When you've lived the Christian life for a few years, it quickly becomes clear that having faith in God does not automatically mean your life becomes an easy one. Nor does it automatically mean that life becomes hard. It doesn't mean you spend every day dancing through the daisies, nor does it mean constantly fighting some endless uphill battle. There is still the good and the bad, the peaceful times and the tough.
For Christians, life continues to be life, in all its random, ugly, confusing glory. We react to it in different ways. Some Christians fall into the habit of blaming the Devil for everything that goes wrong, from losing their keys to not being able to find a parking space. Likewise, some Christians go to the other extreme, suggesting God got personally involved to make sure there was a short queue in the Costa and that their phone battery lasted all day.
The reality is, while God is behind some things, he's not behind everything that happens, and while the Devil is behind some things, he's not behind everything that happens either. Good things happen, bad things happen, and often, neither God nor the Devil personally caused them - things just happen. However - and it's a big "However" - when you're a Christian you have a promise in the scriptures that says this: "All things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom 8:28.)
Now we mustn't misunderstand what this scripture is saying. It's not saying, "Everything happens for a reason" - that's not the truth. Life can be harsh, random and meaningless. Just read the book of Ecclesiastes. What the above passage is actually saying is, "God can bring good out of anything." That is the promise that Christians have in the ups and downs of life.
The other massive promise the Bible gives us over and over again about hardship is that problems and trials will come. They are not some unexpected explainable phenomena - the Bible says to expect them. They are part of life.
"Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you." (1 Peter 4:12)
"We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance." (Romans 5:3)
We should never respond to hard times with outrage towards God - if we do, we are simply showing that we don't know the scriptures, which promise us that hard times are going to come. According to the book of Romans, God uses the unpleasant things that happen in life to improve us on the inside.
This week, someone crashed into my car and wrote it off.
Not only was it was pretty upsetting and inconvenient, it was, for me at least, 100% unavoidable. I hadn't even finished paying for the car, and it's already gone. I can't afford to replace it, and the process of sorting things out with the insurers looks like it could end up taking months. I took the bus in to work today, and I'll be taking it home again tonight.
Did the devil make this happen? Who knows. I'm not going to say he was behind it or he wasn't - I'll perhaps find out one day when I look back from Heaven.
And where is God in all this? Was this part of God's plan? Honestly, probably not. People have free will - which means they can do things outside of God's plan. Things just happen. Life just happens.
BUT - God is going to bring good out of this. He's going to use this to work improvements in me, to teach me how to respond, how to help others respond in future, to teach me to persevere and to be an overcomer. I believe he has already started.
When life happens to you, rather than getting angry at God, blaming the devil, or resenting the people involved, try to keep your eye on the future, try to see the way through, look for the good God is going to bring out of it. You don't have to like what happens, you don't have to say it happened according to God's will, but you can have faith that God intends to redeem that situation and bring good out of it - no matter what it is.
Throughout the struggles, stay faithful to God, stay close to him, read your bible, pray, keep living the life, because the promise that 'all things work together for good' is made to 'those who love God'. But if you're there, if you're right with God in the midst of the struggle, then for you there is nothing so bad that it cannot be turned around and made into something good by your Heavenly Father. All storms pass, and for the Christian, after the season of rain there always comes the harvest.
I love going to church. I go virtually every Sunday, sometimes twice.
On a Sunday, the presence of God can often be so tangible, so powerful, so beautiful. I cherish those times, I look forward to Sundays when His people gather together to be family together worshipping Him. I love preaching and hearing others preach. I love hearing God-stories from people who have supernaturally had their lives changed for the better. I even love it when we have coffee together before and after the service and chat about our hopes, dreams and ideas, disappointments, football, politics, X Factor and anything else you can think of!
Then Monday comes.
In retrospect, Sunday can seem like a detachment from reality once the normal week picks up again. However, for followers of Jesus, that's not the truth is it? For those of us who recognise him as the one true living God who died for our sins, Sunday is the reality, not the detachment.
Let me tell you what happened this morning - a normal Monday morning.
I am currently doing teaching supply work, among other things, to earn an income. I woke up at about 6.30 am, feeling a little physically run-down after an exhausting week. I was thinking it would be great to have some time off, to take the day at my own pace, catch up on a few jobs around the house and do a bit of admin for Embrace Church. I had no supply work lined up but knew the call could come from the agency I am registered with.
The time during which I could been called came and went, and though I was relieved that I would have a break for at least one morning, I immediately felt a pang of guilt and worry. Guilt, because I want to earn an honest income and wondered if I was just being lazy; and worry, because I suddenly thought "What if I don't get any work this week?"
Almost immediately the phone rang. It was my supply agency. They had work from Tuesday to Friday this week, if I wanted it! I calmly said 'Yes,' and thanked them for the work.
Then I leaped for joy. God knew I needed a restful day today. He provided work for the remainder of the week. I am so thankful for His care, His love and His provision. And all this on a Monday!
Biblically speaking, God's people are the church - that is the correct definition of church. So church doesn't finish when Sunday does. Put God first in every area of your life and watch him get involved in your life and provide for you in the little and the big things, on a Sunday or a Monday.
Matthew 6:33: Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (NLT)
When I became a Christian I never realised that I was someone to whom God could speak about the future. I thought, perhaps one day, many years down the line as I got to know God better I might become that kind of person - but the idea of hearing from God was always a 'future' thing to me back then, not a 'now' thing.
But as I grew as a Christian, from time to time the Holy Spirit would speak to me - sometimes through other Christians and other times directly to me. I was given so many promises, so many words from God from which I stepped back and thought, 'that's impossible.' Some of the promises I was given about the future were very exciting - but they were big promises - ones that would only be possible if the Holy Spirit made them happen.
I love this passage from John 16:13; "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come."
It's amazing today to be able to look back on the things that were foretold years ago over my life and see them happening right now. There are too many different words from God and prophecies to go into - some have already come true in their entirety, whilst others are partially fulfilled and being played out in real-time in the real world. It is so exhilarating to look back and see God's faithfulness in the past and the realities of the Holy Spirit today.
Reading about these things in a short blog article however can give the illusion that seeing promises fulfilled has been a straight path - a simple 1+1=2 formula. It has not been that way for the majority of them - there have been many ups and downs on the road, times of doubts and times of hardships. We often look at the promises of God and want them to come to pass, before our very eyes, right now. And some of them do - but not all. Often God gives us the promise at the beginning, then takes us on a journey to make us ready to receive it.
If every promise of God came true instantly and immediately, we would miss out on so much essential growth in our relationships with God and people. There is a great song by Bethel Music called Take Courage and part of the lyrics say,
‘Take courage my heart, stay steadfast my soul,
He’s in the waiting, He’s in the waiting.
Hold onto your hope, as your triumph unfolds,
He’s never failing, He’s never failing.’
The waiting is the important part. What God promises you will happen - if you are ready and willing to step into it when the time comes. Are you listening to the Holy Spirit? It's the Holy Spirit that lets us know when the time has come.
But in the waiting, God is there. He is in control and He will never fail us, even when all seems lost. Even if it looks like the fulfilment of a promise has become impossible, hold tight to the word He has given you. And if you haven't heard from God, have you asked him? Ask God what He has for you in the now and in the future. Dream big dreams and pursue them, because there's nothing like looking back on the incredible journey God has taken you on and seeing his faithfulness, year upon year.