Have you ever had a bad week? I had a tough week this week, and I’m sure that some of you did as well. Holy Week is a tough week for Christians. There’s a lot on the calendar, a lot of emotional ups and downs, and of course there always seems to be a stronger spiritual opposition. Maybe you sensed it too. As you tried to concentrate on God, or enjoy time with your family, things seemed to go wrong. Everything was a bit more tense, a little more difficult, and a little more emotional. I’ve been in a funk all week long, and I’m sure some of you know how I feel. It’s not a sin to have a tough week though. The question is: What to do when we have one?
A Little Perspective
As a Christian I believe that God is in control, that He takes care of all things, knows what He is doing, and that He loves me. I believe that from the core of my being. But during a bad week, that belief gets challenged. When things don’t go my way, other things get in the way, stuff goes from bad to worse, it’s sometimes hard to remember that God is in control. But my faith tells me that God has a plan and that this is part of it.
And then, I pull myself from my navel-gazing and take a look around at the rest of the world and try to put my troubles into perspective.
I read of people in other countries who are fighting for their lives, as their “leader” sends troops to shoot and bomb his own people… while in my country, the elected leaders are arguing about how to make my life better. Countries around the world are literally going bankrupt and millions of people are out of work… and I have an amazing job, surrounded by wonderful people, in the greatest country in the world.
I watch news coverage of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, mudslides, heat-waves and tornadoes…. And I’m complaining because spring hasn’t come quickly enough. There are thousands of people dying every day because they don’t have access to clean water and basic medical supplies… and I have access to clean water at the turn of a tap and universal health care. People around the world are starving to death… and I’m overweight and because I eat too much. And then, I start to think about the problems of abortion, human trafficking, rape, murder, wars, and then I turn on the news and see that this week commemorates the 1 year anniversary of the Boston Bombing… oh yeah… terrorism.
Now, instead of feeling better, I feel worse. Now I’ve compounded my week’s frustration with sadness, confusion, powerlessness and a huge pile of guilt. Instead of this new perspective helping me feel better about how much better off I am, I now feel besieged — overwhelmed by the problems of the world. I don’t know where to even start praying, let alone helping. Who do I pray for first? Who do I help first? What is God doing? Why is there so much evil in the world?
Reactions to Evil
Have you ever felt that way? Ever had a bad week where it all piles up like that? What do you do? Here’s a few ways that people go:
Some people go the way of the ostrich. They bury their heads in the sand and pretend that bad things don’t happen. All negative is in their minds, so they change their minds. Evil is merely a perception, so they change what they’re looking at. They are confronted with something they don’t like and say to themselves, “I don’t want to think about that”.
They’re told that if they don’t change their habits, their health will suffer. A storm is coming and everyone is warned to get prepared and take shelter. A friend does something foolish and is in trouble and needs help. Their solution is to turn on the tv, watch their show, and order a pizza. If they ignore it long enough, maybe it will go away.
Some go the way of the lemming and just keep walking. They’re broke and lost, their relationships are falling apart, they’re about to lose their job, the world is in crisis, but they’re “making believe” that it’s not and just keep walking. It doesn’t matter that there’s a cliff at the end, they’re pretending there isn’t. They’ll keep going to the mall, but just use the other credit card. They won’t tell anyone and maybe it’ll work itself out. They know it’s dangerous but they want to live the same life they lived yesterday and act as if everything is ok.
Others go the way of the spider and try to catch as many people in their web as they can. They love to suck people in and spread the drama. If their life is falling apart, then so must everyone else’s around them. If they have that bad week, it becomes all-consuming for them.
They Facebook and tweet about it – usually some passive aggressive attention grabber like these ones I found online:
- “Wow, some things really make you find out who your real friends are…”
- “I’m fed up with the people who like to feed on gossip and like to spread rumour about stuff that isn’t true… stop doing it! You all definitely know who you are.”
- “I should have known better.”
