Through the Painful Path: Trusting Christ When All Seems Bleak

Monday, January 4, 2021

What words would you use to describe your experiences in 2020? Have you had moments of challenge, difficulty and pain? I have yet to meet one person whose life was not in someway changed by the pandemic, national unrest or political happenings last year included. No one gets to check off all the boxes on their to-do list this trip around the sun. 

With so much uncertainty can also come the aches and pains of a hurting soul. Everyone has been at least somewhat more isolated than normal. When away from those we love, there is less accountability on how we are actually doing. 

Some people share, "Well, it's been crazy, but this was actually the best year of my life!" 

I don't know about you, but I can't quite resonate.

2020 was possibly the most painful year of my life. It has pushed me much harder than I thought I could endure. It has overworked me and taken community away many a time. It has set me back on academic goals. It has been the time of fickle friendships. Yet, we can be confidently assured that not one pressure or pain of our lives exists outside the sovereign hand of our faithful God. 

We look at the unexpected events and feel a wave of grief. Yet, somehow, our mighty God is able to bring redemption and accomplish His purposes through all that appears to us to be bleakly uncertain. We have no way of knowing what our tomorrows will contain, but we may simply abide and rest knowing the One who sent Christ to rescue our souls for all eternity is also in control of this challenging moment of history.

Wouldn't it be lovely if there was a simple solution to the pain of this year? I wish I could offer you words here that I felt could free us from the depths of the ache many of us are feeling now, but I am not sure what would give such a freedom. I must come back to the central truth that sometimes God is most glorified in my suffering. We would like to imagine that God is most exalted in our happiness, but sometimes it is by walking with Christ through the fire that I may fulfill His will for me this day. These present events may seem like a dark storm cloud settled over us, not soon to move on. We do not know what will unfold with the virus, shut downs, or the future of our nation as a new administration takes power. Our confidence will tremble and not find security if we set it in these temporal things. But I have a powerful God in heaven and He is reigning! No matter what I am seeing now, there is a bright future ahead because no matter what unfolds in my earthly years--if it's much more suffering--I know that someday I will enter heaven and be with Christ forevermore. That is one place we may be certain pain will be no more.

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' And He who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also He said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.' And He said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:3-8).

The only reason we are not named with those who will suffer for all eternity is because of the power of the Gospel, mightily setting us free from sin and making Christ the Lord of our lives. Not only did Jesus care for you on the day He set you free and made you His own, but now, through the monotonous, repetitive, sometimes heavy moments of our every day life, He cares and He is here. My Father is not far off! He is not some distant dream, but the very hope of my soul through every further thing--good and bad--that will happen to me. I have a confidence that I take with me when I walk through the fire; this present challenge cannot surprise my God. He has seen my aches and hurts through already, and sees fit in His perfect will for me to cause this day to be as it is--one of easy rejoicing, or a time that we will yet bless the name of the Lord from the dust and ashes. 

Do you find yourself easily rejoicing or dwelling in the ashes, my friend? If you feel you've been transported out into the middle of a desert, now walking through the wilderness, will you worship Him there? When you want nothing more than for the pain to relent, will you yet bless the name of the Lord? The One who is fully able to give or take anything away has provided us with challenges. Will you walk this dusty path with a faithless moan, or in the exhausted depths of your soul, will you give Him all of the little you may have, knowing your Father is worthy, present and good even when your circumstances are wearying, long, and bad?

My wildernesses of my life are graciously ordained by the God who providentially directs my life. He is an Author who may be trusted. He has already shown us the ending in His Word; we don't know all the details of how our years will unfold, but we know that at the end, if Christ is our Lord, we will indeed have our every tear wiped away. We may not feel strong or refreshed now--perhaps such things seem far off--but there will be a day all our earthly trials come to an end. And when we give a report of our lives to God, may we reflect on weary and broken seasons and see that they were offered up to Him. May the places in our journey we most feel tempted to doubt and give up instead become places we pursue our Christ harder--knowing even when all we are feeling is pain, He is yet as present with us as ever. 

Pain is a gift because it causes me to realize all in this world is empty apart from Christ. Earthly things don't fulfill us. Friends betray and gossip. Life doesn't go as planned. Our hearts ache. And it is right there that we find the world fails and Christ never does. 

"Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). 

"You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end" (Hebrews 1:10-12).

"For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him [Jesus]. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (2 Corinthians 1:20-22). 

I have a powerful God, and it is because of His strength--and not my own--that I will purpose to offer up my most painful life chapters to the One who absolutely can be glorified in my suffering. If we are to ache and hurt according to His will, may we do it with joy in our hearts; the joy that is sourced in Christ and may never be taken away by this mysterious world and its unprecedented events. There is hope not because of material things, my own successes, or current life happenings, but because Hope is a person who has suffered in my place, having died for my sin: Jesus Christ.

"Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good" (1 Peter 4:19).

"Thus says the Lord: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit" (Jeremiah 17: 5-8).

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