What are you frustrated with right now? Is your church spiritually dry and apathetic? Are there people who just don’t understand you and continue to torment you with words of slander? Is your body letting you down with weakness and sickness? Has your vehicle broken down again?
We start each day with different goals and agendas for what we want to accomplish. But usually we don’t get very far into the day before we discover that life has other plans for us. Sickness, injury, red tape, human incompetence, and the internet can each appear as an obstacle to our goals.
The Bible calls these interruptions to our agenda “trials.” We want sleep and the stomach flu leaves its calling card all over our kids’ bathroom. We want to live a sanctified life for God’s glory with a sweet spirit, but tiredness and hormones make the day an emotional struggle. Life with other broken humans means that you can’t get too far down the path before someone does or says something that shatters your peace and tranquility.
When our purposes and plans are derailed, we feel angry and frustrated. We believe we are justified in indulging frustration, because it is, in a twisted way, very ego stroking. When we are frustrated by other people’s stupidity or incompetence, we inwardly delight in our superiority, that were we in their shoes, we would do things better. When we are frustrated by spiritual immaturity, or ineffectiveness in our church body, we believe we are among the truly spiritual ones. When we are frustrated by breakdowns and delays, it is because we believe that our plan for the day is the best and that it is being hindered.
Is frustration a spiritually healthy condition to be in? Is frustration proof of our righteousness? Is God ever frustrated?
This world is not as it should be. Babies are mutilated and sold for research. Women are raped in the name of religion. We are saddled with corrupt bureaucratic governments, and a society that seems determined to flaunt its self-destructive ways in the face of God. Surely God must be so frustrated with us down here. Right? Well, if by “frustrated” you mean, “feeling or expressing distress and annoyance, especially because of inability to change or achieve something,” then no. According to the Bible, God cannot be frustrated because “no purpose of His can be thwarted,” (Job 42:2) and God “works all things according to the counsel of His will.” (Eph 1:11)
Does God care about the evil and misery down here? Absolutely. God is grieved by the way we have misused His precious gifts that were meant for our pleasure and warped them into instruments of torture. When Jesus stood before the grave of his friend Lazarus and saw how painful grief can be, He wept with anger. God knows intimately the emotional pain we endure from living in a broken planet.
But before God gave us free will, he had planned in advance a way to bring good from the evil we choose. He looks at life from a wide-angle lens. He sees the brothers betraying and selling their brother into slavery, he sees the innocent man going to jail after being falsely accused of rape, he sees the man forgotten about in prison. But God also sees how each of these events will directly lead to the preservation of His chosen people and the Savior that will be born from this line.
God raises up kings and dictators, and overthrows them with His little finger. God even has control over the decrees of our leaders. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, and He turns it wherever he wishes.” (Proverbs 21:1) One of the greatest ways God’s wisdom and power will be on display for all eternity is how He was able to use our wickedness, apathy, pride, lust, weakness, and mistakes to bring about a greater good.
God is not frustrated by our mistakes and wilful rebellion; He can and will use it all to accomplish his purposes. God’s purposes cannot be frustrated. So if we are experiencing frustration, it is because we have set our heart on our goals and agenda for the day rather than on God’s.
James tells us in the first chapter of his epistle to “count it all joy, when we encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
According to James, ultimate sanctification is revealed by our patience. Patience acknowledges that God’s ways and timing are perfect. Patience wants God’s will to be done rather than ours.
Sin insists on “my will in my timing,” and is the cause of our frustration. Back in the garden of Eden, the first sin was shattering the world with the attitude, “MY will be done.” The curse of that sin began to reverse when Jesus in another garden prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.”
Jesus instructed us to pray, “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Saving faith is revealed when we say to God, “Your will be done in your timing.” That attitude is the source of godly patience and proof of the Spirit’s sanctifying work.
So while frustration strokes our ego and exalts our wisdom over God’s, frustration is really a symptom of a spiritual cancer: an un-surrendered heart.
This cancer is also behind our complaining and is why God warns so strongly against it. Every time we grumble about what God gives us, or say, “that sucks,” about an interruption to our day, we are really judging God’s rule of our life as incompetent. We are saying that God made a mistake for allowing this trial to happen. While I was restless from being cooped up in a hospital room after our baby Justin had a seizure, I was convicted by an article that said complaining was proof that we are more concerned about building our kingdom than God’s.
We only see short-term results and immediate gratification, but God sees the big picture. We see only the material realm of physical pain and pleasure, but He sees the unseen and the world of spiritual danger. God is the great Savior of our souls, the great Physician. What he prescribes for each day is ultimately for our good and the good of those around us. Everything God chooses for us to endure is motivated by love and planned in infinite wisdom. It is all part of His rescue plan to free us not just from the evil that surrounds us, but the evil in our own deceptive hearts. “God is too kind to do anything cruel, too wise to make a mistake, and too deep to explain himself” (author unknown).
