Category  |  Life Struggles

Terrible and Beautiful Things

Fear can leave us frozen in our own lives. We know all the reasons to be afraid—everything that’s hurt us in the past, everything that could easily do so again. So sometimes we’re stuck—unable to go back; too afraid to move forward. I just can’t do it. I’m not smart enough, strong enough, or brave enough to handle being hurt like that again.

 I’m captivated by how author Frederick Buechner describes God’s grace—like a gentle voice that says, “Here is the world. Terrible and beautiful things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

Terrible things will happen. In our world, hurting people hurt other people, often terribly. Like the psalmist David, we carry our own stories of when evil surrounded us, when, like “ravenous beasts,” others wounded us (Psalm 57:4). And so we grieve; we cry out (vv. 1–2).

But because God is with us, beautiful things can happen too. As we run to Him with our hurts and fears, we find ourselves carried by a love far greater than anyone’s power to harm us (vv. 1–3), a love so deep it fills the skies (v. 10). Even when disaster rages around us, His love is a solid refuge where our hearts find healing (vv. 1,7). Until one day we’ll find ourselves awakening to renewed courage, ready to greet the day with a song of His faithfulness (vv. 8–10).

Muscling Through

Competitive bodybuilders put themselves through a rigorous training cycle. During the initial months, they emphasize gaining size and strength. As the competition nears, the focus shifts to losing any fat that hides the muscle. In the final days before the competition, they consume less water than normal so their muscle tissue is easily visible. Because of the reduced consumption of nourishment, the competitors are actually at their weakest on the day of competition, despite appearing strong.

In 2 Chronicles 20, we read of the opposite reality: acknowledging weakness in order to experience God’s strength. “A vast army is coming against you,” people told King Jehoshaphat. So “he proclaimed a fast for all Judah” (v. 3), depriving himself and all his people of nourishment. Then they asked God for help. When he finally mustered his military, Jehoshaphat placed singers who praised God at the front of his army (v. 21). As they began to sing, the Lord “set ambushes against the men . . . who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (v. 22).

Jehoshaphat’s decision demonstrates deep faith in God. He purposefully chose not to depend on his own human and military prowess but instead to lean on God. Rather than trying to muscle our way through the trials we face, may we turn to Him and allow Him to be our strength.

Sky Garden

While in London, a friend arranged for my wife Marlene and me to visit the Sky Garden. On the top floor of a thirty-five-story building in London’s business district, the Sky Garden is a glass-encased platform filled with plants, trees, and flowers. But the sky part captured our attention. We gazed down from a height of over 500 feet, admiring St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and more. Our views of the capital city were breathtaking—providing a helpful lesson on perspective.

Our God has a perfect perspective of everything we experience. The psalmist wrote, “For He looked down from His holy height; From heaven the Lord gazed upon the earth, To hear the groaning of the prisoner, To set free those who were doomed to death” (Psalm 102:19–20 nasb).

Like the hurting people pictured in Psalm 102, we are often locked into the present with its struggles, “groaning” with despair. But God sees our lives from beginning to end. Our Lord is never caught off guard by the things that can blindside us. As the psalmist anticipated, His perfect perspective will lead to an ultimate rescue that sets free even “those doomed to death” (vv. 20, 27–28).

In difficult moments, remember: We may not know what is coming next, but our Lord does. We can trust Him with every moment that stretches before us.

Riding the Rapids

The rafting guide escorted our group to the river’s edge and directed us all to put on life jackets and grab paddles. As we climbed into the boat, he assigned us seats to balance the boat’s weight, providing stability when we encountered rapids. After highlighting the thrills the watery voyage ahead would hold for us, he detailed a series of directions we could expect to hear—and would need to follow—to effectively steer the boat through the whitewater. He assured us that even though there might be tense moments on the way, our journey would be both exciting and safe.

Sometimes life feels like a white-water rafting trip, one that contains more rapids than we might like. God’s promise to Israel, through the prophet Isaiah, can guide our feelings when we fear the worst is happening: “When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:2). The Israelites faced an overwhelming fear of rejection by God as they went into exile as a consequence of their sin. Yet instead, He affirms them and promises to be with them because He loves them (vv. 2, 4).

God won’t abandon us in the rough waters. We can trust Him to guide us through the rapids—our deepest fears and most painful troubles—because He also loves us and promises to be with us.  

A Good Daddy

When our son, Xavier, was younger, business trips often pulled my husband away from home. Though his father called often, there were rough nights when the calls alone didn’t comfort Xavier. To help soothe our son when he felt he needed his dad, I’d pull out our homemade photo albums as he prepared for bedtime. I’d point out the images that showed them spending time together and ask, “Do you remember this?”

