  • John- He is the beloved Son of God.  He set aside heaven to come to earth, for me, for you.
  • Acts- He is the Fire of the Holy Spirit.  He fills us with the Holy Spirit who comforts us and reminds us of what we know to be true.
  • Romans- He is our justifier.  In our anger and bitterness, he makes the process of repentance and forgiveness available 24/7.
  • 1 Corinthians- He is our righteousness. He enables us to behave righteously in unrighteous situations.
  • 2 Corinthians- He is the triumphant one. He makes us victors instead of victims.
  • Galatians – He sets us free from hindrances. He gives us everything we need to run our race and finish well.
  • Ephesians- He is the head of the Church. He is the one who created the body of Christ that we may draw on its grace and strength during our hard times.
  • Philippians- He is our joy. When life is joyless, he still springs up with goodness inside of us.
  • Colossians-  He is our completion.  The Alpha and Omega will finish what he started in us.
  • 1 Thessalonians -He is our hope. He brings hope to hopeless situations.
  • 2 Thessalonians- He is our glory.  He is the lifter of drooping, weary heads.
  • 1 Timothy- He is our faith. He enables us to believe in the unseen.
  • 2 Timothy- He is our stability. He brings calm into situations of upheaval and unrest.
  • Titus- He is truth. He shows us what is true about us and our lives.
  • Philemon- He is the friend who sticks closer than a brother. All else may leave. God never will.
  • Hebrews- He is our Great High Priest. He is always available to hear our confessions and grant us forgiveness.
  • James- He is our Healer. He heals, hearts, minds and bodies.
  • 1 Peter- He is our example. He shows us how to live godly lives under tremendous stress loads.
  • 2 Peter- He is our purity. Whatever stains trials leave on us, he cleanses and makes us pure again.
  • 1 John- He is our life. He is every breath we take.
  • 2 John- He is our pattern for living. He teaches us the best ways to navigate the stormy seas of life.
  • 3 John- He is our motivation. He cheers us on when we feel like quitting.
  • Jude- He is the foundation for our faith. When the ground gives way under us, he’s still there providing firm footing.
  • Revelation – He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. No one else is like him in glory, strength and power.

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth About Hard Times

Hard times roll through everyone’s world and often feel like storms and droughts.   Some of us are floating in floodwaters. Our homes, families and dreams are threatened by the dirty waters of money troubles, divorce, death and such. When the flood finally passes we are left to deal with piles of mess and debris.

Other folks languish in dry, barren places.  Chronic unemployment, childlessness, broken relationships, long-term illness, hostile work environments and many other soul-drying circumstances can leave us feeling perpetually parched and discouraged.

Hard times can blow like hurricanes or tornadoes, rearranging or destroying everything in their paths.  The adulterous revelations of a spouse or leader, a suicide, a mass shooting or so many other unexpected situations make us wonder if life will ever feel “normal” again.

When I feel like troubles are pressing on me, I need to remind myself of who God is. As fiery trials try to destroy me from the inside and the outside, I’m going to win more battles if I take my eyes off the flames and put them on the One who is in the furnace with me.  In future posts I’ll share some strategies for thriving in trials but today, I think we need a strong reminder that he is the all sufficient, all powerful, all knowing God who is able to handle whatever concerns us today.

In every book of the Bible, he reveals at least one, if not several character attributes.  I selected some that I think will help you if you are facing a barrage of challenges.

 

  • Genesis- He is Creator.  He turns messes into beauty.
    • Exodus- He is our Deliverer.  He makes ways were there are no ways.
      • Leviticus- He is our High Priest. He is at the throne of God on our behalf.
        • Numbers- He is our cloud by day and the pillar of fire by nightHe guides us through every hellish situation.
          • DeuteronomyHe is our teacher. He will teach us survival skills.

 

  • Joshua- He is our mighty conqueror.  He leads us in our warfare from a position of victory.
    • Judges- He is the perfect judge. He will deliver justice to us and against our enemies.
      • Ruth- He is our kinsman-redeemer He takes us into his family and cares for us.
        • 1&2 Samuel- He is a powerful prophet. He tells us the truth about us and our situations.
          • 1&2 Kings- He is King forever.  He rules over heaven and earth and every detail of our lives.
        • 1&2 Chronicles- He is our intercessor He carries our cries and requests directly to the Father.
          • EzraHe is the faithful scribe. Every second of our existence is known by him.
            • NehemiahHe is the rebuilder of broken walls – He restores what’s been destroyed.
              • EstherHe stands in the gap for us. When we are persecuted and plotted against, he stands between us and our enemies.

 

Job- He is the one who understands our pain.  He suffered pain first-hand and empathizes with ours. 

Psalms- He is our reason to sing. In tragedie, he is still everything good, beautiful and right in our world.

Proverbs- He is our wisdom.  He sees the whole picture and will tell us what to do.

Ecclesiastes- He is our purpose, When we are adrift, he give new beginnings and open doors.

Song of Solomon- He is our lover and bridegroom.  He will cherish us now and throughout eternity.

 

  • Isaiah- He is the Mighty Counselor and Good Shepherd. He shows us right paths, emotionally, physically and spiritually. 
    • Jeremiah- He is my comfort during times of suffering. He understands the depth of our pain more than anyone and holds us tightly in his arms.
  • Lamentations- He is the daily mercy giver. Fresh strength for each day.
    • Ezekiel- He is the Son of Man- He understands our temptations.

 

  • Daniel- He is the Fourth Man in our fire. He will never leave us alone during the worst of times.
    • Hosea- He is our faithful lover. He stays when others leave.
      • Joel- He is our refuge. He keeps us safe in the midst of trouble.
        • Amos- He is our burden bearer. He yokes himself to us so we don’t carry our loads alone.
          • Obadiah- He is our Mighty Savior. He stands between us and all the bullies of this life.

 

  • Jonah- He is our salvation. He has saved and sealed our spirits to live with him in perfection, for eternity. Whatever happens here, is only the beginning of our stories.
    • Micah- He is our peace. When troubles swirl around us, He is our quiet place.
      • Nahum- He is our avenger. We can trust him to deal with our opposition.
        • Habakkuk- He is the Holy One. He is set apart, like no other and sets us apart with himself.  
      • Zephaniah- He dances and sings over our lives.  When we see only darkness, he is still dancing and singing over all the potential he placed within us.
        • Haggai- He is the Lord of Hosts- He commands the legions of heaven to act on our behalf.
          • Zechariah- He is the crucified Son – The cross has the final word on any matter in heaven and earth.
            • Malachi- He is the Son of Righteousness – He offers cleansing in our unrighteous situations.

What is your need today?  Run to the great I Am with every question, heartbreak and pain.  He IS your all sufficient one.  Nothing in your life is beyond his control and compassion.