Mastering the messy middle
Sometimes we have days, or seasons, when nothing seems to go our way. It could be a series of small irritations - like a traffic jam, a missed appointment, misplacing keys, or forgetting a password - or it could be an earth-shattering event that alters the course of a life forever.
Trials - no matter the size - are trails the Lord has planned to strengthen us (Jeremiah 29:11).
With Jesus as our guide, we will become stronger and more Christ like under the strain of a trial, despite the slips and falls along the way. It’s often been said that God is more concerned with our character over our comfort. This is because God’s clear purpose with trials is to transform us into a purer image of Him.
What better comfort could there be?
The weight of "why?"
But if we are not abiding in Jesus during our trial, we may instead become bitter and hardened. The trial can become a burden that weighs us down and causes us to question God. Instead of abiding in Jesus, we’ll abide in angst.
After Moses led the Israelites from Egypt where they were slaves, the Hebrew people began to doubt God and complain. Wandering the hot, scorching desert, they were tormented by their thirst and actually began to believe the lie that being a captive was better than being a free child of God.
Instead of praying to the Almighty, the One who had rescued them from Pharaoh’s hand and miraculously parted the Red Sea to let them safely cross on dry land, they complained.
“Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3).
Why? Isn’t this the question we so often ask the Lord when we are in the unknown, messy middle? Why me? Why now? Why this way?
A heart that asks why is easily weighed down and discouraged.
We can forget that God is for us when circumstances look bleak or unappealing. We might even become disoriented enough to believe that He is out to get us. We might confuse the all-loving Lord for the enemy and think He’s trying to steal from us the very things we hold most dear.
Like the Israelites, we might cry out in our hearts, “Are you trying to kill us?”
But God is faithful. He promises to cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose, even if we can’t fathom how (Romans 8:28).
This covenant-keeping Creator specializes in the improbable, unlikely, and exceedingly difficult.
God has a plan for us that is grafted into His eternal plan. Because of Jesus, we can have faith knowing that no matter the diagnosis, relational fracture, the loss or impossible situation, healing and resolution will ultimately come. It may not come at the time we want or in the way we want, but it will eventually come.
Because God is in the business of redemption and restoration, making all things new and finishing the good work that He began in us (2 Corinthians 5:17, Philippians 1:6).
Pray, don’t complain
And what do we do in the meantime, when we are crossing our own scorching dessert with nary a moment of refreshment in site? How do we walk through that messy middle?
“The Lord answered Moses and said, ‘I will stand before you on the rock at Mount Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come gushing out. Then the people will be able to drink.’ So Moses struck the rock as he was told, and water gushed out…” (Exodus 17:6).
Like Moses striking the rock, God assures us that if we pray to Him, He will listen. If we seek Him wholeheartedly, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:12-13).
Living Water will gush from the Rock of our salvation when we strike it with the rod of prayer and a faithful, believing heart.
Instead of asking God “why”, try asking Him “what?”
What are You trying to teach me?
What do I need to give up?
What are You preparing me for?
What are you protecting me from?
What do you want me to do now?
God is faithful. Like a mountain that stands the test of time, God will stand immovable amidst our unbelief and fears, our waywardness and ingratitude, our faith the size of a mustard seed. His character does not depend on our feelings or failures. While His heart may grieve over our disobedience and doubt, His nature and plan doesn’t change based on our emotions.
What very good news!
Because Jesus is the only One who can satisfy our soul’s thirst, His presence is even better than a problem solved. We can pray “Jesus, fix it” but perhaps an even better prayer is “Jesus, be near.” When we pray this way, the love and grace of the Living Water will gush out, cover us, fill us and refresh us.
Remember the past to prepare for the future
Like children being led on a journey, we have the benefit of a perfect Father who has gone before us and designed the very trails that lead to our destiny. If He wills a situation, then He will make provisions for it.
When the future seems uncertain, we must carry with us stones of remembrance (Joshua 4:1-7). These testimonies of times past when God met our needs in ways better than we could have asked for or imagined will encourage our heart and minds to be eagerly expectant – not filled with dread or fear of what is to come (Ephesians 3:20).
Watch your tongue
How you walk through your trial is just as important as getting through it. Paul wisely warns us to not repeat the same mistakes of the Israelites, even though God was visibly leading them through the wilderness as a cloud by day and fire by night:
“They all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock … and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them … Don’t become idolaters as some of them were … And don’t complain as some of them did …” (I Cor. 10:3-5; 8-10).
This scripture shows that complaining is as offensive to the Lord as idolatry. There is no small sin in God’s account, because all sin separates us from Him and reflects a lack of trust in Him.
We can idolize the solution and rant when it doesn't deliver, or we can worship the One who delivers us.
God clearly values our words, because He knows that from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). Our words are to be a praise offering to God.
Chronic complaining is one of the fastest ways to deteriorate our faith and dim our witness to a watching world.
A verse I repeat often to my children and have them repeat back to me and, sometimes, even write out repeatedly when offenses are running high is:
“Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may … shine like stars in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15).
This abridged version of the scripture is a simple way to remind us of God’s desire for us to be lights in the darkness.
Turn your "why?" into worship
I have been known to offer great rewards to the child who can complete a challenging activity without complaining. Instead of focusing on the pebble in their shoe or the boulder before them, I want them to learn the vital lesson of pushing past small, nagging irritations that threaten to overshadow the joy and beauty around them.
I want them to learn to call on Jesus for help when they are being unpleasant and selfish or when the world around them does not yield ease and delight. I want them to be strengthened through the challenge.
God wants this and so much more for us.
But God knows we cannot manufacture the obedience of contentment and trust on our own any more than we can make a mountain. Yet when we abide in Jesus and stand on the firm foundation of His word, we can join the ranks of Paul who learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11).
We can turn our “why” into worship by pouring our hearts out to Jesus and trusting in Him no matter the size or outcome of the trial. Surrender your messy middle to Jesus and let Him master it for you as you abide in Him.