Memory after memory encouraged our son, who often said, “I have a good daddy.”

I understood Xavier’s need to be reminded of his father’s love when he couldn’t see him. Whenever I’m going through tough or lonely times, I too long to know I’m loved, especially by my Heavenly Father.

David proclaimed his deep yearning for God as he hid from his enemies in the desert (Psalm 63:1). Remembering his personal encounters with God’s limitless power and satisfying love led him to praise (vv. 2–5). Through his most difficult nights, David could still rejoice in his dependable Father’s loving care (vv. 6–8).

During our dark times, when we feel as if God’s not there for us, we need reminders of who God is and how He’s demonstrated His love. Reflecting on our personal experiences with Him, as well as His actions recorded in Scripture, can affirm the countless ways our good Abba Father loves us.

When the Bottom Drops Out

During the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, more people were looking for work than there were jobs available. I was one of those job seekers. After nine anxious months, I landed employment as a copywriter. But the company soon fell on bad times and I was jobless again.  

Ever been there? It seems like the worst is over when suddenly the bottom drops out on you. The widow at Zarephath could relate (1 Kings 17:9). Due to a famine, she was preparing the last meal for herself and her son when the prophet Elijah requested a bite to eat. She reluctantly agreed and God provided a continuous supply of flour and oil (vv. 10–16).

But then her son fell ill. His health declined until he stopped breathing. The widow cried out, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (v. 18).

At times, we may want to respond like the widow—wondering if God is punishing us. We forget that bad things can happen in this fallen world.

Elijah took the concern to God, praying earnestly and honestly for the boy, and God raised him up! (vv. 20–22).

When the bottom drops out on us, may we—like Elijah—realize that the faithful One will not desert us! We can rest in God’s purposes even as we pray for understanding.

Through the Cross

My coworker Tom keeps an 8” by 12” glass cross on his desk. His friend Phil, who like Tom is a cancer survivor, gave it to him to help him look at everything “through the cross.”  The glass cross is a constant reminder of God’s love and good purposes for him.

That’s a challenging idea for all believers in Jesus, especially during difficult times. It’s much easier to focus on our problems than on God’s love.

The apostle Paul’s life was certainly an example of a cross-shaped perspective. He described himself in times of suffering as being “persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9). He believed that in the hard times, God is at work, “achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (vv. 17–18).

To “fix our eyes . . . on what is unseen” doesn’t mean we minimize the problems. Paul Barnett, in his commentary on this passage, explains, “There is to be confidence, based on the certainty of God’s purposes for [us] . . . . On the other hand, there is the sober recognition that we groan with hope mingled with pain.”

Jesus gave His life for us. His love is deep and sacrificial. As we look at life “through the cross,” we see His love and faithfulness. And our trust in Him grows.

Declaring Dependence

Laura’s mom was battling cancer. One morning Laura prayed for her with a friend. Her friend, who had been disabled for years by cerebral palsy, prayed: “Lord, you do everything for me. Please do everything for Laura’s mother.”

Laura was deeply moved by her friend’s “declaration of dependence” on God. Reflecting on the moment, she said: “How often do I acknowledge my need for God in everything? It’s something I should do every day!”

During His days on earth Jesus demonstrated continual dependence on His heavenly Father. One might think that because Jesus is God in a human body, He would have the best of all reasons to be self-sufficient. But when the religious authorities asked Him to give a reason for “working” on a legally ordained day of rest because He healed someone on the Sabbath, He responded, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). Jesus declared His dependence as well!

Jesus’ reliance on the Father sets the ultimate example of what it means to live in relationship with God. Every moment we draw breath is a gift from God, and He wants our lives to be filled with His strength. When we live to love and serve Him through our moment-by-moment prayer and reliance on His Word, we are declaring our dependence on Him.

Every Moment Matters

When I met Ada, she had outlived her entire group of friends and family and was living in a nursing home. “It’s the hardest part of getting old,” she told me “watching everyone else move on and leave you behind.” One day I asked Ada what kept her interest and how she spent her time. She answered me with a Scripture passage from the apostle Paul (Philippians 1:21): “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Then she said, “While I’m still around, I have work to do. On my good days, I get to talk to the people here about Jesus; on the hard days, I can still pray.”

Significantly, Paul wrote Philippians while in prison. And he acknowledged a reality many Christians understand as they face their mortality: Even though heaven seems so inviting, the time we have left on Earth matters to God.

Like Paul, Ada recognized that every breath she took was an opportunity to serve and glorify God. So Ada spent her days loving others and introducing them to her Savior. 

Even in our darkest moments, Christians can hold on to the promise of permanent joy in the company of God. And while we live, we enjoy relationship with Him. He fills all our moments with significance.

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