I recall once being given the privilege of being privy to a conversation held by a trio of ladies who were comparing notes on how the turbulence of the then current economic situation was affecting them.
I appreciated both the candor with which they spoke as well as their not objecting to my listening (which was the only role that I had in the discussion). I was struck at the outset by the similarities of their various situations with dozens of others I have met in the past few months.
It is doubtful that anyone could disagree with the perspective that these are hard times indeed for a lot of people. Without betraying any details as to the specific situations that were mentioned (although, as I said, it seems that many folks are experiencing similar circumstances), I heard them share with each other some very important nuggets of wisdom that the Spirit of God has impressed upon them. I just hope that more of God’s people will hear and apply these suggestions which are more than mere “helpful hints.”
The first nugget of wisdom to be unearthed was their simple acknowledgement of the presence of God in their situations. I don’t recall that it was said that way exactly, but it was there framing their talk. The pondering of what God was up to, the wondering what He would do next, and how through their circumstances, they and their families were learning about Him, His love, and His will for their lives.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!… The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:4, 5b ESV).
A lot of folks, when sifting the ashes of broken dreams through their fingers, conclude that God simply is nowhere to be found. But the fact is, “the Lord is near.”
The second thing that these ladies seemed to glean from their difficulties is a humbleness of heart that allows them to be “teachable.” Their circumstances are not optimal, but loss in their lives has given them an ability to appreciate things to which they might not have paid any attention before.
Not only that, but another related nugget was discovered: the realization that God is actively involved in their lives, steering them through competing sea currents of what appear to be countless randomly occurring circumstances. These turn out actually to be the divine hand of God at work accomplishing an infinitely perfect will for their lives.
Maybe because what they thought that they wanted in life is no longer unfolding for them, and perhaps because what they thought they had is taken away, their hearts and wills are broken free from things that might otherwise restrain them from experiencing God’s blessings He holds in store for them. But now, not knowing how their situations will turn out, and not knowing how they are going to make it, they have learned to trust and depend on the God Who had not only made them, but provided His own Son as Savior.
“Do not be anxious about anything…” Philippians 4:6a ESV).
As a result, the next bit of wisdom (and a profound one at that) came to the surface, that of the necessity of prayer. Prayer is the breath of the Believer, the lifeline that daily links us to Him as we root ourselves in His Word. They shared about their struggles in prayer, and how God unexpectedly responds to them.
“…But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to” (Philippians 4:6b ESV).
It seems that they were learning in their experiences that prayer is something more than a mere religious exercise. It is both a wellspring of comfort from friendship with the Father, as well as a practical method of engaging our circumstances. In other words, prayer DOES make a difference in the physical universe, not because of the strength of our prayers, but because of the strength of the One to Whom our prayers are directed!
And don’t be too proud to share with trusted Christian brothers and sisters the weight of your worry and woe. In fact, this is a matter of faith in which we demonstrate whether or not we really believe that God is truly the One Who answers prayer. Besides, what is going on in your life is very possibly a “display window” for God’s faithfulness and mercy to be demonstrated. By trying to keep it “personal” (just between you and the Lord), you’re very possibly trying to keep the lid on God Himself.
A few other thoughts seemed to come from their talk that we would do well to consider. One was that when we pray and God answers, be prepared for Him to answer in a way that we do not expect. We need not worry that when we pray it’s like talking to a treacherous genie in a bottle who wants to twist our words around and ensnare us with our own faulty semantics. The Lord may choose to specifically answer our prayers, but He also reserves the right to choose to answer our prayers according to His wisdom. This may mean our not getting exactly what we asked for or that we “settle” for something other than what we thought we wanted or even that we wait far longer than we had dreamed possible. But He knows what we need better than we do (see Matthew 6:32).
“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 ESV).
And another word that these three shared was to be careful to not let frustration fester in one’s heart until it becomes bitterness. Instead, they talked about dwelling on the goodness of God which overarches our temporary problems. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV).
Finally, they talked about directing their heartaches and disappointments towards constructive pastimes (like actively ministering to others in need).
“It is good to share in the trouble of others…. God is looking for what may be credited to our accounts… Our gifts (material or acts of service) are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God” (from Philippians 4:14, 17b, 18b).
Rest assured that as we surrender ourselves to the will and love of God, our circumstances, burdens, problems, or lack of wherewithal mean very little after all. Why?
Because, “my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 ESV).
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 22 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.