Then they look for other miserable people with similarly miserable stories and eat ashes together. Soon no one else exists unless they are willing to talk about their issues. Every conversation is steered towards them. Every silver lining has a cloud. They infect everyone around them with their dread. They spread the lie that they have been abandoned… no friends, no family, no God, no hope. And beckon others to join their hopelessness. The ironic thing about these folks is that they will talk to everyone about their problems except God.
On the other side of that coin are those who think they are Superman. Something goes wrong, and they are compelled to take up the fight. They join support groups and picket lines, and sponsor a child. They go on a diet and start exercising while changing their spending habits, getting a hair-cut, starting that hobby they’ve wanted to try, and updating their resume so they can get a better job. They ramp up their recycling habits, get politically active, and start a blog to express their opinions and feelings. They write letters and plan a trip overseas to join the protests. All good stuff, but in their mind they’re thinking: if God won’t do save these people, then I will!
And because you asked, I’ll tell you what I do with this kind of week. I do a little of everything. It’s not the end of the world for me, and certainly not the end of my faith, but I spend a little time eating ashes and moping about life… whining to my wife and a few friends that will listen… but I also keep talking to God about it. I also make plans and decisions to try to improve things, but I also remember that I’m not my own saviour. I stick my head in the sand a bit and watch some TV, but not nearly as much as I used to. If there’s one way I lean, it’s toward the lemming – I just keep going. Hopefully as much as an act of faith that God will work things out, rather than an abandonment to my fate (though there’s some of that too).
A Mature Reaction
One thing that’s changed over the years is that when I am confronted with evil, I’ve learned to turn to God. There are still times that I forget, but God has helped me to see that I can have a very tough week, and instead of having it push me away from God, it causes me to press harder into Him.
It’s taken a long time, and a lot of very poor reacting, but when I am confronted by something bad, I’ve learned to understand what Paul is talking about in Philippians 4:11-13 where he says,
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
How? How was Paul able to say that? How is Paul able to “be content”? He’s not sticking his head in the sand and denying his problems. He’s not just moving forward hoping it will all get better. He’s not drawing people into his drama and spreading misery. He’s not trying to save himself in his own strength… he’s “content”! Where does that come from?
Let’s look at another scripture to get a clue about that. Let’s read from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10,
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Do you see that? Paul knows that God sent something difficult into his life, on purpose… “a messenger of Satan to harass” him. And he says he knows why. To keep him from becoming conceited. There was a purpose to the evil he was facing every day.
He asked God to get rid of it. Why? Because only God can do that. But God said to him, “Paul, I’ve given you grace… undeserved favour… and it is exactly what you need. It is sufficient for you. I want you to be perfected, Paul. I’m giving you something that will show you my power, that will help you, that will give you greater access to me. My power, for you, is made perfect, in weakness.”
You see, we are not the ones who sustain our spirits. We are not the ones who hold onto God. He is the one who holds on to us. It’s not about us reaching deep down and finding more strength, but all about knowing that God is strong enough. It’s not about us being smart enough to find our way out of bad situations, but about us being humble enough to accept what God is doing and trust Him to guide us through it. It’s not about trying to rally enough willpower to cheer ourselves up – to fake it until we feel it. No, when we are overwhelmed with concerns, needs, fears, pain, anxiety, or hunger, the answer isn’t to look inward, but to lean more heavily on Him.
If you’ve been with God for a long time, then you know what I’m learning what Paul means when he says “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
I don’t have a lot of money… that gives God more room to work miracles of provision.
I don’t have a very good attitude… that means that whatever joy I have comes straight from God.
I don’t feel strong and healthy, and my body fails me… that means that whatever can accomplish, God gets the credit because He has given me strength.
I don’t feel confident in my abilities – in fact, more often than not I feel completely out of my depth… that means that in order for anything good and meaningful to happen, God HAS to show up and work miracles.
“When I am weak, then I am strong”… because when I think I’m strong, I’m actually only working out of my own limited abilities instead of God’s unlimited resources. My weakness and incapacities allow me to have a front seat to see what God is capable of doing, often despite my weakness and failures. That’s a very encouraging thought.
Can We Be Sure?
