“What now?” How many times have you faced situations, really hard times, when all you could manage to do was to ask this question? Personally, there have been times where one thing after another has hit me (or my whole family) over and over again. Or what do you do when things are going fairly well, but then you get hit out of nowhere. Something big happens. Something that hurts. Maybe you lose a loved one. Maybe your career is suddenly ended for reasons beyond your control. Whatever it is, it rocks you and you are left feeling kind of numb and asking the question, “what now?” What can you do to stand firm in your faith?
Here are some things that I do if I come to this point. Whether it be a thousand little things wearing at me, or a single devastating blow which leaves me breathless, here is how I have learned to deal with the pain and to stand strong in God’s strength.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7 ESV)
This might seem obvious, but it deserves saying; you should talk to God. Prayer is so important in times like these. In fact, prayer can help you get ready for these situations BEFORE they happen. Prayer connects us to God and helps us to trust in him all the more. Paul told the Philippians to remember that the Lord is at hand, connecting this statement with a command: be anxious in nothing.
Paul is not indicating that they might not become anxious, rather he is reminding them that when anxiety does creep in (or before) we should make our request known to God. That’s prayer. The result of this is a peace that “will guard your hearts and your [mind] in Christ Jesus.” It seems that this is more than a one and done deal. It is a lifestyle of prayer, which hopefully was part of your life prior to the event. If not, this is the time to begin being a person of prayer.
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:2–6 ESV)
Remembering is a theme that runs throughout the whole Bible. When I had a particularly hard time a few years ago, it was remembering all that God had done for me in the past, and what he has promised to for me during times of trial that helped me leave the depression behind. I began this practice of remembering after I read two passages: Deuteronomy 8, and especially Matthew 11:2–6. What struck me about this passage is that John the Baptist is in prison. He is sending his disciples to ask Jesus if he is indeed the Christ. John knows this more than most. He is the one set apart from birth to tell of the Messiah’s coming.
What I realized is that John was really kind of bummed out. Nothing seemed to be going right for him. So he reached out to Christ. Instead of telling John to “suck-it-up,” he sent word back to John concerning what was going on in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies Isaiah foretold about the Christ (Isa. 35:5-6; 61:1). This was a call for John to remember what he knew about Christ from the scriptures. It was a call for John to remember what he knew about his own call and all that Christ had done.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 ESV)
Rejoicing is a powerful tool in recovering from hard times. I get it. The last thing you feel like doing when it seems as though everything has been pulled out from under you is rejoicing, but it’s critical. From personal experience, I can tell you that talking to God about my pain and remembering what he has done for me (and what he has promised) are important steps in overcoming the resistance to rejoicing.
These three work hand in hand. That’s why Paul joins the command not to be anxious and to pray in Philippians 4 with a call to Rejoice always. He says it this way in 1 Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 ESV) Rejoice in what God has done for you in the past. Rejoice in what he is doing in you now. Rejoice in the fact that the Lord is at hand and that you are not alone.
During these times I always take the opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to the Lord. This is both for him and for myself. I pray affirming that he is good and what he does is good (Psalm 119:68), that he is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:7). I praise him for how he will work through this trial to make me more like his Son (Acts 14:22, James 1:2–5). I pray, “when I am afraid” (or lonely, or tired, or hurt, or worried, or worn out) “I put my trust in you, in God whose word I praise, in God I trust (Ps. 56:3-4).
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)
I have noticed that some people hide during these times of pain. We don’t have to tell everyone everything about what is going on in our lives, but we should make an effort to reach out to other brothers and sisters in Christ so that they can encourage us and pray for us. It is a great consolation to a wounded heart or a tired mind to be surrounded by loving brothers and sisters in Christ. They don’t have to reveal some new truth to you of which you were previously unaware. They may do the greatest good by just reminding you of what you already know, helping you remember what God has done and has promised to do. Thomas Constable said this very thing in his commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Believers do not need to be hearing something new all the time, but they often do need to remind themselves of what they already know so that they do not forget it.” Honestly, sometimes it is just good to have someone sit with you and say nothing at all.
If you have not read it yet, take a moment to go read 1 Kings 19:1-8. The context here is that Elijah has just had an incredible showdown with the prophets of Baal, bringing down fire from Heaven through a simple prayer, and has put to death those same prophets who had led Israel into idolatry. The next thing he knows, Queen Jezebel is out for his head. He goes into hiding and falls into a terrible depression that is so bad he asks God to kill him (1 Kings 19:4). God had more plans for Elijah, But they could wait. Instead of telling him, “Hey, you have a job to do!” God allows Elijah to take a couple long naps, and even sends an angel to feed him twice.
Your life can’t stop just because things are hard, at least not for good, but you may need to take a special time of rest so that you can heal and eventually get on with things. It was during this time of rest that God prepared Elijah for the next leg of his journey and task. Taking stock of your time and pulling back a little might be just what you need (if combined with the aforementioned steps) so that you are able to begin to “do the next thing.”