By Jesse Jost
When you pause to consider all the ways life can take a tragic turn, it can be terrifying: Rare medical disease, cancer, accidents, financial ruin, chronic pain, sudden physical disability, brutal nature events, economic collapse… you get the idea.
If you’re like me, you manage to block out most of these harsh realities, but occasionally one of these items starts to feel like a plausible and imminent threat. Once the emotional brain is triggered, it becomes a near impossible battle to find reassurance.
We think about God’s power and try to tell ourselves: a good God wouldn’t let this bad thing happen to me, would He? Then you remember that He HAS allowed such tragedies and far worse to happen to millions of other people, so why should I get to be the exception? And so the anxious torment wheel rolls on.
However, Jesus and the Apostles command us firmly to not be anxious about anything.
What truths can combat the vicious mental cycles of fear and anxiety?
These are the truth combinations that calm my troubled mind:
1. God is completely Sovereign over even the smallest details of life.
He controls the big things like the rise and fall of nations. But also the small things like the roll of the dice and the death of a sparrow. He counts the hairs on our head. No purpose of His can be thwarted.
Everything that comes to us requires His permission. Nothing can happen to us that He does not allow for His purposes.
Nonetheless, we see that this truth does not guarantee that bad things won’t happen to us and the anxious thoughts continue. Which is why we need truth ingredient number 2.
2. The God of all comforts goes with us through every trial.
When we imagine the horrible things that could befall us or we hear of tragedy on the news, it’s easy to imagine the horror and the agony of such misfortune. The imagination station of our mind can simulate how atrocious such possible events would be and we turn our thoughts into a torture chamber.
However, our simulation of the future lacks a key element: The comforting grace of God.
The Bible calls God the “The God of all comfort” and “The Father of mercies.” When life hurts, God’s spirit can bring calm refreshing and comfort for the soul like nothing else can.
In fact, suffering saints throughout history have testified that some of the most meaningful and rich experiences of the soul-thrilling presence of God have come in the midst of severe trials. Most people I know would not trade this experience of God for anything.
I need to add a caveat: this experience of God is not automatic. We can suffer horribly alone when we ignore God or stay in angry rebellion. But He is always with us, reaching out with His comforting arms.
3. God works all things for the good of those who love Him.
God may allow unspeakable tragedy and injustice to happen to us. But the promise is that even when we cannot see a purpose, or how good could come from this, God is already at work bringing something beautiful from the pain.
If we are surrendered to God, we will someday see the wisdom of His master plan and enjoy the benefits of the good He brings from evil and tragedy.
4. To find peace we must surrender to His will.
God promises to work all things for good. But I must warn you that He defines good differently than we do.
We want comfort and ease, blessing and prosperity. God, however, sees the spiritual dangers of too much comfort and financial success.
The real danger we face is a heart that wanders from God and turns to enslaving idols. God longs for us to not just have the good of the immediate thrill and emotional high. He also longs for us to have the eternal good of a restored relationship with Him and the unending thrill of worshiping His majestic holiness.
God rules completely over this entire universe. There is not a molecule outside His control. Nothing happens outside His sovereign decree. But His purposes for His rule are often different than ours.
He has revealed in His Word that His sovereign purposes are to glorify Himself, to make us like Christ, and to expand the kingdom of those reconciled to Himself.
When you find yourself in the midst of suffering the way to find peace and comfort is to surrender to His wise purposes. Ask God these three questions and listen for His guidance:
1. How Can God be glorified in this?
Rather than looking for how the trial can be stopped, be alert for how God will use to this to reveal Himself and put His glory on display.
2. How can this make me more like Jesus?
Ask God to show you where He wants to grow your character, or where He wants to set you free from harmful attitudes or habits.
3. How can this advance the Gospel?
Be alert for the divine appointments that come from the frustrations and setbacks of life. Tragedy, and even injustice, open the door to connection with other hurting people that might not have happened otherwise.
Use these connections to share the hope of Christ and your testimonies of God’s faithfulness.
One final truth:
Jesus so lovingly commands us not to worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough troubles to take care of. When you find Satan tormenting you with future possible scenarios, ask if there is an action you can take today to prevent it. If it’s outside of your control, give it to God and focus your strength on the tasks of today.
But in all things live in the moment with praise of God’s wisdom, power, and love, and in gratitude for the abundance of blessings He has given you.