Even the sinful and hurtful actions of other people are tools in his hands. When King David was fleeing from his traitorous son, another man named Shimei began cursing David and throwing rocks at him. David’s men wanted to kill the jerk, but David stopped them. “Let him alone and let him curse, for God has bid him to do this.” (2 Samuel 16:11) When other people interfere with our plans or mess us up, it is so easy to get frustrated with them for being cruel or stupid, but we have to remember that God is using even their dark side for our good. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
“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 delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” Romans 8:31-34
Because of this Loving Sovereign Hand behind the events of this life, we can obey God’s command to “always give thanks for all things.” (Eph 5:20)
But grateful surrender to God’s will is different from Buddhism or Stoicism. Buddha taught that misery was the result of human desire being thwarted, so the way to peace (nirvana) was to kill all desire. The Stoics taught that fate determined everything, so we needed to find peace by just accepting fate.
Christianity does involve “dying daily” to our self-will, and we do need to accept God’s will, but the story does not end in death and surrender. It ends in resurrection power, where we are given desires that are in harmony in God’s will. We will begin to pray according to God’s will and we see our prayers answered because they line up with God’s unstoppable agenda.
Someone might object that if we kill frustration, what will motivate us to action? Am I suggesting that we serenely accept all the misery and evil in the world because God is sovereign?
No! Acknowledging God’s ability to bring good out of abortions and rape does not give us permission to turn a blind eye to the evil in this world. And surrender to God’s will does not make us passive; instead it empowers us to effectively accomplish the world-healing advance of the kingdom of God.
In Jesus’ description of judgement day, the obedient sheep were separated from the hell-bound goats because of their actions to feed and clothe the needy. However, if we set out to change the world in our way and in our time, frustration will soon kill our good intentions. We need to realize that the only way we can accomplish healing actions of lasting value is when we are empowered by God and are trusting God’s ability and His time table to bring good from evil.
The way that God chooses to bring healing and set the captives free will often look very different from the way that we would draw it up. We often criticize our church body or other organizations for the ways they fail to measure up to our ideals. “That church uses too many choruses and not enough hymns.” “The pastor’s style is so dry. We could draw so many more people if he were more entertaining.”
It is easy to criticize those around us for their incompetence or the way they see passages differently than you do, but God chooses to use imperfect people, with theological flaws. We say “that tax collector is not fit for the job of disciple” but Jesus makes him worthy. We may feel more qualified for a position of leadership than the man who has the job because of our theological training, but the only way any of us are qualified is when God chooses us for the job.
Frustration can be a sign of practical atheism, i.e. professing to believe in God but behaving as if He is not there. It is acting as if God is not in control of the situation, or that he has made a mistake, or that you know better what the situation calls for. Frustration may also be pride in disguise which is a great anti-God state of mind. Frustration is the opposite of the praise, thanksgiving and rejoicing that should mark the true believer.
Down here you will experience strong emotions of anger, frustration, and disappointment. These are part of the way God made us and have their proper place. I am not at all suggesting to stuff these feelings – that will only make you a hypocrite. Rather, be aware of what these negative feelings are revealing about the state of your soul. Are you surrendered? Are you trusting God? Do you believe that God is perfectly, wise, loving, and powerful? Are you wanting your will instead of God’s? Speak truth to your emotions, and seek the Holy Spirit’s power to open your eyes to God’s magnificent governing of this planet.
One of the greatest sources of frustration will be with ourselves. We need to remember that freedom is always a prayer of repentance away. We need to humbly admit that without Christ we can do nothing, and the reason we have failed again is because of attempting to live on our own strength. But then we also need to nail our past to the cross and give it to God to bring something of value from the mess our self-will has made. When your identity is in the bestowed righteousness of Christ, you can be free from the agony of regret, knowing that He is able to use your past to bring glory to Himself.
I want to close with a section of a prayer written by Scotty Smith that I read here.
“Father, thank you for being tenaciously at work for my good in all things—in the things that thrill me and the things that annoy me; in in the wounds that still hurt me and the failures that still haunt me; in the “unanswered” prayers and in unexpected gifts; in delayed flights and in countless delights; in the biggest fish I’ll ever catch and in the biggest disappointments I’ll ever know; in my extended family and in the extension of my waiting; and in the circumstances, people, and stories over which I don’t have any control… but SO wish I did.
Thank you for being God and thank you for being good—all the time, when I see it and when I don’t. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ exalted and trustworthy name.”