Holiness in Hard Times – 2
Last time, I talked about the hard times we experience in this world, and how these are ultimately not God’s intention for us. Even during challenging circumstances that cannot or will not change, we can always claim the unconditional promises of God’s spiritual blessings. And yet, what does holiness look like in hard times?
I currently have clinical depression and anxiety, but I have also gone through sexual betrayal, divorce, an almost life-ending accident, and the disabilities resulting from it. I am certain that others have a similar list. Life is not easy, and even though we know that God does not cause our hard times, it is still often tempting to blame Him, or fall into a victim mentality. How can we instead seek His presence and holiness, and even grow more like Him?
What follows are some of the specific ways that God has guided me to find wholeness and holiness in the midst of hard times.1
First of all, I learned how to lament. While I still struggle to turn to lament immediately, these specific prayers of grief and pain capture my feelings and emotions in difficult times and help me process them more effectively. The Bible is full of lamentations, including many psalms. Psalm 13 shows the structure of a lament clearly and simply, following the acronym MOAN.
1. Meet up with God, being willing to come into His presence even though you may feel angry or abandoned by Him (e.g., “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever? How long will You hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1). This can often be the hardest step, because it is easy to feel that you cannot see God and do not want to talk to Him.
2. Open up your heart, pouring out your soul to God (Ps. 13:1, 2). When we share our emotions and true heart feelings with God, we are able to share honestly, bringing a greater sense of closeness to God, as well as a cathartic release.
3. Ask for what you need, sharing with God what you believe is crucial to your survival and/or happiness (Ps. 13:3, 4). Asking boldly may seem preposterous when all appears lost, but lament involves truly asking for more, asking God for big things, not just generalities.
4. Nevertheless, trust in Him, even if we do not receive what we need (Ps. 13:5, 6, ESV).2 This is the power of lament; though our prayers may not be answered with a “yes,” God always answers, and we can have confidence in His character of love. The unconditional promises of salvation are always there to be had, and He is enough for all the cries of our hearts.3
Similar to lament, but with more dialogue, I have found that wholeness and holiness also mean being honest and wrestling with God. The books of Job and Habakkuk are two examples of righteous followers of God who didn’t sit down and tolerate evil, but had the courage to speak their minds, argue with God, and ask Him to right the wrongs in the world and in their lives.
Another aspect of holiness in hard times is to be gentle with yourself and learn to receive empathy. When I practice caring for myself and treating myself kindly, I am reminded that I am valuable to God and others. Allowing others to help may not be easy when we are trying to be independent, but it is an important aspect of healing in community, and can help us to listen to God’s voice rather than the lies of the devil. Just like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, sometimes we need to be reminded to be gentle with ourselves, just as God is gentle with us.
Additionally, when in the midst of suffering, God calls us to rest in His character of love and understanding, even if we do not understand the reasons for our pain. In this way, we actually can witness to others about God, claiming His unconditional promises even though our suffering may not dissipate. Daniel’s three friends believed that God loved them, and could save them, but trusted in His character and determined to serve Him either way. “‘Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods’” (Dan. 3:17, 18). Because God suffers with us, and Jesus has experienced the most intense suffering as a human, God truly does understand our pain and holds us close to Him in hard times.
As time goes on, we can begin to look for God’s incredible creativity. It is important to truly lament, grieve, and wrestle first, but God is infinitely powerful, and can bring good out of what Satan and others would use to destroy us. Joseph made such a statement to his brothers when they feared that he would kill them out of revenge after their father Jacob’s death. Instead, he noted that, “‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today’” (Gen. 50:20). Similarly in my life, it was through my nearly life-ending accident that I became closer to my now husband; without my accident, we would not likely have connected and married. It is not that God brought about the hard times, but He can use it for good, opposite of what the evil one intended.
Later, after we have done some lamenting and healing, we can consider how to grow. I often try to do this first, but when I circumvent the previous aspects of processing, I find that I am not actually able to grow. Fascinatingly, God gave Elijah almost two months of grief and healing before He corrected his skewed perspective and gave him areas in which to grow (1 Kings 19). Job wrestled and grieved for 37 chapters before God responded and instructed him about the cosmic perspective in Job 38 to 41. Paul asked God three times (implying a longer period) for relief from his suffering, but God instead helped him to grow through it (2 Cor. 12:7–10). So, there can be lessons from our suffering, but God does not bring them to us for that purpose; rather, He repurposes them for our benefit.
Ultimately, hard times lead us to eagerly anticipate the coming of the Messiah! This blessed hope is what gave courage to Job during his trials. Job was blameless (even in God’s eyes [Job 1:1]), yet he went through some of the most comprehensive suffering possible (Job 1 and 2). Throughout the book, Job exhibited many of the above strategies for holiness in hard times: he lamented (Job 3), wrestled with God (Job 6), was gentle with himself (2:8, 13), rested in God’s character (12:7–13; 23:10–17), saw God’s creativity at work (42:7–11), and learned lessons (42:1–5). But the chiastic center of the book indicates the crucial reason that Job continued to live a holy life in his hard times; Job 19:25–27 showcases his hope in the coming of the Messiah. Even if his life were to end in pain and heartache, Job had hope in the eschatological future!
In my own life, I choose to keep reviewing that holiness in hard times is:
• not so much about always being grateful, but about choosing to grieve and lament;
• not so much about knowing the reasons why, but about honesty with God;
• not so much about fixing yourself, but about being gentle with yourself;
• not so much about having more faith, but about choosing to rest in God’s character of love;
• not so much about finding the lessons in the pain, but about looking for God’s creativity;
• not so much about circumventing grief, but eventually considering how you can grow;
• not so much about waiting for the good times on earth, but about anticipating the Second Coming!
We, too, can have the eschatological hope along with Job, as our hard times cause us to long ever more for our eternal home!
“‘For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another’” (Job 19:25–27).
NOTES AND REFERENCES