How do you walk with joy in the midst of less than glorious circumstances?
How do you keep a tender heart during the disappointments and trials of life that we’re all bound to face?
Chances are there’s something unwanted in your life. I know I’ve got my share. An imperfection, broken relationship, trouble, baggage, or something you didn’t sign up for but now find yourself juggling.
That’s life, right? Now what?
If you are like me, you spend a lot of time worrying about these things. I always try to remember to not worry which accomplishes nothing, but to pray instead, which could actually help.
Besides praying, here are a few realizations that have helped me to keep my heart and mind quiet through turbulent times.
1. I need to focus on the right things.
Hurts are inevitable. Those tender spots, painful memories, lonely years, involuntary remembrances are not wrong in and of themselves. We are human and emotions are part of our make-up. If we didn’t feel injustice, something would be very wrong with us.
But these things can easily become central in our thoughts and can quickly displace our pursuit of God.
Trials must be accepted with joy–per James–a mindset that takes supernatural enablement.
Why? Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance and after that, you’ll mature in your faith, lacking nothing. (See James 1:2-4)
Where we focus our mental time and energy reveals what we are pursing.
We live near a pond and we love using our fire pit in the evenings. I’ve decorated the trees with white lights to add to the charm. It’s almost perfect, except for one small problem: the mosquitos are thick near the pond and those pesky bugs attack us every time we go out.
If I focused only on the “bugs”, I’d probably never venture outside. Instead, we don our insect repellant and focus on the family time and it propels me to go outside, despite the pests.
We all have “bugs.” And we must see past the bugs to the Creator and His purposes.
The Israelites had their fair share of “bugs” as they were leaving Egypt.
First, Pharoah’s army. God intervened. He parted the water and they walked through on dry ground.
Then, they began their journey into the “Promised Land.” I can imagine the eye rolls and the sighing after three days of walking in the wilderness. “Promised Land? If you call scorching heat and no water promising.” I can hear the complaining now.
That’s when things got real. They were really thirsty, really hungry, really tired and subsequently, really angry. So angry that they wanted to kill Moses and dreamed of the “good old days” back in slavery in Egypt. Yikes.
art by Benjamin West (Joshua Passing the River Jordan)
They focused on their lack, and forgot God’s provision.
Belief took a backseat and the blame game began.
Instead of resting in God’s presence and sovereignty, they let frustration and dissatisfaction build to anger so that they would have picked up stones to kill Moses.
It’s a downhill spiral. Desires unmet and focused on lead to disappointment, then nursed become discontentment, then anger, complaining, murmuring, blaming, lashing out.
You and I aren’t much different. When trials come, we can “take it” for a while. A precious short while. But we need a fight our own sinful reactions if we’re going to call it all joy and persevere.
Our example and inspiration is Jesus:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-4
2. I need to identify the real target of my dissatisfaction.
During trials, I’ve learned that I can’t trust my feelings or perception because it’s usually very off.
The Israelites blamed their issues on Moses, but Moses wasn’t any more capable of producing water or food out of thin air than they were.
They were mad at God so they blamed, complained, and attacked Moses–the wrong person.
Maybe you’ve found yourself angry at a situation that was unwanted or unfair. Anger itself that is righteous and against sin is not the problem. It’s the anger directed at other people that does the damage and it shows up in varied ways:
- the prolonged slow burn of resentment,
- the envy that morphs into hate,
- the cold disposition,
- the desire for revenge,
- the indifference,
- the stiff neck,
- snide remarks,
- sour spirit,
- critical comments.
You get the idea.
Same root (anger), different fruit:
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.”
The thing is that our anger does not work towards our righteousness. So we need to look inside, find the hardness of heart toward God and address it, so we can move on in our spiritual growth.
3. I need to agree with God.
Sometimes our problem is that we don’t see the whole picture. I see the frustrations in my day as hindrances to my schedule, my plans, but God is orchestrating events to deal with my heart.
I call it a trial, but God calls it deliverance.
Sometimes He brings the same trials over and over again to see if I will follow His Word or not. He did this with the children of Israel. As they wandered from place to place, the same old problem arose. No water. No food. In the Wilderness of Sin, then again at Rephidim. It should have been like de ja vu. Excitement. “Hey, we’ve been here and seen this! God’s going to do it again. He’ll provide. Have faith.” But no. Out poured the same old heart issues. They murmured.
Exodus 16: 4, 6-8
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.
So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?”
Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”
The Lord was delivering the people of Israel and He allowed trials in that process.
He’s delivering you and me as well. He’s delivering us from the entanglement of sin, the delusions of sufficiency, the perceptions of independence. He’s saving us from our own hearts, friends, and that’s where real freedom is.
I love this verse that gives God’s assessment of their “wilderness wanderings full of trials, no food, tiredness, heat, exhaustion.
Exodus 19:4 should be a wake up call to Christian women in trials everywhere because God’s perception of what takes place is different than our own.
Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
Carried you on eagles’ wings? Brought you to myself? Are you kidding me? I thought that trial would kill me.
“Borne up and Brought To.”–comfort of comforts.
Carried you to myself.
I’ve been mulling that phrase, friends.
It’s settled deep within my heart and started to soften some of the hard places where I’ve hid cynicism, fear, and disappointment.
We are not forgotten.
God is using this thing, whatever it is, to bring us to Himself.
Is this trial making you chase harder after God?
If so, you’re soaring on eagles wings. He’s bringing you to Himself, renewing your strength, clarifying your vision.
It’s a gift, friends, and it can be truly counted as “all joy.”