John Townsend, Ph.D.
In life, you will always experience two very different kinds of tough circumstances: those we can solve, and those that are simply beyond our capacity. The first kind, which have doable solutions, are challenging but not overwhelming. Most of us can handle them by being innovative and coming up with solutions. The second kind, however, is much more difficult, in which the problems are far beyond our abilities and resourcefulness.
A few examples of very difficult problems would be serious medical complications, children in trouble, emotional problems, business difficulties and financial challenges. They can be sudden, such as a quick and devastating crash; they can also be long-term chronic situations.
When we struggle at this level, it is often hard to see where God is. We can pray fervently but hear no answer, at least not a solution or a “yes.” It is very hard to have faith when there is no actual solution. We are especially tested when there is no answer but to endure and be faithful. For most of us, this is the most difficult circumstance, as we all have a bit of control freak in us and intensely dislike helplessness.
To help with this problem, God provides five key resources that strengthen His people and encourage them to carry on. These assets will never let you down:
1. Presence: Whether or not we can experience or sense God, He is always there with us in our trouble. His presence is an objective fact, even in times when we can’t feel Him. This is why we pray, stay in the Word and seek the Holy Spirit. This reality supports and empowers us to continue. It’s like a kid playing baseball in a large championship game and not being able to see his dad in the bleachers. He still knows Dad is there, cheering him on: “So do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10).
If we take the stance of requiring that we must always experience God’s presence, we will never develop mature faith. We will instead veer into either guilt (I’ve done something wrong to cause this) or discouragement (He doesn’t love me). God never promises that we’ll feel His presence 100 percent of the time. That is why David’s many prayers in the Psalms about not experiencing God give us something with which to identify: “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)
When the man who is described as being after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) feels that way, we can find solace and carry on. Sometimes we must simply rely on the objective reality of His presence and our memories of those experiences where we have deeply felt His intimate presence. These are great comforts for us.
2. People: Safe people are highly underrated and highly necessary; they provide important support in our lives. By focusing solely on our “vertical” relationship with God and withdrawing from the loving people around us, we are greatly shortchanging ourselves. We must do what the Bible says and reach out in need and dependency to the right people as well, adding “horizontal” relationships to our support group. Remember, we experience His grace in the dispensed grace of those “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (I Peter 4:10).
3. Power: It is normal to feel helpless and powerless when we are in extreme circumstances. We do not do well with helplessness; it is very uncomfortable. But there are times when there are no solutions but endurance. However, God provides choices for us, even if they are small ones, to keep our energy engaged. For example, when Paul was in prison with very few choices, he used his own power to choose worship: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Find the power in the small choices.
4. Produce: We are designed to grow and develop, which is to produce in the agricultural sense. We can endure many trials if we see ourselves transforming into a more loving and mature person. God uses our tough times to create a new person in us: “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
5. Purpose: Humans are, by definition, purpose-oriented people. We are designed for meaning. When there is no purpose, we feel useless, unproductive and frustrated. But God assures us that in difficult seasons, there is a higher meaning that glorifies Him and is not wasted. As Joseph said to his brothers, who had caused him great suffering: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). You may not know the purpose this side of the grave. But you may. Ask God to show you the purpose behind the suffering.
The point is: We will always face devastating problems and conditions in life. That is inevitable. But even when there is no clear path, solution or answer from God, we are not without support. These five resources will see us through. God bless you this season.