If you are anything like me, you deal with little irritations almost constantly, frustrations seem to interrupt even the best of days, and some days everything is irritating and frustrating. And then there are trials...these are not trivial, are not easily "fixed" and may last for days/months/years. How can we deal with these in a godly manner? How can we go on when everything seems to be going against us? How can we go on when our dreams seem to be slipping away and nothing we do seems to brings us any close to fulfilling our lifelong dreams and ambitions?
This is a really tough subject, and one that I fail at so often. But I have gone through many trials, some great, some small, and on almost a daily basis I am faced with irritations and frustrations and I am not so good at handling these properly...so I am sharing with you what I know to be true, but am still trying to apply it in my life and working to develop good habits in this area.
Before I get into ways to deal with frustrations and trials, we need to talk about who God is, and how He works in our lives. I believe God is sovereign...but what does sovereign mean? I found this definition on Theopedia.com - "all things are under God's rule and control, and that nothing happens without His direction or permission. God works not just some things but all things according to the counsel of His own will (see Eph. 1:11). His purposes are all-inclusive and never thwarted (see Isa. 46:11); nothing takes Him by surprise. The sovereignty of God is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things, but that He does so, always and without exception. In other words, God is not merely sovereign de jure (in principle), but sovereignde facto (in practice)." Here are some great Bible passages that talk about the sovereignty of God that you should read - Lamentations 3:32-33, Romans 11:23, Matthew 10:29-31, 2 Timothy 1:12, Proverbs 19:21, James 4: 14 - 15.
Our loving heavenly Father is active in our lives, carefully choosing what will and will not happen. He uses all things to grow us, draw us to Him and deepen our relationship with Him...and how we react to trials and frustrations will directly correlate to how well we grow and whether or not our difficulties strengthen our walk with the Lord, or if we put a wall of sin up that hinders us from growing in grace.
Our natural, human response to problems is to ask the questions "Why Me?" Our knee jerk reaction is that "life isn't fair, I don't deserve this" and we recoil in pain and we act like a victim. But is that a godly response? Job was going about his business one day when suddenly two servants ran to him and said that all his livestock had been stolen and their caretaker had been slain, and then another servant told him that all his flocks and servants had been killed by fire from heaven, and lastly another servant came and told him that all his 10 children and their families had been crushed to death in the oldest son's home that collapsed from a great wind. Wow, can you imagine that? Did Job cry out "Why me? This isn't fair! I don;t deserve this?" No, these are the words that he spoke in this moment of greatest suffering: "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” Now that is a godly response to trials. And the Bible also tells us that "In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong".
I have a secret weapon for you to use when things seem to go wrong - when you heart cries out "why me?" make that questions "Why is God bringing this into my life, what is His purpose and what is He trying to teach me?" Go to Him and ask Him to lead and guide your thoughts, actions and words that you may grow and learn and be molded into the likeness of His son, Jesus Christ, right from the start of the trial that has come into your life. Look for His hand in everything, go straight to Him - my tendency when a trial hits is to call my mom, my friends...and I seek God last...but I have that all backwards! I must run to God first.
Let me tell you about how a potter makes a clay pot. The potter molds the clay into the shape that he desires, but it is soft and pliable and not suitable for any purpose yet, it needs to be cured in a hot fire. So he takes the pot and places it in the oven to cure. When he thinks that it might be cured, he takes it our of the fire and flicks the edge of the pot to test if it is finished - if it makes ringing sound it is cured, and can be cooled and used. If it is not cured, the sound will be more of a "thump". That means it has not finished curing and needs to go back into that same fire again in order to finish the curing process. We are like that clay pot and God is the potter. When we find ourselves facing the same type of trial over and over again ("why do I keep having to deal with financial difficulties, when will I ever have more than just enough money?"), that is a big clue that God is working in your life to teach you something and you are not learning that lesson!
When we face a trial on our own strength and knowledge, we never learn anything from it and usually fall flat...we might muddle our way through, but we are miserable and disheartened. We may even end up being angry at God or walk away from Him entirely, holding bitterness and resentment in our hearts. But when we run to God when the trial comes and plead with Him for wisdom and strength, He will carry you through - teaching, loving and molding you in the process. And remind yourself what you know to be true about God's love for you and His sovereignty in your life. In Jeremiah 29:11 He says "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." He loves you more than you will ever know. And He has something very special for you, something you can only experience when you have turned to Him in the midst of a trial, and laid aside your worry in favor of trusting God and spending time in prayer with Him - Paul tells you "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6 - 7).
Did you catch that? "With Thanksgiving"? Thankful for trials? You've got to be kidding, right? No, he's not kidding. James, the brother of Jesus also talks about being joyful in trials - "Consider it all joy, my brethren, 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." So thanking God for a trial, and being joyful that you are experiencing a trial is the godly response....but that seems impossible, doesn't it. Well, it's all in your perspective. When you have gone through a trial and you have seen God work in and through it, drawing you closer to Him and showing you His love in the midst of the pain, you have that experience to draw upon in the future. When you are facing a difficult trial, take time to remember how God has worked in your life (or in others) through trials, and remind yourself that God is at work in your life. He is intimately working in you to create something beautiful. Thank Him for loving you enough to not let you remain as you are, be joyful knowing you are not going through this alone and that God is and is going to do something big in your life through this.
Lastly, in Romans 8:28, Paul tells us that " in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." Did you catch that? There's a condition in that promise. This promise is for those who LOVE HIM. Do you love Him? Remember what I shared in my last letter about loving God? Loving God is a daily decision to love Him, in the good times and bad times. God isn't just a first aid station or a band aide. You can't just live your life however you want, and then expect God to pick up he pieces when things fall apart. God wants you to love Him everyday and in all situations, so that when He does bring a trial into your life, you are coming into it with a full pool - full of the love of God in your heart and a strong relationship to Him. So be prepared, day in and day out, by steadfastly seeking the Lord and growing in your knowledge of Him and His truth, then the daily battles and the difficult trials will be tackled with God by your side as your best friend and confidant.
What about the day to day? When it's little things and you find yourself getting all worked up by some frustration, is that any different? Not really. I believe God works in our lives in everything. If you pray for patience, be prepared for trials, tribulations and irritations galore! The only way we learn patience is by dealing with those things! So when you feel yourself getting angry and frustrated, turn to God. Say a quick prayer for wisdom and strength. Take a minute to see what is really going on. Take a deep breath, and try to calm yourself. God tells us that one of the fruits of the spirit is self control. We don't have that naturally, but He gives that to us. We need to seek Him in times of frustration.
What about hormone induced mood swings? I know all about those! These can be a regular part of your life, but they can be especially strong during phases of a woman's life - especially at the beginning and ending of our child bearing years, during pregnancy and after having baby. First let me say that hormone induced emotions are not an excuse to sin. Run to God during these times, and if necessary go to a quiet room until the mood swing passes. Be sure you are taking good care of yourself - eating good foods, taking healthy supplements (vitamin B complex is vital), getting your rest, and look into taking herbal remedies ("Remifemin", a low does black cohosh remedy has helped me tremendously) to help balance your hormones. And please get help if you find yourself spiraling down into deep depression no matter what you do, as sometimes our bodies can get so out of balance that we need medical help to remedy the situation, but this should not be your first defense - God is your first defense.
When you are living your life with God first, then you will be able to say with King David "I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you – the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore." (Psalm 121:1-8)