Trusting God When Your Fears Come True

Where you are ain’t where you wish that you was,
Real life ain’t easy, and the road is rough,
But where you are is where He’s promised to be,
From the ends of the world to every point of need. 
 
Rich Mullins, “Where You Are”

 

In the past semester I’ve written about how to handle anxiety and what to do with life’s little disappointments. Sometimes we worry unnecessarily — either our fears never come to pass, or we worry about things that don’t really matter.

Occasionally, though, our worst fears are realized. Not every problem is small or easily fixed. None of us completely escapes the real trials of life. I’m not an old man, but I’ve seen my peers face issues like chronic illness, loss of a child, financial ruin, divorce, and infertility. Even college students aren’t immune — for some, the challenges of a bad economy become very personal when they struggle for months or years to find employment. Others face personal and family crises that are hard for me to fathom.

What then? How do you respond when your world seems to have fallen out from under your feet? I’m always hesitant to give generalized advice, since everybody’s situation is a bit different. I also shy away from making blanket pronouncements like, “Everything will be OK.” The truth is that I don’t know what’s going to happen. Neither do you. We can’t predict the future.

What I can do is remember (and remind others of) the character of God and of His Son. For one thing, He’s with us in the midst of severe pain and disappointment. “The nearness of God is my good” (Psalm 73:28). That means we never go unnoticed. We’re never alone. Second, Jesus sympathizes with us. He’s been there. He suffered deeply, He faced trials and tribulations and pain and rejection while trusting God completely (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:21-24). He cares about us and loves us in the midst of our suffering because He knows what it’s like. Third, He has a plan that is ultimately good (Romans 8:28). That doesn’t mean that everything will be OK in the sense that my problems will disappear right now or in the near future. It doesn’t even mean that God will protect me in the future from sickness or suffering or death or pain. Instead, it means that the end result of God’s plan for me and for His world is good. One day the pain will cease and the suffering will end and the tears will go away because of what Jesus did (Revelation 21:1-5). If we know God’s character, we can trust His promises.

When our pain is deep, we have a choice. We can respond with bitterness, despair, and unbelief, on the one hand. We can wallow in misery and shake our fist at God and drive wedges between us and those close to us. On the other hand, we can choose to trust Him and His character. We can allow the suffering to transform us into the image and character of Jesus Christ.  “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5). Who we become one day is largely a result of how we respond today to God’s Spirit in the midst of pain and trials, large and small. 

I’ve generally been blessed. I’m healthy and so is my family. We have clothes on our backs and food in the fridge. We’ve never faced serious illness or bankruptcy or starvation. Yet we have faced significant trials in small doses — perhaps not larger ones because we’re not yet prepared for them. Each trial, though, presents a new challenge and a new opportunity, a choice to move closer to Jesus or further away. A choice to believe His Word and find comfort in His Spirit or to reject those voices and choose the path of bitterness and mistrust.

By the grace of God and through His Spirit, I want to choose to trust Him and His promises.

What will you choose? If you’re facing suffering right now, what path are you choosing? 

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God, Tim Tebow, and Life’s Disappointments

So the unlikely (and seemingly divinely inspired) season of Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos finally ended last weekend with a 45-10 loss to the New England Patriots. Because Tebow is a committed and outspoken Christian, some have raised the question of whether or not God pays any attention to football. And if He does, why didn’t He just let the Broncos win? Wouldn’t it have been a wonderful testimony of God’s power if such a strong Christian player had won the Super Bowl? To end such a great season in defeat seems disappointing, if not altogether heartbreaking.

Reading Tebow’s postgame interview, though, I have the impression that he took the loss in stride. It’s a real disappointment, to be sure, but not a true tragedy. He’s stated a number of times that He cares more about making an impact on other people than about winning football games.

Still, does God care about life’s little disappointments, even if they don’t rise to the level of life-and-death tragedies? Does He care that one of His servants lost a game he really hoped to win? For that matter, does He care that some of you who are reading this made bad grades on your Fall semester finals, or are experiencing career setbacks, or are struggling with back pain? Does He care that your car is falling apart and you can’t find the money for a reliable one right now?

Actually, He cares more than we know. The Bible gives us a clear picture of a God who is actively engaged with the world, even with its smallest details. He knows when sparrows fall out of the sky and how many hairs are on your head (Matthew 10:29-31). He sees you at every moment, in the midst of every activity, and He understands exactly what you’re feeling (Psalm 139:1-16).

So yes, He cares about football losses and other small (or not-so-small) disappointments. 

BUT…He might care about them for different reasons than we do. I care about football because I want my team to win. God cares about it because He loves the players, the coaches, the spectators, and the guy who sells hot dogs at the stadium. And He knows how to use every situation to give those people a chance to know Him, or to draw them closer to Him (Acts 17:24-27). Every situation, every disappointment, every victory, all of it matters, because God is arranging history to suit His purposes. And every moment in every place is a part of that plan. Even a football game.

So what is my role in the midst of life’s disappointments, even small ones? To trust Him, because He knows what He’s doing. To seek to be transformed into the character of Jesus Christ, because that’s God’s greatest desire for me. And to keep things in perspective, because this is just one moment in God’s perfect and eternal plan.

So why didn’t God just let the Broncos win? I don’t know. But God knows. Because God cares about Tim Tebow, Tom Brady, the Broncos, and the Patriots. (And even about me).

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