Life’s trials and struggles can cause us to feel greatly discouraged. My friend Don Meredith, founder of Christian Family Life, a family counseling and teaching ministry, has an interesting theory about such times.
One day his secretary Carol was telling him about all the difficult circumstances she was facing. When she finished, Don said, “Carol, what you have just told me is not unusual. 75 per cent of life is made up of struggles, concerns, frustrations, and trials.That 75 per cent will always be with you, and you need to let that 75 per cent be characterized not by unbelief but by faith, by believing God and hoping in him.”
Then he added whimsically, “And as for the remaining 25 per cent, trust the Lord and go out and have a good time.”
When Carol related the conversation to me, I thought Don’s counsel contained great wisdom. Jesus himself taught that in this world we would have troubles. Yet we are often deceived into thinking we really shouldn’t have problems, and that “happiness is just around the corner.”
We get caught up in the “when-then” syndrome:
- When I’m out of school, then everything will be OK.
- When I get married, then I’ll be happy.
- When I get out of this hard spot, then everything will be fine.
But that’s not what usually happens.
As Don suggested, we can expect to go through difficulties and heartaches in this life. We will feel pain, but we may not know how to respond in a way that promotes spiritual growth. Understandably, it is often hard to isolate these incidents, to stand back and evaluate what is going on. As a result, we may never benefit from the experience.
I have learned that a significant part of walking by faith is to be objective about life’s experiences. I use a simple chart to help me think through a difficult or challenging circumstance. I call it an Objectifying Chart.
I take a piece of paper, and divide it into four parts.
In section one, I record every good and positive thing I can think of about the situation. For example, if my struggles center around a certain person, I write down everything I like about that individual.
In section two, I list all the negative aspects I can think of about the matter. Particularly those things that I dislike about the person or situation or that are hard for me to accept. Someone has said that negative circumstances and people do not put negative reactions in our hearts; they merely reveal what is already there. The old adage “He brings out the worst in me” holds a good deal of truth. “He” didn’t put in “the worst,” but he did bring it out! Often I’m not aware of the negatives in my heart until something comes into my life to expose them.
In section three I write down my responses to the negative things I wrote in section two. I try to be honest about my inner reactions and feelings. In the process, God always brings to light an attitude that needs to be confessed, such as hate, irritability, lack of forgiveness, or impatience. Then I confess to the Lord all the things I have written down. Often the attitudes listed are just the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I say, “Lord, I agree with You that I am wrong and You are right.”
In section four I write down what God seems to want to teach me through my situation. For instance, if I find hate in my heart, then God might want to teach me how to love. If I find impatience, perhaps he wants to teach me patience. Then I pull out a good Bible concordance or a helpful guide such as Nave’s Topical Bible to find appropriate verses to meet my need.
After I have put all my thoughts and feelings on paper, I go back and thank God for everything I’ve written in sections two and three. I do this, knowing that he will work even these things together for good in my life.
When I see my responses in the third section, although they fall far short of Scripture’s teachings, I have learned not to get down on myself or become discouraged. I may grieve over the sin in my heart, but I do not condemn myself, because God doesn’t condemn me. Rather, I am free to admit my sinfulness, knowing that to be truthful with God about what is in my heart is the first step toward change.
The small but powerful book The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence has encouraged me in this area. This 17th-century Christian walked closely with the Lord, and when he sinned, he would lift up his hand toward heaven and say to God, “I shall never do otherwise if you leave me to myself.” Brother Lawrence knew that he needed God’s help and power to live the Christian life.
I have often prayed Brother Lawrence’s words and then have added, “Father, do for me by your Holy Spirit what I cannot do for myself.”
I used to look at Scripture as a law or a threat that was being held over my head, condemning me for not living up to its standards. Now I see that God’s Word is not meant to be a threat, but a promise of all that he wants to do in my life by his Spirit.
Through the years people have said to me, “Ney, I have confessed a particular sin over and over, but I still struggle in that area. I haven’t seen any progress.” Then they’ll name a specific action or attitude that could be placed in section three of the chart.
I often respond by asking, “Are you renewing your mind with a portion of Scripture that speaks to the sin you have confessed?” More often than not, they will say they had not thought of doing that. For example, they may have confessed that they are impatient, but they have not gone on to gain God’s perspective by meditating on a passage of Scripture that deals with patience.
Since God convicts us of specific sin in our lives, we need to confess those sins specifically. Then we need to fill our minds with a portion of God’s Word that relates specifically to what we’ve confessed. Then the Holy Spirit can use that portion of Scripture to renew our minds with God’s perspective.
Using this chart to objectify our experiences helps us take personal responsibility for our behavior and reactions. It also encourages us to find a passage of Scripture that addresses that behavior or reaction. In this way the person or circumstance that seemed to be a millstone around our neck becomes a blessing God uses to teach us about himself or about what he wants to do in us.
The crises in our lives come in varying degrees, from small difficulties to major conflicts. Whether we’re faced with the normal ups and downs of life or the most devastating circumstances we’ve ever encountered, we need to remember that life’s difficulties can turn out to be God’s greatest supernatural blessings for us — if we are willing to objectify our experiences and trust him in the midst of them.