Every merciful, loving, and wise parent will not bail out their children every time but let them learn and mature through the difficulties in their lives. Thankfully, the Lord does this too so we can learn to rise above our troubles.
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Biff sat in my office. Discouraged. He just received news of his impending divorce. He sunk into his chair and cried. I wept with him (Romans 12:15). I knew where we needed to go, but realized picking up and moving forward was not what he needed at that moment.
The only thing appropriate was to weep with my friend (John 11:35). One of the earmarks of Christian counseling is compassion. Biff did not need a plan as much as he needed an understanding friend (Hebrews 4:15).
There is a sorrow that cannot be spoken and there is a grief that eludes explanation (Ezekiel 3:15). Biff was experiencing one of those sorrows. His marriage was ending, and apart from a mighty work of the Lord, nothing was going to stop it from happening.
Have you ever had this kind of experience? Have you ever come to the death of hope like when the disciples and their friends were standing at the foot of the cross watching their “Hope” die?
Though they were with Jesus, felt Jesus, and were taught by Jesus, when their hope died, they experienced un-mitigated sorrow (1 John 1:1). For them, there was no other place for them to go.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:68-69
The Bad Side of Good Times
Perhaps your marriage is sound. If so, I rejoice with you. It is a mercy from the Lord to have a fantastic friendship with your spouse. It’s also a gift from the Lord. As you know, a good marriage is not a time to rest or let up from putting Christ on display because you know challenges will come your way.
If you’re not going through a personal trial now, it’s a promise from the Lord that your day is coming when suffering will be your companion (Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 2:21). None of us will get out of this world without experiencing the curse of Adam in manifold ways (Romans 5:12, 3:23).
It is in the disappointments of your life where you will see the revelation of your real hope. When disappointment comes, and the testing fires begin to burn. The disciples were doing well until their “Hope” died. That’s when the bottom fell out, and they were free-falling.
This eventual reality is the problem with the good times. It’s easy to rest and trust in God when things are going well. I suspect most of us who are living well could be self-deceived about how much we hope in God.
While I do not wish calamity on you, I am appealing to you to give a thought about where you are placing your hope. You don’t have to wait for trouble before you can think about and apply these things to your life. Let’s be pre-emptive. If you’re living on the “good side” of life, here are two things you can do to bring personal and practical application to your life.
- Ask a trusted friend how he perceives where you’re placing your hope.
- Ask the Lord to turn His light into your soul so you can see the real you (Hebrews 4:13).
Some of the saddest counseling situations that I have ever had were people who were doing well in life until their life intersected with a troublesome alteration like personal sorrow. In nearly every case, they had not prepared themselves for the obvious: humans were born to suffer.
- The rich person did not discern how he had placed his hope in his wealth.
- The healthy person did not see how his hope was in his self-reliance.
- The child-centered parent was okay when the children were okay.
- The healthy person was on top of the world because of physical blessing.
- The intellectual person was confident because he was smarter than average.
- The beautiful person was feeling great because she could mask old age behind a cosmetic facade.
Though this is a sobering message, it is one we should give space to in our minds. It should motivate all of us to assess ourselves humbly. I’m not trying to be negative. I’m trying to be real regarding the inevitable.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
If Biff had placed his primary hope in his marriage, the ups and downs of his marriage would wear him down to a spiritual-less nub. Fortunately, this was not the case with him. He lived in the odd tension of sorrow and hope.
Though his soul was heavy, he had fixed his mind on the inexhaustible goodness of the Lord. This heart attitude is the power of the gospel in a person’s life. God does not insulate us from the advancements of sin, but He does give us grace for preserving through life’s challenges.
The problem with the disappointed disciples at the cross was not that they had their hope in Christ, but they did not understand who Christ was and what He was called to do. They placed their confidence in the right person, but they did not understand what it entirely meant to follow Jesus. Only after the resurrection did the full purposes of the gospel become clear to them.
