“I don’t think God is good,” my friend told me. She had been praying for years about some difficult issues, but nothing had improved. Her anger and bitterness over God’s silence grew. Knowing her well, I sensed that deep down she believed God is good, but the continual pain in her heart and God’s seeming lack of interest caused her to doubt. It was easier for her to get angry than to bear the sadness.
Doubting God’s goodness is as old as Adam and Eve (Gen. 3). The serpent put that thought in Eve’s mind when he suggested that God was withholding the fruit from her because “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). In pride, Adam and Eve thought they, rather than God, should determine what was good for them.
Years after losing a daughter in death, James Bryan Smith found he was able to affirm God’s goodness. In his book The Good and Beautiful God, Smith wrote, "God's goodness is not something I get to decide upon. I am a human being with limited understanding." Smith’s amazing comment isn’t naïve; it arises out of years of processing his grief and seeking God’s heart.
In times of discouragement, let’s listen well to each other and help each other see the truth that God is good.
In 1986, John Piper nearly quit as minister of a large church. At that time he admitted in his journal: “I am so discouraged. I am so blank. I feel like there are opponents on every hand.” But Piper didn’t walk away, and God used him to lead a thriving ministry that would eventually reach far beyond his church.
Although success is a word easily misunderstood, we might call John Piper successful. But what if his ministry had never flourished?
God gave the prophet Jeremiah a direct call. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” God said. “Before you were born I set you apart” (Jer. 1:5). God encouraged him not to fear his enemies, “for I am with you and will rescue you” (v. 8).
Jeremiah later lamented his commission with ironic language for a man with a prenatal calling. “Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends!” (15:10).
God did protect Jeremiah, but his ministry never thrived. His people never repented. He saw them slaughtered, enslaved, and scattered. Yet despite a lifetime of discouragement and rejection, he never walked away. He knew that God didn’t call him to success but to faithfulness. He trusted the God who called him. Jeremiah’s resilient compassion shows us the heart of the Father, who yearns for everyone to turn to Him.
Christmas is the time of year when the pressure to be perfect intensifies. We imagine the perfect celebration and then put forth our best effort to make it happen. We shop for the perfect gifts. We plan the perfect Christmas Day meal. We choose the perfect greeting cards or write the perfect family letter. But our striving leads to discouragement and disappointment when our ability to imagine perfection exceeds our ability to implement it. The carefully chosen gift receives only a halfhearted thank you. Part of the meal is overcooked. We find a typo in our Christmas greeting after we’ve mailed the cards. Children fight over toys. Adults resurrect old arguments.
Instead of being discouraged, however, we can use our disappointment to remind ourselves of the reason Christmas is so important. We need Christmas because none of us is or can be all that we want to be—not for a month, a week, or even a day.
How much more meaningful our celebrations of Christ’s birth would be if we would give up our faulty concept of perfection, then focus instead on the perfection of our Savior, in whom we are made righteous (Rom. 3:22).
If your Christmas celebration this year is less than ideal, relax and let it be a reminder that the only way to be “made perfect forever” (Heb. 10:14) is to live by faith in the righteousness of Christ.
A friend struggling with loneliness posted these words on her Facebook page: “It’s not that I feel alone because I have no friends. I have lots of friends. I know that I have people who can hold me and reassure me and talk to me and care for me and think of me. But they can’t be with me all the time—for all time.”
Jesus understands that kind of loneliness. I imagine that during His earthly ministry He saw loneliness in the eyes of lepers and heard it in the voices of the blind. But above all, He must have experienced it when His close friends deserted Him (Mark 14:50).
However, as He foretold the disciples’ desertion, He also confessed His unshaken confidence in His Father’s presence. He said to His disciples: “[You] will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Shortly after Jesus said these words, He took up the cross for us. He made it possible for you and me to have a restored relationship with God and to be a member of His family.
Being humans, we will all experience times of loneliness. But Jesus helps us understand that we always have the presence of the Father with us. God is omnipresent and eternal. Only He can be with us all the time, for all time.
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali used several ring tactics to defeat his opponents; one tactic was taunting. In his fight with George Foreman in 1974, Ali taunted Foreman, “Hit harder! Show me something, George. That don’t hurt. I thought you were supposed to be bad.” Fuming, Foreman punched away furiously, wasting his energy and weakening his confidence.
There is much said today about improving our health by developing habits of optimism, whether facing a difficult medical diagnosis or a pile of dirty laundry. Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, says we should try activities that build joy, gratitude, love, and other positive feelings. We know, however, that more is required than a general wish for good feelings. We need a strong conviction that there is a source of joy, peace, and love upon which we can depend.
I love to take pictures of sunsets at Lake Michigan. Some are subtle shades of pastel. Others are bold strokes of bright color. Sometimes the sun sinks quietly behind the lake. Other times it goes down in what looks like a fiery explosion.
Waiting is hard at any time; but when days, weeks, or even months pass and our prayers seem to go unanswered, it’s easy to feel God has forgotten us. Perhaps we can struggle through the day with its distractions, but at night it’s doubly difficult to deal with our anxious thoughts. Worries loom large, and the dark hours seem endless. Utter weariness makes it look impossible to face the new day.
Often I meet with people who serve in what they think are seemingly small ways in small places. They are frequently discouraged by loneliness, feeling that their acts of service are insignificant. When I hear them speak, I think of one of the angels in C. S. Lewis’ book Out of the Silent Planet. He said: “My people have a law never to speak of sizes or numbers to you. . . . It makes you do reverence to nothings and pass by what is really great.”