But how can we be sure that God is going to come through? That He hasn’t forgotten me? That He has our best in mind? How can we be sure that the bad things in our life are gifts of grace and not just God being mean or punishing me? How do I know that God is good?
I think some of you need to hear this today. You need to be reminded of the promises that the Bible makes to you about why you can have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, a bad year, and you feel like junk, like a failure, like a nobody, powerless or dirty, beyond help or hope. You need to be reminded about how we can be sure that God is good, and that He has the best interests of His children at heart – because you don’t feel like that right now.
I want to spend some time going through one more set of verses that remind us who you and I are in the eyes of God. Today is Easter Sunday, which is the last day of a week the church has set aside to commemorate Passion Week. We remembered Palm Sunday, the day when people celebrated Jesus as their coming king – only to turn on Him on Good Friday. We remember the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus Christ, as the most important event in history. And we celebrate the resurrection of our Saviour Jesus Christ. We do that every Sunday morning all year long, but it is appropriate for us to do it in a special way today.
Holy Week reminds us of the love Jesus has for us, how special we are to Him, and how He demonstrated that love in the most powerful way. When you have a bad day, and you start to wonder what God is doing and whether God cares anymore, this is where I want you to go: Romans 8:22-38.
The Source of Hope
These are the words of a suffering servant named Paul. These are the words of someone who has had a very, very bad week. These are words of a prisoner, a cast-away, one who has been beaten, rejected, abused and insulted in the name of Jesus. Who has watched his friends turn their backs on him, seen his faithful servants fall away, and has been living an incredibly difficult life.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (v. 22-23)
See how he frames the problem. Our eyes are seeing nothing but bad stuff. That’s what we’ve been talking about. Creation is groaning in pain. Nations are groaning in pain. Families and individuals, groan in pain. We ourselves, we who know God, we’re groaning because we’re not with Him yet.
We can’t wait for the time when we are free of the mess and sin of our world, free from temptation, and the curse’s effect on our bodies. Free from the wars of this world, and the wars within us.
“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (vs 24-25)
That’s the difference between we who are saved and those who are not. We have hope. Hope that one day, by the grace of God and the work of Jesus Christ, we will no longer be groaning, but will be fully redeemed. We do not fully see it yet, but we are waiting for it. It’s hard, but every day we pray, and read our bibles, and hang around other believers, keeping our eyes on the hope that we haven’t seen yet. We know there’s more. It’s hard to remember sometimes, and even harder to see, but we know deep in our hearts that everything that we see around us isn’t all there is. There is far, far, far more to life.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Vs 26-27)
“Likewise”, it says, “the Spirit helps us.” In other words, the Spirit of God Himself is groaning and hoping with us. This is why we need to turn here when we have that bad day, bad week, bad month. God is experiencing our pain with us. And when don’t have the words to speak, He speaks for us. When we are so overwhelmed by evil that we cannot even express our pain, He is praying for us. When we don’t know where to start, what to say, where to turn, who to pray for, when it will end, and we are simply overcome – the Spirit is there with us, praying for us, interceding and helping us. He brings to mind sins to confess, scriptures to give us hope, knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus, reminders of the presence of God, reasons to trust, and words to say.
God knows we don’t know, which is why He gives us His Spirit within us, to pray for us, pray with us, and to help us to trust God. He searches our hearts, cleans out our spiritual trash, organizes our thoughts, will, and emotions, and brings them into accordance with God’s will. That’s His promise to believers. We will not be left alone in pain and confusion, but God Himself will sustain our spirit.
If you’ve learned to turn to God during those times, then you know what happens when we allow the Holy Spirit to minister to us. This isn’t something that can be taught – it has to be experienced. You must stop yourself. Shut your door. Come to God, and just wait on Him. He will always, always come.
Now let’s read verse 28, which many of us know, but too often, which we wrongly apply.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (vs 28)
This ties together what we talked about in Philippians and 2 Corinthians, but it is misapplied by people who are afraid of lamenting, or sadness or pain. The context doesn’t allow us to say that “God is going to make everything all better for you soon.” That’s not what Paul experienced, that’s not what Jesus experienced, and it’s often not what we experience.