This worldview was the message of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. Initially, he was like the disciples who walked with Jesus. He had not fully fixed his hope on the Savior. Paul was a man with many strengths and giftings, but all of them had the potential to supplant his faith in Christ.
Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. – Philippians 3:4-7
Do you see the danger? Can you see how you can misplace your hope? If someone like Paul could live in the deception of “misplaced hope,” don’t you think this could happen to you too? This idea is sobering to me. I don’t want to live in the ignorance of misplaced confidence, which is why I need loving Christians who are willing to go out on a limb to help me perceive my blind spots.
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
Biff had learned what Paul had learned. He was not ignorant of the purposes of his disappointment and affliction. Rather than his problem overcoming his faith in Christ, he was able to perceive the greater possibilities of God through suffering.
Hope cherishes no illusions, nor does it yield to cynicism. – G. K. Chesterton
I don’t want to live in the illusion of misplaced faith. I will know if I am doing this by how I respond to the circumstances in my life. The first thing to come out of my mouth in the moment of disappointment is the most accurate measurement of my authentic walk with God. My faith must transcend my circumstances.
Transcendence is customarily considered an incommunicable attribute of the Lord, which means the attribute has not been communicated or given to His children. This teaching is true of transcendence in the most theological/technical sense, but with many of the incommunicable attributes, there is an “echo of the attribute” that has been communicated (given) to us. There is an other-worldly ability given to us by the Lord that enables us to transcend our greatest difficulties.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12
This “transcending ability” that you have is a gift from the Lord. It is not self-generated, self-perpetuated, or born out of self-reliance. It is a God-centered sufficiency, if tapped into, that will give any Christian sustainability through trials.
This concept was the point of Paul to the Corinthians. If you’re in a funk that you cannot extricate yourself from, don’t be ignorant, as Paul would say. God is trying to teach you to rely on Him because He is the only one who can do impossible things, even to the point of raising the dead.
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? – John 11:25-26
Here is my question to you: do you believe this? I’m asking you a practical question, not an intellectual question (James 2:19). Intellectual belief does not transform; it merely affirms what is right.
Functional belief grows out of your intellectual belief and is essential if a person hopes to rise above their circumstances. If your belief does not bleed over to what controls your mind and actions, your belief is not all God wants it to be, which is the point of James 2:14.
Belief without works will get you saved, but faith without works will be detrimental to your sanctification. Jesus wants you to be more than an intellectual saved believer who is going to heaven. He wants you to be a functional believer who is acting as salt and light while on earth (Matthew 5:13-14).
Let Your Light Shine
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16
Jesus gave you something special when He came out of the tomb. You now have resurrection power. God has given to you what you need to access His power. Perhaps you’re ignorant–using the language of Paul, the apostle. Here are two common ways in which I’ve experienced a lack of functional application of resurrection power in my life.
- I have been ignorant by not perceiving how I had placed my hope in personal strengths and blessings.
- I have been ignorant by not perceiving how personal suffering was designed to make me rely on God rather than myself.
How about you? How does your “ignorant meter” compare to mine? If you’re in un-mitigating trouble and you have not found contentment in your problem, you’re not fully accessing the power of the resurrection (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Perhaps you are living in the false victory of self-reliance. If so, God’s Word is true, and His power is accessible for you. This response is the hope that you have in the resurrection. I assume, for some Christians, it seems impossible to ascend to this kind of teaching. It can be too mysterious, too confusing, too unattainable, and too discouraging.
I don’t think any of us could live in the sweet spot of this teaching without the help of others. If we could live in the Lord’s victory without each other, we most certainly would be tempted to be proud. It is one of the Lord’s many blessings to us to keep us from maturing in our faith alone.
May I appeal to you to seek help? Isolation, secrecy, and self-reliance are some of the subtle tricks of the devil. Trust God by not relying on old methods–on yourself. Do something different today.
Also published on Medium.