We’ve all lived in those seasons when life is difficult. We call them “survival mode” at my house–we’re just doing what we need to do to survive, putting one foot in front of the other. They may look different for each of us, with different circumstances and time periods, but there’s one thing they all have in common: they’re hard.
How should we respond during those times? How do we keep from giving in to discouragement and giving up? I happened to come across biblical insight on this from two different places at the same time–just another example of God weaving things together.
Life Principles from Nehemiah
- Expect opposition when doing God’s will.
- Pray! Become a woman of prayer. Nehemiah led on his knees.
- Fast! Seek God for His timing, direction, vision, etc.
- Always exercise discretion. Be slow to speak.
- Say only what God says, not what the enemy says.
- Realize the importance of strategy and assessment before taking action.
- When angry, don’t immediately react. Pray and then confront others when calm and with measured words.
- Don’t make light of serious offense.
- Campaign for the right things with authority, always remember who you are and Whose you are.
- Nehemiah lived what he taught. Therefore he taught with authority and humility, not in pride. We can too!
Life Principles from James
A few weeks ago I did Chip Ingram’s Daily Discipleship Challenge, a 10-day study in James. He broke James 1:2-12 down into three different sections and walked through the passage, showing us how to ask:
- What does it say?
- What does it mean?
- How does it apply to me?
I took away some key life perspectives and strategies to remember during those times where life is really hard.
James 1:2-4 reads:
Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James is telling us that we will encounter hard times in life, but come at it with the perspective of joy. It’s a choice to see it this way, but instead of focusing on how hard it is, see it as a way God is shaping you.
The term “endurance” means “under pressure.” Chip likened it to lifting weights at the gym. It’s a faith that becomes stronger through external circumstances.
Basically, this passage is saying that in the middle of the hard, painful times, we can make a calculated response to choose joy, knowing the testing of our faith will produce endurance. We can trust that God will use those hard life circumstances to make us stronger.
In Romans 5:3b-5, Paul explains this further, pointing out that these hard circumstances actually give us hope:
. . . we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
This sounds all find and dandy in the abstract, but how do you put it into practice? Chip recommended you look at ways God used hard life circumstances in the past. How has God used that to make you stronger, into who you are today?
He also provided three questions to ask yourself:
1. What can I control today?
My attitude. There may be circumstances out of your control, but you can control how you respond to them.
2. How can I make it through today?
Endure. Ask God for help in the moment, sometimes even minute by minute.
3. What hope do I have for tomorrow?
God will use the worst I’m going through today to make me the person He wants me to be tomorrow.
James 1:5-8 reads:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that person ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
This section gives us a promise: when you don’t know what to do, ask God. I like how Chip explained it: “God isn’t down on you. He gives generously. He won’t scold us.”
But there’s an important “but” here. Chip explained the word “doubt” in this passage means “double-minded” or “two-fold.” It’s where we get the word schizophrenia. The idea is that if we ask, we need to be willing to follow through on the answer. God doesn’t want us to ask for His wisdom so we can weigh our options from there. He wants us to obey, even if we don’t know why.
This can be hard! How do you ask God for wisdom, hear His voice, and follow through? Chip shared four things to do in this order:
1. Admit you’re stuck.
2. Admit you can’t do it on your own.
3. Ask God for supernatural wisdom.
What does this look like?
- Ask for the specifics. Make your prayers about the details involved.
- Be in God’s word. Make it a priority to read the Bible eyes to see and ears to hear.
- Get counsel. Bounce what you think is God’s will off other trusted followers.
- Keep praying.
4. Be willing to do whatever God’s will commands.
Remember Proverbs 29:25:
The fear of man brings a snare,
But one who trusts in the Lord will be protected.
God’s prompting in your life may not make sense to everyone, but if He’s leading you to do something, follow His direction!
Remember God’s Perspective on Life
Personally, I found the next few verses, James 1:9-12, kind of confusing:
Now the brother or sister of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; but the rich person is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so also the rich person, in the midst of his pursuits, will die out.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
It’s important to remember this is written in the context of our faith being tested. Basically, it’s contrasting economic wealth to show us that our reliance on God plays into how much we trust Him.
When you’re poor, you’re generally more reliant on God, which places you in a high spiritual position. And when you’re wealthy, it’s a lot easier to place your trust and hope in yourself and things that fade away rather than in God, so you’re in a low spiritual position.
But everything in this life is temporary. And when we remember that, we can see things from God’s perspective better. And when we have God’s perspective, we can filter our circumstances through it.
How do we get God’s perspective?
Look through the lens of faith
- This lens has to do with our circumstances.
- If you have a lot, you need to willfully do it.
- Ask yourself: Is my faith in temporary or permanent things?
Remember: God is in control.
Look through the lens of hope
- This lens has to do with our future.
- There’s a crown and blessing. Live your life with heaven in mind.
- Ask yourself: Is my hope determined by the size of my problems or my certainty of God’s faith?
Remember: You are His child. He has a plan, place, promise for you–now and forever.
Look through the lens of love
- This lens has to do with our motivation.
- The Lord promised this to those who love Him.
- Ask yourself: Is my primary motivation of my heart to love Christ or simply get relief and please myself?
Remember: Suffering is an opportunity to express our love for God with the kind of attitude that gives Him glory.
Sometimes Life is Hard
We all go through things that are hard. Some go through things that are harder than others, but regardless of the specifics, we all have those times when life is especially hard for all of us.
Still, no matter how hard life gets sometimes, we have hope! God is always with us, and He’s using this to make us stronger. We can choose joy!