Half way to an appointment thirty minutes north of Atlanta I found myself locked in a huge traffic jam behind an overturned tractor-trailer and without my cell phone which I had accidentally left at home. After several miles of crawling along, I managed to wiggle out of the mess on to an exit ramp and return home to call and reschedule since the office would have been closed by the time I could get there.
On the way home, I pulled in to a gas station to fill up and after pumping I turned the key to restart the engine. Silence. Click-click. I put the gear in neutral and pushed the car toward a parking space and two gentlemen joined in to help me steer it in between the lines. Another gentleman tried to help me jump the engine but still…silence…click-click. Unfortunately, my car’s starter had failed. Without my cell phone I went inside the store to use the sticky station phone, but of the four people I attempted to contact no one answered. So I contemplated my options, then walked home.
When I finally got home from the gas station and loaded the dishwasher, it kicked the bucket. The day before, our faucets had started leaking upstairs and downstairs.
Oh, and let’s not forget the hot water heater…it croaked as well that night while we slept leaving us several days of a sink full of dirty dishes, no water to bathe or use the bathroom, and a wet, smelly basement.
Wow. What else could possibly go wrong? I kept looking around for the hidden Candid Camera.
Question: How do we react when things don’t go our way? We may wonder… Is God mad at me? He must hate me if He’s letting this happen, right? What did I do to deserve this? Is He getting back at me? Why does it feel like the whole world is against me?
For Americans, such inconveniences present lifestyle changes from luxury to basic. Not that we can’t adjust, it just takes some mental gymnastics, patience, and along with reprioritizing, maybe shedding a few tears of frustration along the way.
In spite of our circumstances, the Scriptures instruct us to be thankful in and for everything at all times (see below). But how can I be thankful for an appointment-missing traffic jam, my failed starter, broken dishwasher and croaked hot water heater?
Gimme a break.
The answer is that there is more going on than just the circumstances. We are passing through circumstances in a fallen world for a very good reason. Circumstances can be good, bad or in between, and are always unpredictable. But they are never a barometer of God’s love. God loves us as much as He ever has or ever will. Nothing we do can make Him love us any more or less than He does. And we may be just having a bad week or reaping what we’ve sown or God may be disciplining us, but He certainly not punishing us because He has already paid for every deed of our old man (John 1:29; Heb. 1:3b; 10:2,10,14; 12:8).
When it seems that the whole world is against us, God is really not mad at us. Because God is in control and works everything in the entire universe for our good, He is just using the circumstances to develop something special, deep and eternal in us like surrender, patience, humility, forgiveness, perseverance, etc. In other words, He’s just mysteriously doing His God-thing to make us more like Him.
Bottom line, if God is with us –which He is– then who can possibly be against us? Even if the whole world is actively against us, that equals nothing compared to Him being for us. Remember how Saul tried to kill David nearly a dozen times, but to no avail (1 Sam. 19)?
And if God truly uses all things for our good, then we can give thanks in and for all things like He instructs us. When we give thanks for circumstances that seem bad, we are taking territory back from the enemy by conquering evil with good and by surrendering allowing our spiritual eyes to be opened to see people’s real needs and God’s ultimate purposes that were hiding behind the circumstances.
Unfortunately, last week I heard a preacher specifically instruct his congregation not to be thankful in and for all things, especially not the bad things. Sounds like he is still trying to get life from his circumstances, and had no idea he was robbing his listeners of the joy of learning to know Christ intimately. This involves giving thanks equally in all circumstances because God is in all of them. If we only thank God for what we see as good circumstances, we are treating Him like Santa Claus (Job 2:10). The message also gave the subtle impression that when bad things happen that God was not in control and not working all things together for our good. It saddens to me when people limit others in knowing God intimately.
During our circumstances, are we surrendered? And do we have our eyes focused primarily on God or on the issues (Heb. 12:2)? When we are surrendered, our agenda is off the table which greatly simplifies things. When our primary focus is on God, He is our lens and we live in reality because through His lens He looks large and in charge and shows us as we humbly seek Him what to do with the problems.
When we are not surrendered, the situation is more complicated because we must be broken during it or have the lesson repeated (Ex. 34:9). And when our focus slips off of God and falls on to the problems, we fall in to deception because the problems appear bigger than they are or unmanageable by God, and God appears smaller and unconcerned which causes us to feel depressed and hopeless.
When we stay surrendered and keep our primary focus on God who is in charge of our problems and then choose to allow Him to teach us through the problem-solving process, things always work out even if they last longer than we would like. That’s the great thing about living with God in a fallen world. There is always something new to learn and there are always plenty of opportunities to become more dependent on God and His body.
That bad week, what did I learn (Luke 17:17-19)? I learned that I actually miss being a pedestrian like I was during my college years here and abroad, that we live in pure luxury, that I take for granted my lifestyle, that things break down and need fixing sometimes all at the same time, that nothing happening to me is not common to man, that what comes out of me when times get rough is what I am made of, and that these problems might even be practice for circumstances that lay ahead.
Whether the learning involves relationships, finances, personal habits, perspective checks or just keeping our sanity from day to day, He is there! But we’ll never access Him and see His deeper purposes if we don’t believe He is in it. That’s the key. Our work is to peer beyond the circumstances and believe (John 6:29).
My stringent lessons in learning to peer beyond my circumstances to see Christ are found in my personal journal available at myjourneythroughthecross.com.
Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel–which, when translated, means, God with us.
Jesus replied, This is the work (service) that God asks of you: that you believe in the One Whom He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His Messenger].
Ephesians 5:20 Amp
At all times and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.
And be thankful (appreciative), [giving praise to God always].
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will].
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
We are assured and know that [ God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.
In Him we also were made [God’s] heritage (portion) and we obtained an inheritance; for we had been foreordained (chosen and appointed beforehand) in accordance with His purpose, Who works out everything in agreement with the counsel and design of His [own] will,
1 Corinthians 10:13
For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear].
Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]–
Shall we accept [only] good at the hand of God and shall we not accept [also] misfortune and what is of a bad nature?
…through many hardships and tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
And he said, If now I have found favor and loving-kindness in Your sight, O Lord, let the Lord, I pray You, go in the midst of us, although it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your inheritance.
When He had by offering Himself accomplished our cleansing of sins and riddance of guilt, He sat down at the right hand of the divine Majesty on high
Hebrews 10:2, 10, 14
2 For if it were otherwise, would [these sacrifices] not have stopped being offered? Since the worshipers had once for all been cleansed, they would no longer have any guilt or consciousness of sin.
10 And in accordance with this will [of God], we have been made holy (consecrated and sanctified) through the offering made once for all of the body of Jesus Christ (the Anointed One).
14 For by a single offering He has forever completely cleansed and perfected those who are consecrated and made holy.
Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection].
Now if you are exempt from correction and left without discipline in which all [of God’s children] share, then you are illegitimate offspring and not true sons [at all].