When Life Happens

“Suffering is not an elective but a core course in the school of life.” Anonymous

How true that it is! When life happens, when bad news comes and people let us down, how do we go from knowing the Word to living the Word? How do we go from wanting to claim and live into the promises of God to actually growing into that reality? How do we remain true and strong even in the midst of suffering?

How do we go from the instruction of Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding,” to the personal affirmation of the writer of Psalms 56:3–4, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid”? How do we go from head knowledge to heart application when life happens?

1. Have realistic expectations for the presence of suffering in the Christian life.

The genuine application of God’s promises does not preclude the genuine experience of pain, fear, and sadness. There is no doubt that the gospel provides relief and rest from this fallen world (Romans 8), but there is also little doubt that suffering exists in our sin saturated world (Romans 5:3–5). Too often we try to use the promises of God like a magic wand that can alleviate every hurt with a cursory read. When this approach fails, we blame ourselves “I do not deserve God’s goodness” or “God isn’t really good” or both.

But Paul is clear in both Romans 5 and 1 Thessalonians 4, belief in God’s promises doesn’t shield us from pain but rather redeems it. The gospel of Jesus infuses our pain with hope and thereby makes it more manageable, more purposeful not nonexistent.

2. Even if it feels half-hearted at first, commit to daily prayer, Bible reading and weekly participation in gathered worship.

The less we are in God’s word, the less the Bible will seem applicable to us. This reality seems like a no-brainer but like most appetites (food, sleep, recreation) our spiritual appetite can be dramatically affected by crisis. In the midst of pain, we’re tempted to ask the “Where is God in this?” question. A better to question to ask is, “Where is my worship in this?” If we lose our appetite for the things of God, it should come as no surprise when we do not feel God’s presence in our lives. Regular scriptural intake, prayer and worship are every bit as vital as sleep, exercise, and diet (Matthew 4:4).

3. Find a short passage of Scripture, memorize it, and meditate on it. When it feels like you’ve squeezed everything you can out of that one, find another and do it again.

Scripture memorization is vital! It is a forgotten art in the age of “Google.” When life happens, being able to recite one or more of God’s actual promises from his Word rather than just some general Christian truth is crucial. The ability to instantaneously apply God’s truth helps us to conform our emotions to the shape of the cross rather than allowing them to bend us to the shape of the world.

4. Find a Christian song or hymn that resonates with both your soul and mind. Play it over and over until you can sing it unaccompanied in your own head.

Music is incredibly powerful and helps us to regulate our emotions. Research reveals when we begin to play a song in our own minds, we are using the area of our brain called the “moral reasoning center.” That doesn’t mean if we listen to “secular” music we are doomed to imitate the recorded story or lyrics. We are not slaves to the music to which we listen, but singing memorized Christian music in our everyday lives can shape our hearts and minds to be more like the heart and mind of Jesus and thus raise our level of obedience even in the midst of suffering.

When we listen to music and are able to sing songs which reinforce the truths of Scripture. When life happens we will find ourselves much more resilient because God’s promises will already be embedded in our hurting hearts. There is a reason that the largest book in the Bible, Psalms, is a book of songs. God didn’t need an MRI machine to know how our mind works.

5. Find some place in your Church to connect and serve others.

C.S. Lewis once said “We Christians are not called to think less of ourselves but to think of ourselves less.” Christ speaks similarly in Matthew 20. When we prioritize other people above ourselves it can help us to get out of the quicksand of our own self-pity and help us realize that we are not alone in our suffering. When we try to lift up others by applying God’s promises to their lives and serving them, we often find ourselves being lifted up and sustained ourselves. When we purposefully serve others, we are actually served ourselves by the Holy Spirit of God himself. When we minister to others, God ministers to us!

Life happens! When it does, apply God’s promises of grace and comfort to your hurting, fearful, angry heart, stay connected into the Body of Christ and serve others. These practices may not change you overnight from grieving to giddy, but they will help you to more acutely feel the safety of God’s promises and the tenderness of his care even when life happens.

I am praying for you. Please pray for me.

Rick

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