And when someone comes up and misquotes this verse, taking it out of context, we want to say, “Really? All these things are for our good? All this pain comes from love? All this mess has a purpose? Really? My loss, my suffering, this messed up world full of suffering is ‘for the good’?”
I’m sure you’ve felt that way too. So, how can we be sure? Because of Easter.
Where Easter Comes In
Let’s read from verse 28 and see that the only way we can believe verse 28 is because of the Easter Story which is told in verses 29-39.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Do you see how the love of God is demonstrated by Him sending His beloved Son to us – to we who are in rebellion, in slavery to sin, idolaters, under His wrath, and who have made ourselves His enemies – for us Jesus came to die.
Because of the work of Jesus Christ, all those who he “foreknew” are saved. You did nothing to earn his love. You were on His heart before you were born. If you are saved today, then you are part of His royal priesthood, His favoured ones, and “he predestined” you (which means He chose you advance) “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.”
He works every day to make you more like Jesus. He wants you to be conformed to perfection in every way possible. He wants you to have a Father/Child relationship Him. H wants you to be like Jesus. To live eternally, to serve others, to have a strong character and a beautiful spirit, to suffer well, to be imperishable, free, and righteous.
If you are a believer, then you are one of the called. You are “justified”. You don’t need to earn the right to come before God, because you have already declared to be right by accepting Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. And not only are you called, presdestined and justified, but you are also glorified. Every day, God is making you more like Jesus. In your suffering, you are made more like Him. In your obedience, you are more like Him. And soon, you will be perfectly glorified when you enter the eternal presence of the living God.
That’s why Paul those rhetorical questions. If you have a bad week and Satan is whispering in your ear that God hates you, He’s abandoned you, He’s punishing you, you turn here. Paul says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
If you ever doubt God’s love, know that He is so for you, so on your side, that He was willing to trade Jesus for you. What more must He do to demonstrate the depth of His love?
Charles Spurgeon wrote something profoundly encouraging about this and I want to pass it on to you. Close your eyes and listen to this with me as we close:
“This morning let us hear the Lord Jesus speak to each one of us: “I will help you.”
“It is but a small thing for Me, your God, to help you. Consider what I have done already.
What, not help you? Why, I bought you with My blood.
What, not help you? I died for you; and if I have done the greater, will I not do the less?
Help you! It is the least thing I will ever do for you; I have done more, and will do more. Before the world began I chose you. I made the covenant for you. I laid aside My glory and became a man for you; I gave up My life for you; and if I did all this, I will surely help you now.
In helping you, I am giving you what I have bought for you already. If you had need of a thousand times as much help, I would give it you; you require only a little compared with what I am ready to give. ‘It is much for you to need, but it is nothing for me to bestow.’
Help you? ‘Fear not! If there were an ant at the door of your granary asking for help, it would not ruin you to give him a handful of your wheat; and you are nothing but a tiny insect at the door of My all-sufficiency. ‘I will help thee.'””
Then he turns his attention to the prayer of our hearts.
“O my soul, is not this enough? Do you need more strength than the omnipotence of the United Trinity? Do you want more wisdom than exists in the Father, more love than displays itself in the Son, or more power than is manifest in the influences of the Spirit? Bring here your empty pitcher! Surely this well will fill it. Hurry, gather up your wants, and bring them here—your emptiness, your woes, your needs. Behold, this river of God is full for your supply; what else can you desire? Go forth, my soul, in this your might. The Eternal God is your helper!” (From Morning, January 16, updated by Alistair Begg)
It is my deep prayer that your hope is fully and completely rooted in the truth of the Easter season – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? If not, there is little wonder that you feel hopeless and helpless all the time. If you are putting your hope and security elsewhere, they will fail you, if they haven’t already. There is only One who is truly good, gracious and mighty to save. And He is the Lord God – Jesus Christ. I plead with you to come fully to Him, to ask His forgiveness for your sin, to make Him your Lord, and then to come to Him with your every need.